Lee Schoenbeck sent this along for sharing with our readers, but asked that we not share until it appeared in the Argus. So, now that it’s been in , here you go:
Representative: We Made The Right Decision Killing a Fifty Percent Tax Increase
As I was cleaning my bird cage, I noticed Stu Whitney’s column attacking legislators for not supporting a 50% increase in the city sales tax. He attributed the House of Representatives’ decision, the South Dakota People’s House, to being under the influence of the Koch brothers. I don’t know the Koch brothers, but I understand their name is pronounced the same as Coke. To that extent, I have seen legislators influenced by them, usually in the Diet Coke ideation late in the afternoon debates!
On the other hand, I can think of at least five more likely reasons a majority of House members, and particularly the Sioux Falls House members you singled out, rejected this large tax increase.
First, while it may not be readily apparent from the Minnesota Avenue window-view, a lot of South Dakotans are blue collar folks that work hard, and struggle to pay their bills week-to-week. A fifty percent increase in the city sales tax means something in their lives, and it doesn’t end there. This same session, that same People’ House also killed in floor debate a proposal to take the limits off of those same blue collar folk’s property taxes. You see, there are more people, groups and ways looking to spend the citizen’s hard earned dollars, than your average citizen can probably tolerate. I’m sure they appreciate the attention, but prefer to make their own family decisions about how to allocate their resources.
Second, I was a little surprised by the way you fell for the old snake oil sales line about it being an optional tax. The first penny sales tax was an “optional” tax, all cities imposed and we now pay. The second penny sales tax came later as an “optional” sales tax now imposed by all cities and paid by all of our families. This new third “optional” tax would be as surely imposed, and eventually broadened, as has every other piece of the city sales tax in our state. Dr Oyos used to warn us at Augie that “those who ignore history, are doomed to relive it”.
Third, the sales tax puts South Dakota retailers at a competitive disadvantage to their internet competitors. Every time the sales tax is raised, attention needs to be paid to the consequences for the small businesses that line our main streets, fund our little leagues, and provide jobs in our communities. If the U.S. Congress ever gets out of the pocket of the Googles, Amazons, and Microsofts of this world, and let’s the state’s fix it, state legislators wouldn’t be the front-line protection in this battle.
Fourth, the line of folks with ideas for the use of the people’s money in Pierre is not a short one. Legislators need to bring the spine to the job that allows them to stand strong in the face of so many good, and some not so good, demands on their citizen’s funds. Appropriations triage is not for the faint of heart. A new tax increase is a draw on those same resources – it takes the people’s finite, and hard-earned resources.
Finally, even a casual reader of the Argus Leader would be aware that we have funding challenges for education in South Dakota. Competitive salaries to attract and retain qualified educators in the k-12 world, and funds to keep tuition affordable in the technical school and regential system will come with a cost – a big one. The only realistic option on the table is some form of a sales tax for some period of time. As they say: “Sweat Pea, you can’t ride a horse with your butt in two different saddles”. Either you’re going to provide funds for your Mayor’s favorite projects, or your going to look to the critical needs of educating our citizenry. Realistically, you have to pick, and there’s a chance that your local legislators understand that math – and we’re looking down the road to next session for the good of our South Dakota families.
So Stu, while we in the ESD world were not disappointed to see you promoted from the sports page, from the heart I tell you, I prefer it when your ruminating stays closer to home. After all, the Mayor Mike – Kermit fights have at least a few more good years of ink in them.
Lee Schoenbeck is a mechanic’s kid, rookie House member, and country lawyer from near Watertown, SD