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Bob Mercer

MERCER: Political obstruction zone: a rebel here, a rebel there, and deadlocks as the result

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Maybe it's the term limits.

Maybe it's the weakness of the Democratic organization. Maybe it's the schism in the Republican organization. Maybe it's the rise of the independents.

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Maybe it's the refusal by many taxpayers to give the government more money. Maybe it's the people who think our governments don't get enough money.

Maybe it's just basic human need to exert control, if only a little, somehow in a crazy world.

Maybe it's all of those things, and more, that has taken us into the obstructionism that is such a predominant theme of late in South Dakota's public affairs.

We saw three examples again the other day in a single meeting of the Legislature's rules review committee.

A 3-3 split on the panel brought the Daugaard administration to a dead stop in its attempt to draft permanent rules allowing the sale of 85-octane gasoline in western South Dakota.

There's nothing that prevents the governor from issuing a set of emergency rules, time after time, to accomplish the same thing.

The 85-octane issue seems destined for the Legislature in January.

Of course, if a law is passed, the law can be referred via petition drive to a statewide vote on the November 2014 ballot -- freezing the law from taking effect until the voters have their say.

So could be the case on another issue that the rules review members didn't like.

Opposition from large school districts, counties and municipalities led the review panel to put on ice a 3 percent rate increase for the prices of legal advertising they are required to publish in newspapers.

It would be the first increase in five years. The last increase was 3 percent, too.

The rules panel decided to agree with the Daugaard administration on another front, and temporarily void the requirement of teacher evaluations that the Legislature passed three years ago.

One of the rules members, Rep. Shawn Tornow, R-Sioux Falls, asked whether the delay would comply with the original law, which called for the evaluation program's rules to be in place in 2011.

Education Secretary Melody Schopp said her department indeed complied with the law. There were rules in 2011.

The law didn't specify the rules must stay in effect past 2011.

Rebellion isn't confined to the legislative branch.

The Daugaard administration saw time had come to escape the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law rather than face the final penalties for South Dakota's impending failure to achieve what the law's title says.

The Obama administration gave South Dakota a waiver that will greatly change how schools are judged. That was seemingly the good news.

But schools now will actually face more requirements under the rules that will be considered by the state Board of Education later this month.

The craziness extends to the election ballot this November.

The South Dakota Education Association's members referred the Daugaard administration's education reform package of legislation to a statewide vote.

The most controversial piece in this quiltwork of legislation is the weakening of the continuing-contract provision that is considered sacred from the perspective of a labor organization such as SDEA.

Baffling is the best way to describe why the governor and many of his fellow Republicans in the Legislature decided to pick this fight -- and then roll section upon section of other changes for K-12 schools into it.

The legislation, HB 1234, was 28 pages long and had 65 different sections of law.

Democratic legislators led another referendum, last year, that put the governor's proposed business-reward program on the ballot for a statewide vote.

It would be a replacement for the construction-tax refund program which sunsets this year for large business projects.

The Legislature voted to repeal that Rounds administration-era program, after lawmakers finally learned how many millions of tax dollars per year were being refunded.

Through March 31 of this year, which are the latest figures published by the Department of Revenue, the program had refunded $86.9 million.

In just the first quarter of this year, the refunds totaled $9.1 million. From Jan. 1, 2011, through March 31, 2012, the refunds totaled just shy of $17 million.

The new system would stop offering refunds. Instead money would be siphoned from the contractor excise taxes which are paid on all construction projects.

The new pool of money would be made available for the state Board of Economic Development to hand out in grants to business projects.

The third big vote on the ballot this fall is whether to increase South Dakota's sales and use tax rate on most items. The tax currently is 4 percent. The proposed new rate would be 5 percent.

Half of the additional proceeds would be earmarked for Medicaid. The other half would be dedicated to K-12 schools.

The proposed increase in the sales tax would generate between $175 million and $200 million annually in the coming years, depending upon how quickly our economy continues to expand.

Unable to get a tax increase passed by the Legislature, the health care organizations and the school groups are appealing directly to the voters.

This might be the start of a new form of governance in South Dakota. As more and more people feel they're being obstructed in our state politics, we well could see more and more issues ultimately settled by the people at the ballot box.

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