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Vehle: Daugaard will oppose any tax increase for roads during his first term

District 20 Sen. Mike Vehle, left, answers a question during Saturday's cracker barrel at Mitchell Technical Institute as state Reps. Tona Rozum and Lance Carson listen. (Chris Huber/Republic)

Getting more money for South Dakota's roads will have to wait until after the 2014 election, according to state Sen. Mike Vehle .

Vehle, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he is tired of beating his head against the wall on road repair, but noted that 1 percent of the state's roads are in bad shape now. In a decade, 17 percent of the state's roads will be rundown.

"When a road gets into poor condition, there's one thing you can do: Tear it up and start over," he said during Saturday's District 20 cracker barrel. All three Mitchell Republican legislators attended it at the Mitchell Technical Institute Technology Center amphitheater.

Vehle said such replacements cost $1 million per mile, and double that for interstates. It's like a loose shingle on your roof -- If you don't deal with it, it can become a major problem.

But he said Gov. Dennis Daugaard opposes any increase in the gas tax to pay for road repairs. The two men have sat down and discussed it, but Daugaard ran on a no-new-taxes stance in 2010, and said he isn't convinced this is enough of a crisis to make him change his mind, according to Vehle.

He said he hopes to get a gas tax increase in 2015, after the next election, when Daugaard , in a second term, or a new governor would not oppose it.

In addition, he said if Daugaard would veto a tax increase, it would take two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate to over-ride the veto. That would mean help from "our Democratic friends," Vehle said, and many of them don't want to be tagged with voting for a tax increase when they run for re-election.

State Rep. Lance Carson said the state needs to decide if it wants to invest in itself. A State Fair building had to be torn down because it became dilapidated due to delayed maintenance.

"I do think at some point along the line, we're going to have to step up to the plate and create some revenue for our roads," he said.

Carson said Vehle has tried before, but has been unable to get much traction, especially with Daugaard so strongly opposed to it.

State Rep. Tona Rozum said while she's not sure what the answer is, it's clear as roads and bridges age, and farm equipment gets larger, something has to change. She said during her campaign last summer and fall, road and bridge maintenance was the No. 1 issue she heard about.

"It's a huge issue," Rozum said. "And I do think we have to do something."

She said the same issue -- a need for financing -- plagues schools and other areas of South Dakota. It's something that will have to be addressed.

Clark Edwards, of rural Letcher, asked how the legislators will deal with roads that need maintenance. A bill calling for an inspection of trucks hauling grain to elevators to ensure they were not too heavy failed, and Edwards said he feels that would have helped with the problem.

Vehle said he agrees, but the reality was that bill was doomed by widespread opposition.

In other issues:

* Vehle said Senate Bill 179, which he co-sponsors, has been wrongly seen as an attack on people's rights to drain their property.

Vince Boddicker, of Mitchell, asked about the bill, and said he was opposed to a loss of individual rights. Boddicker spoke with Vehle after the forum ended.

Vehle said he feels a watershed task force should examine drainage issues, and set a fair policy for all involved. If a county is going to "be in the drainage business," the senator said , it should do so in a responsible manner.

This bill has "created a firestorm," he said, but one problem is that people have not read the bill. Some are insistent their rights cannot be limited, Vehle said, but "you have to look at the landowners downstream."

Vehle invoked an old political phrase: "Whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting," in discussing the issue, and Boddicker , who said he will study the bill, agreed with that.

* Rozum said a bill to allow counties and the townships to levy a $1 tax per $1,000 of valuation to repair and maintain roads and bridges was changed, with counties dropped from it, and the maximum tax lowered to 20 cents.

It moved through the House Taxation Committee and will come before the full House, she said.

* Another bill to allow school districts to use money that is already levied to pay for employee insurance costs moved through Taxation Committee and will go to the House.

Rozum , a former teacher, said the levy has paid for pensions in the past. This would just give districts another option without increasing any taxes.

* Anonymous free speech is a First Amendment right, Steve Sibson, of Mitchell said, and he opposes a bill that has passed the Senate and is now before the House that would mandate people behind political campaign calls identify themselves.

Sibson also said South Dakota gun owners feel ostracized, and state Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, whom he called "an outspoken conservative," has been pressured to remain silent. That's why people need to be able to make comments without identifying themselves, he said.

Vehle said he has been attacked with postcards and other campaign devices, and that's fine with him -- "I'm a big boy," he said -- but he thinks people should have to identify themselves in a campaign.

Carson said in a court of law, people have a right to face their accuser, and the same standard should apply in politics.

Rozum said she will listen to the testimony before deciding how she votes. But she said people need to read bills and become more fully informed on the process.

* Mitchell Councilman Randy Doescher asked how the proposed texting while driving ban is doing.

Vehle has consistently supported such a ban, and introduced a bill to prohibit it.

His bill comes before the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday. As chairman, he will turn over the gavel, and present the bill. Vehle said he feels he can get it onto the Senate floor, but he's hearing from both supporters and opponents about its chances of passage.

"I think there are more people in favor of it than in the past," Vehle said.

But similar bills have passed in the Senate before and failed in the House. Vehle said while such a law would be difficult to enforce, it could help dissuade people from texting and driving.

"What I want to do is create that culture," he said. "It happened with seat belts."

Carson said this is, in his view, a better bill that has been introduced in the past, and he is strongly considering supporting it. He said young people can make a difference by reminding their parents and others of the danger of texting and driving, just as the use of chewing tobacco has diminished as younger people criticize others for using it.

"A lot of times we underestimate the power of our children," Carson said.

Rozum said she agrees with the idea of making it part of the culture.

Another bill to prohibit teen drivers from texting and driving made an impact in Pierre when state Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, a retired police chief, brought young drivers to testify, Vehle said. But Rozum said she fears people will feel banning teens from texting and driving will convince people that is the way to deal with the problem, when it is in fact more widespread.

She said some legislators are adamantly opposed to such a ban.

* Eldon Stahl, of Mitchell, said he was concerned about a bill calling for a federal constitutional convention to mandate a balanced budget.

Rozum said the proposed resolution is a classic example of unintended consequences of calling such a convention, which could make any number of changes to the structure of the government. It passed in a committee, which amazed her, but has yet to come before the full House.

Carson said he was "not ready to comment on it at this time" since he had not read it.

Vehle said he will "take a strong look at it" if it passes the House and makes it to the Senate.

* Vehle said a bill to allow anyone to carry a gun on a campus bothered him, and he's glad it failed.

Under this proposed law, a person could have carried a loaded rifle into a classroom, turn off the safety and prop the gun up, no matter who objects to it.

"I looked at that and I said, 'I don't think this is a wise idea,' " he said.

* Vehle said he feels a proposed bill to provide financial aid for law students to work in areas without enough lawyers is a worthwhile idea.

He said South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson strongly supports the bill, and said he would agree to disbar any lawyer who didn't live up to his or her end of the bargain and spend five years in the designated county after earning a law degree.

* Tara Volesky said a state law should be passed to regulate construction management at risk.

Volesky , of Mitchell, said a Page 1 story in Saturday's Daily Republic convinced her of the need for such a law.

Carson said it's too late this session, but he is willing to learn more about the issue. Rozum said she welcomes all input.

Vehle said he has discussed the issue with interested parties and advised them to see if they work out an arrangement, or if not, bring a bill to the 2014 session. The bill could be introduced this session if the rules were suspended, but that would have no chance now, he said.

* Carson said "nothing real exciting" had happened in his committees. But he said on Feb. 20, called "crossover day" as bills shift from the Senate to the House and vice versa, will increase action.

* Vehle said he feels the "tenor of the legislative session" is greatly improved this year.

Vehle initially teamed with Democratic state Sen. Jason Frerichs, of Wilmot, to spotlight coyotes and use deer rifles to hunt them. But Vehle said he grew concerned about the range of the rifle and worked to kill the bill.

Later, he helped stop another bill Frerichs backed. But after the session closed for the day, he gave the Democrat a ride to a meeting, and they discussed the day's events.

"He understood and we still get along," Vehle said. "And that's the tenor of the session, and the way it should be."

Rozum agreed, saying this session, which reached the halfway point last week, has gone well.

* Monday's legislative session was canceled due to the winter storm that rampaged across the state.

The Legislature will make it up by meeting on Friday, which was supposed to be an off-day.

* The cracker barrel, sponsored by the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee, drew about 40 people, twice the size of the crowd for the first one.

Davison County Commission Chairman John Claggett was the moderator for the forum. It was the second and final Mitchell cracker barrel of the 2013 legislative session.