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MERCER: A better way than more tax to help ensure a place's future

Bob Mercer

PIERRE -- Want to know the best way to boost your community's economy?

Here's a hint.

It's also the best way to help your local schools and local governments get the money they need and to keep your taxes low.

Most of you know the answer.

Do your shopping in your community. If your local businesses don't stock what you want, ask them to place orders for you.

Rarely in this scribe's time has a store owner come up short. The only instances that come to mind were for items that weren't made any longer.

Let's be clear. This isn't just a plug for the newspaper's advertisers. We're talking economic common cents.

As a general rule, nobody in South Dakota pays higher property taxes to support our local schools than store owners and other businesses. The money you spend locally supports those stores and businesses.

The more you spend with them, the easier it is for them to pay their taxes -- and to make their payrolls - and to keep their doors open -- and to make donations - and to offer summer jobs - and to contribute to the overall vibrancy of life that makes a good community.

There's not a reliable number that can be placed on how much money is spent by South Dakotans on purchases made over the Internet.

But our state's government leaders suggest the state treasury could be reaping tens of millions of dollars more every year in taxes that currently go uncollected for goods and services ordered through the Internet.

Think what a difference every person could make if he or she stopped buying on the Internet and bought locally instead.

Our legislators and members of Congress wouldn't need to bother with trying to pass a federal law that creates a system of Internet taxation - a law which likely will happen sometime around never.

Here's the bigger rub. South Dakota voters will be asked next November at the general election whether they want to raise our state's general sales tax to 5 percent from the current 4 percent.

The money would be used to help send more aid to schools and larger reimbursements to Medicaid providers.

Whether the state tax is 4 percent or 5 percent doesn't matter if the sale is made through the Internet and there isn't any tax collected.

This gets even crazier in the case of the Rutland school district. Rutland school officials promote, yes promote, shopping over the Internet. Here's the message from the Rutland school website:

"Go Shopping now and save the country! Go shopping online through the Rutland School Weblink and help fund a school as well. It just doesn't get any better than this. Now you can continue to shop at many of your favorite online retailers guilt-free. Since many of these internet based companies do not collect SD sales tax, using the Rutland School Weblink to get to them will at least ensure that a small portion of your purchase is given to our school.

"No tricks, no gimmicks. This link will take you to the very same store webpage that you could access directly. All of the prices, sales and other promotions offered by the retailer remain unchanged. Now get out that credit card and go to work..... click on this link:"

The link is for the Rutland School Ramblin' Shopper. Here's the message that greets you there:

"Welcome to Rutland School's Rewards Program. By using this site for all of your shopping needs, the school will earn rewards that can then be used for things such as new technology in the classroom and educational programs at the school. Companies such as Eddie Bauer,, Old Navy,, GAP, Wal-mart, iTunes, Target, Zales, and many more have agreed to partner with us to provide this rewards program for the school.

"By selecting a category on the left and then clicking on the company's logo, you are taken directly to that company's website. A percent of your purchase is then donated back to Rutland School at no additional cost to you. It is the same store, the same price and the same product you would buy had you gone to that store's site directly. By making your purchase through this site, you are supporting education and Rutland School. Bookmark this page, shop online and support Rutland School."

What's fascinating is that Rutland depends on the rest of us more than its local taxpayers to pay for its school system.

In the 2010 school year Rutland reported a fall enrollment of 132 students. The property owners in the Rutland district were levied about $298,000 in general education taxes. The South Dakota Department of Education sent about $448,000 in state aid.

Down the road is the Madison district. The Rutland school board runs a bus route into Madison to pick up students to transport back to Rutland, so the Rutland district can get more state aid, at Madison's loss, under South Dakota's open-enrollment system.

The property owners in the Madison district were levied about $2,655,000 in general-education taxes for last school year. Madison's share of state aid was about $2,978,000.

Rutland is encouraging people to shop over the Internet. Madison's community leaders work every business day to encourage people to shop in Madison.

One of the great benefits of shopping locally is conversation. You never know who you'll run into at the store or on the sidewalk or in the parking lot.

Another benefit is seeing the effort made for the holidays by the folks who run our local stores. Many of them truly try, year after year, to bring new goods for you and yours to enjoy.

In the long run, the purchases that are made over the Internet don't really save you any taxes. We have to pay higher and higher property taxes and possibly, come the 2012 election, higher sales taxes.

What we do lose are local stores, jobs and opportunities in our communities.