Testimony on House Bill 1051 (Taxation of Charitable Properties)

To: House Finance and Taxation Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: House Bill 1051
Date: January 11, 1999

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I am Christopher Dodson, the
executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference. The North Dakota
Catholic Conference opposes HB 1051.

There are twenty-six Catholic hospitals and nursing homes in North Dakota.
These facilities have one purpose -- to continue the healing ministry of Jesus
Christ. That is why the sisters, often facing seemingly insurmountable
challenges and making great sacrifices, built these charitable institutions. While
the look of Catholic health care may have changed through the years, the purpose
remains the same.

Our ability to continue this ministry is increasingly threatened. Decreased
reimbursements, a reduced ability to control costs and payments, and a declining
rural population are some of the problems already threatening this ministry's
future. We do not need HB 1051 to make things worse and nor do the people of
North Dakota.

As stated by others, the taxation proposed by HB 1051 seems to ignore that even
as our charitable institutions struggle to continue their mission, they provide
important community benefits, contribute significantly to local economies, and
never turn anyone away because of inability to pay. Besides these points, this
committee must recognize that HB 1051 is fundamentally flawed, misdirected,
politically dangerous, and unjust.

It is fundamentally flawed and misdirected because it targets only certain tax-
exempt institutions with virtually no regard for treating like-situated tax exempt
institutions in a similar manner.

It is dangerous because it increases the chance of ideologically motivated attacks
on Catholic health care. There is a well-funded, well-organized, determined
effort in this nation to, by their own admission, get the Catholic church out of
health care.
The organizations involved in this effort are using every available means to shut down or cripple
Catholic health care institutions across the nation, including the use of property taxation. This
bill would provide a means for these organizations to do this in North Dakota.

This would be possible, in part, because the bill requires little in actual showing that the affected
properties actually cause a burden on fire and police services. It would be possible, in part,
because it takes merely a petition with only ten percent of the qualified electors to create a
special assessment district. Moreover, the bill actually provides little discretion to the governing
body of the municipality. In short, there is little in this bill to prevent it from being used by
those with motives other than providing property tax relief.

On the subject of property tax relief, the bill is again misdirected. First, nothing in this bill
guarantees property tax relief. Second, if its purpose is to address property tax burdens, the bill
fails to address the real issue. If there is a need for property tax relief, principles of justice
demand that any solution take the form of real and substantial reform of our tax system so that it
is consistent with the demands of justice and the common good. We should resist the temptation
to embrace short-sighted proposals that threaten our charitable ministries.