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Legislature misfires on education once again

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Fargo, 58102

Fargo North Dakota 101 5th Street North 58102

How out of step is the North Dakota Legislature with Gov. John Hoeven? Take one look at its latest proposal to heal the wounds created by inadequate education funding, and you'll know right away.

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And this time, unlike some instances in the past, the Legislature, or a group representing it with an interim committee, is way out of touch. And way off course, for that matter.

If the interim committee has its way, a proposal to spend more than $74 million over the next two years to finance property tax cuts for local schools will hurt, more than heal, the current inadequacies in the state's education funding programs.

Rep. Ron Iverson, Fargo, hit the nail on the head when he said it's "robbing" the richer districts to pay for the rest of the state.

What the interim Finance and Taxation Committee tried to do was admirable. It sees that property taxes here are way out of whack, and it's school financing to blame. Foundation Aid relies almost solely on property tax revenues, leaving large Districts like Fargo, West Fargo, Bismarck and the like in the black, while smaller Districts are running in the red.

Obviously, something needs to happen.

The Governor noticed that, and put together a special committee to research the problem and bring a proposal to the Legislature when it convenes in about four months. The Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, sidestepped that committee entirely (despite the fact members of the State Legislature are serving on the Governor's Task Force) and came up with this flawed proposal.

Their idea limits relief for districts like Fargo, Bismarck and West Fargo.

The trouble is, those are the districts that are actually maintaining their numbers, or even growing, while others are shrinking as communities in rural areas shrink.

And I don't think the current drought is going to help.

The Legislature is looking for a solution for the future. They're not analyzing data that shows that North Dakota is becoming urbanized, and the districts in those urban areas are going to need help down the line, or risk becoming less-than ideal homes for schools in the long-term.

They ignore the data that shows per-pupil payments are the way to go, and that giving property tax breaks across the state, but playing favorites in some areas, is only going to cause more division on the issue.

And the Legislature just flat-out needs to wait its turn.

And Gov. John Hoeven holds the final card. He can say "Thanks for your efforts, guys, but I'm on this. There's no way I'm going to even take a look at your bill until you see what my group has come up with first."

After all, Hoeven's group has people in the know. He has District business managers, superintendents, teachers and economic wizards on this Task Force. It is, for a second-term governor, a very bold move.

The Legislature can't be considered more than a group of political minds looking for a politically sound solution, not a financially sound one.

In a three branch system, once again the North Dakota tree of government looks a little bit sick.

* * *

Speaking of sick government, President Bush has said he's ready to veto a relief package for Katrina victims if it contains one red cent of aid for drought-stricken farmers in the upper Midwest.

It's nice the President is in touch.

Farmers in the central Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas and his home state of Texas are seeing things go from bad to worse, and he's ready to leave them out in the heat without even setting foot in the area.

Instead of twilight trips to the Middle East, Bush needs to take a look at things here at home. The war on terror is a divisive issue, but what's best for America should unite us all.

Watching crops wilt in the heat and beef prices soar faster than fuel prices is not good for anybody, no matter your political leanings.

I'm tired of watching the war abroad receive more attention than the wars here at home.

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