Labour avoids its own property tax

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The Norwegian Labour Party has found a way to avoid paying the property tax that the Labour-led Oslo city government has imposed on all other owners of property in Oslo worth more than NOK 4 million. Labour’s headquarters building in the Norwegian capital is under historic preservation orders, and Labour leaders in Oslo proposed and passed a measure in December to exempt such properties from their own new tax.

Norway’s Labour Party won’t have to pay property tax on its headquarters building in downtown Oslo. The Conservative Party, meanwhile, must pay more than half-a-million kroner in property tax on its Oslo headquarters.  PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Newspaper VG reported on Tuesday that Raymond Johansen, the former top Labour Party official who now heads Oslo’s city government, and Johansen’s party fellow in charge of Oslo’s city finances, Robert Steen, have granted a blanket exemption from property tax on buildings that house students and/or are of historic value. Such “historic” buildings include all those which are fredet (under historic preservation orders) .

The Norwegian Labour Party’s headquarters building at Youngstorget 2 in downtown Oslo (also known as the Folketeaterbygningen that formerly housed the Norwegian Opera & Ballet) was placed under an historic preservation order in 2009. It thus qualifies for the exemption that Labour’s Johansen and Steen fronted. Their party, which owns 75 percent of the building through its holding company Youngstorget Eiendom, can thus avoid paying the property tax that they started charging last year, just months after taking office in late 2015.

Steen insisted in an email to VG that Labour’s own property “is being treated along the same lines as all other fredet (preserved) buildings.” Knut Brundtland, the prominent Oslo attorney and son of former Labour Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, serves as chairman of Youngstorget Eiendom and also defended the exemption. “I support the measure (to exempt buildings of historic value) regardless of who owns and leases space in such buildings,” Brundtland told VG.

Challenging ‘folks’ sense of fairness’
Their political rivals in the Conservative Party have a different view. They’ve received a property tax bill for NOK 516,192 (just over USD 60,000) for their own headquarters building in Oslo, called Høyres Hus, plus a bill for NOK 481,281 for their ownership of another downtown office building.

“Labour called their decision to impose property tax a dugnad (collective effort to raise new city funds), in which everyone owning property over a certain value (NOK 4 million) should participate,” Øystein Sundelin, the Conservatives spokesman on city finance policy, told VG. “I think it will challenge folks’ sense of fairness that Labour has now managed to avoid taking part itself, on their headquarters in Oslo.”

Sundelin claimed that “when you demand others to pay a tax, I think it would have been wise for Labour to also pay it.”

Steen of the Labour Party responded that “if Høyres Hus had been fredet, they would also have received an exemption.” Sundelin told VG that the party has now applied for similar historic preservation status of its properties but has not received an answer.

“We’re primarily against anyone having to pay property tax,” Sundelin said. So are many others, as complaints rise in Oslo and in other municipalities around Norway that charge property tax. The vast majority are ruled by Labour- and Center Party politicians.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund