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MERCER: Governor's position against raising taxes doesn't benefit roads

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE -- Time after time, a Republican or Democratic lawmaker tried during the 2014 legislative session to make it easier for counties and townships to spend more money fixing roads and bridges.

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Each time, someone from Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s administration sat waiting as the only opponent. All six different bills eventually lost.

This governor’s general philosophy is he won’t allow taxes to be raised at any level without a vote of the public.

We saw it in his only veto this year. He blocked the addition of $1 for Deadwood’s lodging occupancy tax.

We also saw it in 2011, when he vetoed increases in license-plate prices

That time, the Legislature overrode his veto.

The two rounds of increases took effect in 2011 and in 2013. Once in full use this year, they are expected to generate $32 million annually for counties, cities and townships.

The governor’s chief of staff, Dusty Johnson, cited the $32 million when he testified against one of the bills this session

Johnson’s point is all sides need to let the money settle in and let the local governments put it to use, while a discussion takes place, involving all sides, about what is really needed for highways in South Dakota.

“I think we’ll probably have more of those conversations in the next 12 months than in the last 12 months,” Johnson told the Senate Local Government Committee.

Since 1997, local governments have lived under a state restriction that they can increase their property tax revenues by no more than 3 percent, other than from growth in the property tax base.

Some places impose wheel taxes. Some went to property tax opt-outs. Both can be challenged to a local vote.

Rep. Burt Tulson, R-Lake Norden, wanted to allow townships to add a levy of 50 cents per $1,000 of taxable value. The money was to pay for roads, culverts and bridges.

The idea was that township members could vote at their annual meetings and save the step of a public vote on an opt-out.

The House of Representatives voted 48-20 to approve HB 1140, but the Senate Taxation Committee killed it 5-2.

Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton, wanted to allow county road improvement districts to be formed so they could levy up to $1.50 per $1,000 of taxable value and could borrow.

Another Wismer bill would have expanded the legal uses of an existing county-road tax and put it outside the 3 percent limit. Currently the tax can be used only for matching federal highway grants.

Tulson tried to put townships’ snow levy outside the 3 percent limit.

Rep. Dennis Feickert, D-Aberdeen, wanted $5 million of state general funds for the state Transportation Commission to start a local bridge-replacement program.

Sen. Ryan Maher, R-Isabel, wanted to allow counties to add $1 of tax per $1,000 of taxable value for county road and bridge improvements.

Later he changed it to install a piece of the Wismer bill allowing the expanded fuse or an existing county-road tax.

The governor opposed all.

All failed.

Maybe county commissioners need to take him for rides during his Capitol For A Day events.

And governor: Accept only round trips.

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