Education Tax Dominates Rapid City Crackerbarrel Meeting

Rapid City Legislative Crackerbarrel meeting, Feb. 20, 2016

Rapid City Legislative Crackerbarrel meeting, Feb. 20, 2016

Phil Jensen


The latest legislative crackerbarrel meeting of the 2016 South Dakota legislative session was held at the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City today.

Legislators present at the meeting were Senator  Bruce Rampelberg, Rep. Lance Russell, Rep. Mike Verchio, Senator  Terri Haverly, Senator Craig Tieszen,  Senator  Alan  Solano,  Rep. Kristine Conzet,  Rep. Brian  Gosch, Rep. Lynne DiSanto, Rep. Chip Campbell,  Rep. Jacqueline Sly, Rep. Scott Craig, and Rep.  Dan Dryden.

Solano was the first featured speaker of the day. Solano said Gov. Daugaard is right now in Washington D.C meeting with the federal Health and Human Service Secretary about Medicaid expansion.  He said that regardless of whether Medicaid is expanded in South Dakota, there are important developments in health care. One is that Indian Health Services (IHS) has agreed to sign onto “tele-health” to use teleconnections for doctors to help people remotely.

Rick Kriebel 2016


Gosch was another featured speaker. He said there are 247 bills in the House this year, not counting  those  bills from the Senate, as well as a number  of  other resolutions which are statements that do not carry the force of law. Bills have to be out of committee by this coming Tuesday, and must pass their respective houses by Wednesday in order to advance. Gosch said the bill to create a new tax for education, HB 1182,  which was voted down this  past week, contained no language earmarking the revenue for a teacher salary increase. He said there are general fund monies available to fund a teacher pay increase without a new tax. He said South Dakota is #1 in the country in reserves, so reserves should be tapped for this.

Craig was the next featured speaker. Craig sent out a press release last night that he was switching his vote on HB 1182 from “no” to “yes.”  He said he originally voted no because he wanted to do it without raising taxes.  Craig said after the “no” vote this past week, his “emails lit up” and he received many emails from teachers, spouses, and other people who said we needed to do this. Craig said the “no” vote caused a lot of grief, and he believed he needed to encourage teachers and others in the state who supported this tax increase. He said we need to bring out all the plans and choose the best one.

DiSanto was the final featured speaker.  DiSanto said SB 129 is a bill on suicide prevention that she is working on. It would better train teachers to identify suicide indicators in children.  SB 130 is intended to require the state of South Dakota to analyze sexual assault kits within 90 days; currently, they can take up to six months to analyze.  HB 1198 is a bill dealing with dyslexia and seeks to help children with that ailment; though there is already legislation on the subject, it isn’t getting the job done. Regarding HB 1182, DiSanto said it is a tough time to be a fiscal conservative in South Dakota because it seems the culture believes the answer to everything is more money. She said she wants to do more for teachers, especially since her mother  and grandmother were teachers, but South Dakota incomes across the board are among the lowest in the nation, and it is those low wage earners who will have to pay for a tax increase.  She said when she ran for office,  she pledged to oppose tax increases.  DiSanto said that some groups seem to believe that if they attempt to get a legislator fired from their occupation or otherwise intimidate them, that she will somehow kowtow to that, but she will not. She said too often people pledge one thing when they run, then do another , but DiSanto is determined not to be one of those.

Woodrow Wilcox


A question was asked about why HB 1182 is proving so hard to pass, even after the work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force. Russell said the governor’s funding formula changes things drastically, but there is not enough money in the plan to pay all teachers what he wants to.  Russell said the number of teachers will have to be cut in order  to provide the pay increase the governor is calling for, especially in rural areas. He said we are taking the easy way out, because we’ve diverted $300 million in revenue to other programs since we made budget cuts a few years ago.  Russell said it’s a matter of priorities, and we haven’t taken a serious look at anything other than the governor’s proposal.  Tieszen said the number of teachers cut by the governor’s proposal was zero, and that school districts could adjust their students-per-teacher ratio.  Dryden said plans to use one-time monies will not help because we need an ongoing revenue stream. Verchio said HB 1130 is an alternative plan we could look at. Verchio said a lot of occupations in South Dakota are last in the nation in income levels, and it isn’t just teachers. All these other occupations are the ones who will pay for any tax increase for teacher salaries.

A question was asked about HB 1161 concerning the payday lending cap.  Gosch said that the proposed cap would make it difficult for “brick and mortar” payday lenders to function,  but online or even overseas ones would flourish in their absence,  and those are much more difficult to regulate. Gosch said 1161 had been passed by the committee and would be heard by the House next week.

A question was asked about tax exemptions for various industries.  Several legislators including Verchio, Rampelberg, Solano, Gosch, Haverly and others pointed out that sometimes the original reasons for these exemptions aren’t really clear, but once one is in place, it is very hard to get rid of them. Lobbyists for those who receive these exemptions come out of the woodwork, and especially when it the exemption involves advertising revenue for the press,  the pressure to keep the exemptions can be very strong. Gosch said there have been proposals to tax internet sales,  which currently are not taxed, but this is difficult because of different state laws and requirements that are involved.

A transgender woman asked Craig why he thought it was a good idea to “legalize discrimination” regarding HB 1008; the individual has mutilated her body to look masculine.  Craig said that the bill simply recognizes that boys are to use boy’s restrooms and girls are to use girl’s restrooms. It is about protecting the physical privacy of everyone, including  the small number of people who are confused about their sex. Craig said he counseled a person once who was confused about their sex. This person told him that they expected rejection from  their church when they exposed their confusion, but instead they received love, and eventually came to realize that it was much healthier for him to accept the sex with which he was born, and is much happier for it today. Craig said no one suffering from this confusion should be treated harshly or ignored,  but that only people of the same sex should be allowed in the privacy of designated restrooms and locker rooms. Craig said policies which accommodate this confusion rather than attempt to help children come to terms with reality only lock people into a problematic way of thinking. Tieszen said this bill brings a lot of pain to certain people within our community. He said he looked for evidence that transgenders were causing problems in our community and found none.  Tieszen said he looked for evidence that schools aren’t dealing with this issue, and found none.

A question was asked about the separation of powers in our state government.  The audience member said when she attended the legislative session recently, she saw a lot of legislators being lobbied by the governor’s office to vote a certain way on certain bills. She asked if this executive lobbying needed to be reined in.  Gosch said there is separation of powers, but the legislative branch doesn’t have a lot of money for staff like the executive branch does.  He said that he would like to lobby on certain bills, especially when they are in committee, but he’s usually busy working in other areas of legislative business and cannot do so.  He said he has caught lobbyists rummaging through papers on his desk before. Conzet said the perception that the governor is calling lots of people off the legislative floor to lobby them is not true. DiSanto said the “blue badge” lobbyists can be discouraging, because on one side, you have taxpayers who take time off from work to come and testify about billsb and on the other, you have taxpayer-funded  lobbyists lobbying for government against the taxpayers.  She said the “blue badges” pretty much leave her alone now, because she has made it clear to them that she doesn’t work for them, she works for the voters.  Craig said no one lobbied him about the education bill. Tieszen said he listens to lobbyists all the time and that’s part of his responsibility. He said if you believe a legislator is being unduly influenced by lobbyists, you probably need a new legislator. Russell said that legislators rely on the “blue badges” for information, but when it’s one-sided and they don’t receive equal input from the people, it can hurt their ability to make balanced decisions.

Jim Hansen, head of the Rapid City Board of Education, asked what is the plan to get us out of the education problem we’re in, if the recommendation  of the Blue Ribbon Task Force isn’t the answer. Russell said he had put forth a plan to earmark video lottery tax revenue ($75 million) to teacher salaries, as was promised back when video lottery was legalized in South Dakota. He said his plan would take the money out of general revenue and put it directly on teacher salaries as was originally promised.  Russell said it isn’t that he doesn’t support education, but rather, he wants to make sure we are doing  everything we can to fund education before we do it on the backs of the taxpayers with a new tax. He said the state’s newspapers have come out in favor of the governor’s tax increase, yet they all have a tax exemption on their ad revenue.  DiSanto said that when the opt-out vote went to the taxpayers last year, the vote was an overwhelming “no.”  She said 57% of the voters in Rapid City said “no” to an education tax increase when they had a direct chance to speak on it.  She said only one of four plans have come up, and she voted “no” on that one only, and this obviously does not mean she’s anti-education.

One more Rapid City crackerbarrel meeting is scheduled for 2016, on March 5



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Bob Ellis has been the owner of media company Dakota Voice, LLC since 2005. He is a 10-year U.S. Air Force veteran, a political reporter and commentator for the past decade, and has been involved in numerous election and public policy campaigns for over 20 years. He was a founding member and board member of the Tea Party groups Citizens for Liberty and the South Dakota Tea Party Alliance. He lives in Rapid City, South Dakota with his wife and two children.
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