Legislature disrespects local governments | TSLN.com

Legislature disrespects local governments

by Doug Sombke
S.D. Farmers Union

Over the last 40 years, I have noted a continued decline in South Dakota state laws respecting County Commission and Township Boards' authority and ability to govern.

A Feb. 11, 2015 comment from Rep. Don Haggar, R-Dist. 10, during discussion over the possible removal of a 1995 County property tax cap showed that for some elected officials, the tone has not changed.

When it was suggested that authority to increase property taxes be returned to County Commission and Township Boards, Haggar's response was: "Those county officials are going to find ways to spend the money. Their appetites will rise to the level of the candy available. That's what will happen."

The property tax cap in reference was put into place in 1995 by the late Gov. Janklow. At the time, Janklow introduced this cap on property taxes as an attempt to slow homeowner property taxes. At the time, escalation of property taxes was a bit out of control.

The cap was intended as a temporary fix until the legislature came up with other revenue sources to offset the need. Twenty years later, South Dakota legislators have yet to come up with a revenue source solution that will replace the ever-increasing and demanding need of revenue by county and township governments.

With today's highway and bridge infrastructure needs at a breaking point; South Dakota Farmers Union believes the legislature must remove this County and Township property tax cap in order to provide local governments with another a revenue stream to address urgent highway and bridge infrastructure needs.

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During S.D. Farmers Union state convention, our membership voted in policy to support this belief. Our organization supported HB 1216 introduced by Rep. Dennis Feickert, D-Dist.1, to repeal the 1995 state law capping property taxes.

This bill received quite a bit of attention and debate in the House's State Taxation Committee. HB 1216 was sent to the floor with a "do pass" recommendation.

On the House floor it was met with much debate. Rep. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Dist. 5, commented that the bill is, "clearly the largest tax increase that South Dakota will see."

The bill failed to pass on the house floor with a final vote of 22-46.

Tying the hands of local government

Through their comments and final vote, South Dakota legislators are essentially tying the hands of local government. Operating with limited funds, these County and Township governing bodies are assigned the tremendous duty to maintain highways and bridges to ensure the safety of all who travel.

Many of our state's legislators understand this responsibility well because they have served on local government before serving in their current capacity. For example, Rep. Feickert used to be a Brown County Commissioner. Rep. Feickert, like South Dakota Farmers Union members, would not have presented HB 1216 if he didn't think it was absolutely necessary to do so.

He, like Farmers Union members, has confidence in the ability of local governments to act in a fiscally responsible manner to solve the challenges they were elected to overcome.