MERCER: A reporter’s dozen wishes in 2012PIERRE — If you sit through enough government meetings and talk with enough people outside the government, you get some ideas of what government ought to be doing differently in South Dakota. Starting today, and continuing for the next few days, we’ll look at 13 ideas for changes that bear consideration in 2012.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — If you sit through enough government meetings and talk with enough people outside the government, you get some ideas of what government ought to be doing differently in South Dakota. Starting today, and continuing for the next few days, we’ll look at 13 ideas for changes that bear consideration in 2012.
* No. 1: The tax increase. The Legislature needs to develop a plan during the 2012 session for spending the money that would be raised if South Dakota voters approve the additional 1 percent sales tax next fall in the Nov. 6 general election.
Why is this important? Because this is a $175 million question. An additional 1 percent of state sales tax would raise approximately that amount, or more, in the first year, based on tax recent collections.
The ballot measure, sponsored by leaders for the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations and the South Dakota Education Association, naturally calls for the revenue to be spent on Medicaid and public schools.
The sales tax increase would take effect Jan. 1, 2013. That means, if the Legislature wants to put in place anything that reaches beyond the ballot measure’s specifics, it should be done this year before the voting occurs.
The measure as written requires that the proceeds from the additional tax would be placed in a new state category called the Moving South Dakota Forward fund, with half of the proceeds distributed to school districts on a quarterly basis, and the other half distributed to Medicaid providers.
School districts would receive money based on their enrollments and would be able to spend the money as their local boards wish. The ballot measure says the money can’t be used by the Legislature to offset state aid to education – but because this would be an initiated law and isn’t a constitutional amendment, the Legislature can do what it pleases, subject to referral to the voters.
As for the Medicaid provisions in the ballot measure, that half of the proceeds is to be spent 80 percent on increased rates of payments to health care providers and 20 percent for handling additional caseloads.
Because any changes that the Legislature might want for the plan can be referred to a statewide vote too, those changes probably should be offered up front so they are on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot at the same time as the ballot measure.
Would the Legislature dare tinker? Lawmakers spent the tobacco-tax increase in a somewhat different manner than what the sponsors of that successful ballot measure originally proposed in 2006. Will voters approve a sales-tax increase? Hard to say, but the tobacco tax increase passed with 60.8 percent support.
* Nos. 2, 3 and 4: Growing the economy. We’re entering year two of the Daugaard administration and we’re still waiting for results from the two largest economic development projects of the previous Rounds administration. They are the beef plant at Aberdeen and the underground science laboratory in the old Homestake underground mine at Lead.
The beef plant’s start-up keeps getting pushed back, for reasons that are seldom clear to the general public.
After the fiasco involving another proposed beef plant, first at Huron and later at Flandreau, that has no tie to the Aberdeen project and that ultimately disintegrated into an expensive scam, people are anxious for the economic boost they hope the Aberdeen plant can deliver for the local economy and for cattle producers.
You have to wonder where we would stand today if all of the state assistance that’s flowed to the Homestake laboratory project had been put into the Aberdeen beef plant instead.
How South Dakota got off-track in the past three years on the Homestake project isn’t clear to the general public either. Science funding can be influenced by political power. Perhaps every one of the 50 states wants some increased share of federal science financial support.
Losing Tom Daschle, who was the U.S. Senate Democratic leader, and replacing him with Republican John Thune, now the No. 3 Republican inside the Senate GOP caucus, followed by the election of Democrat Barack Obama as president, probably wasn’t a move that helped Homestake’s chances.
What we need to see now as taxpayers in South Dakota is a revised plan from the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority and the Daugaard administration for the Homestake laboratory’s future.
For those of you who might have forgotten, then-Gov. Mike Rounds called the Legislature into special session in the fall of 2005 for the sole purpose of a special appropriation of $19.9 million specifically to help fund the Homestake project.
It’s time for a public accounting of where we’ve been, what we’ve spent, what’s been accomplished, where we’re headed and what we’re going to have to pay to get there at Homestake.
It’s also time for comprehensive reports on university research and alternative energy in South Dakota.
For example, how many wind farms and ethanol plants do we have, what have they added to the tax base, what have they accomplished for the economy, what auxiliary businesses have been spawned or assisted, how many jobs have they created and what have they cost in subsidies?
What is the status of the Hyperion refinery proposal, the second TransCanada pipeline proposal, the uranium mining proposal and the old Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern railroad’s coal-line proposal? What’s dead, what’s still alive and what might they mean for the economy?
And what have the Ph.D. programs that were added at the state universities during the past decade accomplished so far? What do they cost and what are they generating?
NEXT: Some changes in education.