I was ready to give my Representative Dan Kaiser (R-3/Aberdeen) a hard time for voting against Senate Bill 53, the 2% increase in K-12 funding. But Rep. Kaiser didn’t want to kill that increase. Rep. Kaiser was really protesting what he called Governor Dennis Daugaard’s “money-shifting game.”
Rep. Kaiser recognized that SB 53’s 2% increase isn’t really a 2% increase, at least not from the state. The Governor gets a quarter of that increase from local taxpayers by shifting nearly half of the burden of funding for technology in the schools, statewide standardized tests, and the sparsity factor to the school districts. That budget trick was in the Governor’s original budget proposal. On Tuesday, the House pulled the assessment and sparsity factors out of that budget trick and back to full state responsibility. In that amended form, SB 53 sailed out of the House with just two nays. The conference committee restored the Governor’s full budget trick. Rep. Kaiser said he didn’t want to give in to the pressure from the Governor on this issue.
Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) joined Rep. Kaiser in opposition to the Governor’s plan. Rep. Russell called the bill a suspension of the Cutler-Gabriel property tax agreement. He said it didn’t seem right that, after slashing education in 2011, the Governor and Legislature were bringing K-12 funding back to its five-year-ago level by increasing the burden on local taxpayers. “If we have priorities, we ought to pay for it,” said Rep. Russell, who compared this move to the unfunded mandates against which he hears his colleagues rail.
Reps. Kaiser and Russell were in the minority. The House and Senate approved SB 53, meaning local taxpayers will shoulder $2.6 million in higher property taxes this coming school year and $5.2 million next year.