Legislators seek higher mileage paymentsPIERRE — If there’s one thing that sticks in the throat of a lot of legislators, it’s the nickel per mile they’re compensated for their first trip to the Capitol and their last trip home from the Capitol each session.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — If there’s one thing that sticks in the throat of a lot of legislators, it’s the nickel per mile they’re compensated for their first trip to the Capitol and their last trip home from the Capitol each session.
The 5 cents is set in the South Dakota Constitution. Once again this fall, the Legislature is asking the voters to repeal the centuryold restriction, so that one rate applies for all of their trips.
Constitutional Amendment N marks the third time in four general elections that the 5-cent question is on the ballot.
Voters rejected the repeal 68 percent to 32 percent in 2006 as part of a broader set of legislative reforms.
They turned down the repeal again 59 percent to 41 percent in 2008.
The measure barely survived its House committee hearing this year. The panel voted 7-6 to move the resolution to the full House for consideration. Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, switched sides and cast the decisive “aye.”
The House of Representatives voted 51-15 in favor, followed by the Senate giving its endorsement 27-5. Nearly all of the “nays” came from Republicans.
Rep. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, sponsored the resolution. He said it’s a portion of the state constitution that is “archaic and out of touch” with modern times.
Legislators receive an annual salary of $6,000 and don’t receive any state insurance coverage, according to Rep. Roger Hunt, R-Brandon. He acknowledged the previous decisions by the voters but said they probably don’t realize how little legislators are paid.
He called 5 cents per mile “very, very antiquated.”
The original rate in the constitution in 1889 was 10 cents per mile. Financial difficulties in the early years of statehood led to a reduction to 5 cents.
Rep. Larry Lucas, D-Mission, said “for some reason” the Legislature has been able to interpret the constitutional restriction to cover only the first trip to the Capitol and the last trip home. He said the 5-cent language could be construed to apply to every mile.
Trying a third time in six years is too soon in the view of Rep. Shawn Tornow, R-Sioux Falls. He said the wishes of the voters should be respected by the Legislature.
The impact would be about $12,000, based on the current legislators’ homes.