Murphy’s Law 2019 #45 GNDC Conference

September 16, 2019

Knowing what other folks think can come in handy when advocating for or against policy. The Greater ND Chamber hosted their Policy Summit Agenda last week, highlighting Trade and Tariffs, The Gas Tax and our ND Income Tax. Starting with trade and tariffs in the morning, the panelists were from WCCO Belting which supplies most ag manufacturers, Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing which deals heavily in aerospace and defense and Bob Sinner of SB&B Foods who represented the Agricultural sector. Tom Shorma is the CEO of WCCO and stated flat out that tariffs were tough on his industry as they import belting material from China, the cost of which has jumped from around $250,000 to $1.5 million since the tariffs have been imposed. He noted the devastating impact on agriculture as well and said that trade is at a crossroads in this current dilemma. Kristen Hedger of Killdeer Mountain saw the establishment of an import/export bank as important, while Bob Sinner (who is in the soybean business) stated that no one ever wins in a trade war and that we need to be working on trade relations with the only other country close to China in population – India. He explained that he had been to Washington D.C. to speak with the U.S. Trade Representatives and discussed India with them, but they said, in essence, that their time spent with China was sucking all the oxygen out of that room. According to the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, North Dakota has about a $14.6 billion funding gap over the next 10 years, so the question for the next panel was “Should North Dakota raise the Gas Tax?” You may recall that a one penny raise equals about $7.4 million a year and that we have not raised ours from 23 cents since 2005. If it had been indexed for inflation we would be at about 30 cents. UPS had a representative that said we need to do that and more while Dan Kadrmas of True North Steel said we have to look at it as an investment. The President of North Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association, not so much, saying that it is a regressive tax. Others on the panel saw it more as a user fee and that you pay only when you use gas. The third panel was a discussion of gradually getting rid of our state income tax and replacing that money with Legacy Fund earnings. That bill passed the House but failed in the state Senate earlier this year. Most on the panel disagreed on phasing it out as our tax rate is the lowest of any state that has one and they like not having to depend so much on oil revenues. Finally was the keynote speaker from the US Chamber of Commerce who decried the lack of bipartisanship in Congress and is trying to reward members of Congress for working with the other parties. He also mentioned that 43% of Fortune 500 execs have included tariffs in their earnings reports since June 1. He says they see tariffs hurting North Dakota to the tune of 31,000 jobs and $5.3 billion while the injury to the USA is in the neighborhood of $1.4 Trillion and 12 million jobs.