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Bloomberg BNA recently posed a series of tax-centric questions to the Republican and Democrat candidates for governor in North Dakota. Below are the responses from Republican candidate Doug Burgum.
Interview by Mark Wolski
Doug Burgum is best known in North Dakota as the former head of Great Plains Software, an accounting software company that he sold to Microsoft in 2001 for $1.1 billion. Burgum worked at Microsoft through 2007 as a senior vice president. He has since formed a real estate development company and a venture capital firm. He received the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, North Dakota’s highest honor, in 2009 for his business success. His challenge to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) for the Republican nomination for governor was his first foray into politics. While he wasn't endorsed by the Republican Party, he defeated Stenehjem handily in the Republican primary. In a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1988 and where the Legislature’s two houses are both controlled by Republicans, he is the favorite to win the election.
Editor's Note: Burgum didn't provide answers to Bloomberg BNA's tax questionnaire that sought his opinion related to priorities on state and local tax issues, hurdles in enacting his tax policy priorities, challenges in the tax and revenue realm facing the state in light of market conditions and whether the state’s tax regime is properly balanced. The following responses were developed from materials on his campaign website and other news reports.
What are your priorities related to state and local tax, if elected?
Burgum has said property tax reform is a priority for him. The North Dakota Legislature has used state revenue from its oil boom to buy down property taxes throughout the state for a number of years. While some legislators have questioned whether that can continue given the decline in both oil and commodity prices, Burgum has suggested that property taxes could be reduced if local governments were smaller and more efficient.
Burgum has said he supports the buydown of property taxes, but believes it should be made permanent. He has said that as long as the buydown is listed as a budgetary expense, its future will be questioned every two-year budget cycle.
What existing state and local tax measures or initiatives would you seek to support? Or curb?
Burgum has indicated that he is willing to discuss the idea of the state’s paying for county social services to lessen the property tax burden on North Dakotans. The legislators espousing the takeover have said it could be expensive and may not be feasible when the state is facing declining revenue because of poor oil and crop prices.
What is the biggest hurdle you foresee to enacting your major tax-related initiatives?
The obstacles facing Burgum’s initiatives will likely be the state’s economy and his own tax pledge. Despite Burgum’s own success in creating a software company in North Dakota, the state’s economy remains very much tied to oil and agriculture. Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) was forced to cut the state’s budget earlier this year and the Legislature joined him in cutting it again in August. Since that time, tax revenue has continued to be weak.
Burgum signed the Americans for Tax Reform tax pledge shortly after announcing his candidacy. With it, he pledged to never raise the state’s taxes.
What is the biggest challenge you see facing North Dakota from a tax and revenue perspective, in light of current and evolving market conditions?
Burgum has said North Dakota needs to refocus its efforts in education and technology to create higher-paying jobs and a skilled workforce. Focusing on science, technology, engineering, the arts and math should improve education, he said, and create better jobs for the state’s residents.
A smart, efficient infrastructure and vibrant communities should also help the state economy grow, he said.
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