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Mickelson piggybacks on Democrats' bill, so school districts can levy tech-school tax

PIERRE -- A possible candidate for the 2018 Republican nomination for governor took control of a Democratic-sponsored piece of legislation Tuesday and turned it into a tool for raising property taxes to fund public technical institutes.

Rep. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls, did the maneuver in the House State Affairs Committee. He inserted into the Democrats' bill his amendment that would allow South Dakota school districts in some cases to use capital outlay taxes for technical institutes.

The measure, HB 1218, comes to a vote in the House of Representatives today. Its original purpose was as a placeholder dealing with education funding. The prime sponsor of the placeholder version was Rep. Julie Bartling, D-Burke.

Now it's become a method for school districts that aren't charging the maximum amount of capital outlay taxes to levy up to 25 cents per $1,000 of property value and use the revenue for helping to fund tech schools.

The only school district that operates a tech school and has room in its capital outlay levy is Sioux Falls. The other three -- Mitchell, Watertown and Rapid City -- are at their maximum levy for capital outlay of $3 tax per $1,000 value.

House Democratic leader Spencer Hawley, of Brookings, questioned the move in the committee by Mickelson.

"I think it's caught everybody flat-footed here," Hawley said.

He noted there weren't any supporters or opponents who testified.

But another committee member, Rep. Mike Stevens, R-Yankton, spoke in favor. He said the Yankton community has been looking for ways to build a stronger technical-education program.

Mickelson said South Dakota currently relies on about $25 million of state funding to support the four tech schools, with students paying the remaining two-thirds of the costs through tuition and fees.

Neighboring states balance the load with local taxes providing about one third. He said that's why students in those states pay about half of the tuition for tech school that students pay in South Dakota.

Despite Hawley's reservations, he voted for it, as did Bartling and the rest of the committee, in recommending 13-0 that Mickelson's version of the bill be passed by the full House.

This is the third measure that Mickelson has brought out this year regarding tech schools.

The House has already approved his proposal for a constitutional amendment on the 2016 statewide election ballot that would set a barrier between the tech schools and the Board of Regents, whose members govern the state universities.

The House also gave its support to legislation from Mickelson that would clarify the process for tech schools to be governed locally by a nine-member board separate from the local school district.

Currently, the four tech schools are operated by their local school districts.