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Passing Initiated Measure 15 means more money for K-12 education, but the proposed tax may overburden South Dakotans with low incomes. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.
Passing Initiated Measure 15 means more money for K-12 education, but the proposed tax may overburden South Dakotans with low incomes. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.

Who Should Pay For Good Public Programs?

Oct 17, 2012

 

My 2012 ballot is somewhat humdrum: mark the D's, vote no on Governor Daugaard's really bad ideas (Referred Laws 14 and 16), and make sure I affix enough postage. Simple.

Initiated Measure 15 is not so simple. More than 33,000 signatories placed IM 15 on the ballot to ask us to consider increasing our state sales tax from 4% to 5% to boost funding for K-12 education and Medicaid.

Practically, I should find voting for IM 15 easy. I teach. I have a daughter in public school. Passing IM 15 means $91 million more for K-12 education, or about $730 more for each student. With 20 kids in her first-grade class, that's over $14,000 worth of new books, field trips, art supplies and other practical things that could help my daughter learn more. 

Politically, I could find IM 15 useful in challenging some vital South Dakota Republican mythology. I've heard Republican legislators fantasize out loud that they have a mandate from the voters not to raise taxes. They claim that they'd like to increase funding for education and other programs but that the voters won't stand for any tax increases. These lazy statesmen thus justify their own inability and unwillingness to seek new revenue to solve policy problems.

Passing IM 15 at the ballot box would repudiate this self-justifying myth. It would say to Republican legislators, "The voters think education and health care are important enough to spend more money on; why don't you?"

But one key principle keeps me in doubt on IM 15: we would expand our reliance on a regressive tax. The poorest 40% of wage-earners would pay a touch over 1% of their income to cover this tax increase, while the richest 20% would pay just 0.3% more from their income. South Dakota's millionaires would pay just 0.1% more out of their hefty pocketbooks. In practical terms, the blue-collar family down the street has to find a way to cut out three days' worth of meals and other expenses to pay for this tax increase; your CEO neighbor skips one fancy dinner at Minerva's and turns off the contributions to her hedge fund for an afternoon.

K-12 education and Medicaid are vital public services. Our legislature lacks the political will to fund them properly. But can we justify funding public services by making South Dakota's tax system even more unfair to lower-income people? 

That's the hardest question South Dakotans face on this year's ballot. 

 

Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.



Comments

12:59 pm - Wed, October 17 2012
dave tunge said:
What if next year an initiated measure is sought to add say, another 1/2% sales tax for meals and shelter for the homeless? A noble cause wouldn't you say.
And maybe more taxes for more causes the year after.
We have a system that works well in South Dakota despite the gloomy picture painted by some. I don't think initiated measures are the answer to any tax issues and #15 lacks options that are necessary. There is virtually no oversight or discretion of our legislature. The 25% increase is earmarked as a temporary solution that may not even be necessary in coming years but, as a permanent tax, this one won't ever go away. Our funding shorfall is not near so dire as it was last year and recent sales tax reports are very promising.
We shouldn't handcuff our "lazy statesmen" or hogtie our poorest wage earners with a "forever" tax. And certainly not at this point in time.
06:08 pm - Wed, October 17 2012
Lots of interesting points, Dave. Let's look at the first for a moment.

What if someone else did propose another sales tax increase? There's not slippery slope here. Passing IM 15 does not provide an automatic green light to passage of other tax increases. Remember, we're talking about the general public. I have no idea what percentage of the voters IM15, but the percentage who vote "Yes" will be the percentage who think the investment is worth the increased tax burden. Ask that same group to pass another tax increase next year, and I'm almost certain you'd see fewer supporters.
07:02 pm - Wed, October 17 2012
"We have a system that works well in South Dakota despite the gloomy picture painted by some." I'll trade you, Dave: I'll accept that argument as a reason to vote against IM15 if you'll accept that same line, applied to our great K-12 schools, as a reason to vote against Referred Law 16. Deal?
07:40 pm - Wed, October 17 2012
dave tunge said:
While I believe the SDEA is more knowledgeable regarding our education process I also believe, as with any association, that they foster self-serving agendas.
If you can convince me why tenure is a necessity then you got a deal.
04:47 am - Thu, October 18 2012
As former Republican legislator Lee Schoenbeck said on SD Public TV last winter, we got rid of teacher tenure in South Dakota during the 1990s under Gov. Janklow. What we have left (and what RL 16 eliminates) is a due process protection called continuing contract. At the end of my first three years working at a South Dakota public school, my school board can choose to renew or not renew my contract. They can choose not to renew my contract for any reason, without giving me any explanation. From my fourth year on, at the end of the year, if the board doesn't want to renew me, my superintendent has to write me a letter explaining the reasons. I then have the right to a hearing before the school board to contest those reasons and beg for renewal.

Under current statute, even with continuing contract, school boards can get rid of any bad teacher. Continuing contract is a small but reasonable protection that keeps good teachers from being let go for bad reasons.

So, Dave, do we have a deal?
04:49 am - Thu, October 18 2012
Dave, you mention a "forever tax." Aren't our current sales and property taxes "forever taxes"? Does the absence of a sunset clause in those taxes mean those taxes are unfair and should not have been enacted as well?
06:52 am - Thu, October 18 2012
JUlie Gross said:
This "author" has personally attacked and denigrated at least two educators for their involvement in the political process since they oppose his views.

You can view his angry attacks on his blog; if you can stomach the foul language there and the inbred atmosphere.

ENOUGH OF THE HATE and eliminate-your-enemies-at-all-costs attitude. Get this guy out of SD magazine.

06:54 am - Thu, October 18 2012
JUlie Gross said:
"At the end of my first three years working at a South Dakota public school, my school board can choose to renew or not renew my contract. They can choose not to renew my contract for any reason, without giving me any explanation. "

Gee, welcome to what the rest of us call, "work".

Based on your writings, I'm surprised any employer responsible to the public has employed you.
06:58 am - Thu, October 18 2012
JUlie Gross said:
This tax will hurt the poorest among us, since they spend a disportionate part of their income on food and other necessaries. That's not a SD value.

What this author is suggesting is a knockout punch to those already suffering under the Obama regime. That's not a SD value.


The values of this author are not our values.
07:02 am - Thu, October 18 2012
JUlie Gross said:
" These lazy statesmen thus justify their own inability and unwillingness to seek new revenue to solve policy problems."

HOW DARE YOU, you sleezy loudmouthed punk.

Whether you agree with them or not, HOW DARE YOU question their motives!

How dare you call them lazy! HOW DARE YOU!

This is enough, SD Magazine.

This is enough, Spearfish schools. I for one will not pay taxes so that this creepy, angry, and bitter blowhard has a platform in our shools to spew his filth.

We deserve better, our schools deserve better.

End the hate.

Drop this punk.
07:06 am - Thu, October 18 2012
JUlie Gross said:
"In practical terms, the blue-collar family down the street has to find a way to cut out three days' worth of meals and other expenses to pay for this tax increase; your CEO neighbor skips one fancy dinner at Minerva's and turns off the contributions to her hedge fund for an afternoon."

What do the poorest 40% do? Where do they go to cover your poor tax?

Nevermind, as long as you and your school friends get theirs, right?

Unbelievable.


08:13 am - Thu, October 18 2012
Cory, I want to thank you for beginning to cover some of the ballot issues. The election will be here before we know it! Also, thanks for your last 30 columns you have written for the South Dakota Magazine website. Time flies! I appreciate your thoughtful writing and the tone in which you present your views to our readership. We're proud to have you as a South Dakota Magazine columnist.
08:13 am - Thu, October 18 2012
Mary said:
I agree, Julie, "end the hate." But I am referring to your own hatefulness toward Cory. This is an opinion piece and you are certainly welcome to share your opposing opinion but I would receive it better in a less hateful way.
03:07 pm - Thu, October 18 2012
Katie Hunhoff said:
Hi Al. We have two political writers -- Cory is from the left and Ken Blanchard is from the right. We do not ask them to write on specific issues so it is not very likely that they would happen to write on the same topic. If you find an opposing view you respect feel free to post a link in the comments. Thanks! -- Katie
03:41 pm - Thu, October 18 2012
Al, in case you didn't notice, I didn't take a side on the issue. My vote on IM15 is still up for grabs. But here's the website of the folks who put the proposal on the ballot:

http://www.movingsdforward.com/

...and here's the website of the main group campaigning against IM15:

http://defeat15.org/
08:49 pm - Thu, October 18 2012
anonymous said:
I'd support IM15 if it included a sales-tax exemption for groceries, even if it contained no provision as to how the money would be spent.

As it stands now, I'll vote "No." It will just turn into another cash cow when the legislature uses the funds for anything and everything, and teachers and students and all the little people will get hosed in the end.

Julie, I've met Cory. Creepy, angry, and bitter don't describe him at all. Nor does cynical. I do think Cory could stand to be a bit more cynical when it comes to how the funds from a penny sales tax increase will actually be used in the long term.

Exempt groceries, and then we'll talk turkey!


08:50 pm - Thu, October 18 2012
"Anonymous" above is me. Sorry. First time on this site.
06:29 pm - Sun, October 21 2012
Exempting groceries comes up time and time again. If we pass RL15, might that push the Legislature to lower the tax burden by implementing that seemingly popular exemption?
12:38 pm - Fri, October 26 2012
For those of your trying to follow along, this post is about sales tax, public programs, and Initiated Measure 15. I welcome questions and comments about this significant public issue.
10:15 am - Sat, October 27 2012
Ken Santema said:
Cory,
All I would add to your column is the lack of oversight in this IM. I really feels like a "throw money at the problem" type of solution. I am a very anti-tax person. However even I would consider a 1% tax hike if I felt there was value in return. A plan attached to the 1% showing how educational and medicare in South Dakota would improve could sway people such as me. However with no plan or oversight the answer is a simple No.

I would also say no to the same exact IM if there were groceries exemptions. I work with a lot of small business owners that are already confused by Sales and Use Tax. Further complicating the tax system for these small business owners brings value to nobody. I've dealt with Sales and Use Tax in many states, Some states have such a complicated exemption system that its almost impossible for a small business owner to understand what they must do.

But no matter what I will vote no this IM, it simply is a bad answer to a question that hasn't been asked properly (how to actually fix the education system).
11:00 am - Sun, October 28 2012
...but Ken, prior to asking your question, we must ask whether the education system needs fixing. IM15 contends that schools are not broken but that our Legislature's will to fund them properly is. Referred Law 16 contends that our schools are broken and must be operated differently. I can accept the former argument; I whole-heartedly reject the latter.

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