The South Dakota Legislature’s Executive Board made one intelligent decision and one petty, spiteful, unproductive decision yesterday in Pierre.
On the intelligent side, out of nineteen summer study options, the Executive Board chose to dedicate some time and energy to studying the vexing problem of county funding:
A delegation representing county commissioners and sheriffs, including several members of the Minnehaha County Commission, appeared before the board. Ken McFarland, the administrative officer for Minnehaha County, said the combination of rising costs for law enforcement and the decline in bank tax revenue point to “a train wreck coming for us.”
Property taxes aren’t keeping pace, and allowing county governments to have some sales tax revenue and some alcohol tax revenue are possible steps, McFarland said.
Law enforcement expenses take 53 percent of Minnehaha County’s $71 million budget, he said [Bob Mercer, “Lawmakers Choose County Revenue and High School Activities for Studies,” Aberdeen American News, 2015.04.28].
County funding affects every taxpayer across the state, from wealthy Minnehaha County, where the sheriff has to deal with the closest thing to big-city problems South Dakota can offer, to broke Bennett County, where the fragmented tax base can hardly pay to grade the gravel and keep the courthouse open.
Apparently the Legislature can’t address one serious problem without also taking up one fake problem bubbling up from its own warped and fetid prejudice. The Executive Board voted yesterday to conduct a study of the South Dakota High School Activities Association’s rule-making authority.
There is no profound problem with the SDHSAA’s rule-making authority. Our K-12 schools form an organization, governed by school administrators and school board members, that sets the rules for sports and fine arts activities. Our schools manage their own extracurricular activities with little difficulty or intrusion of the Legislature’s partisan politics.
But last year our schools, through their activities association, followed several other states in enacting a policy making clear the conditions under which transgender students can participate in high school activities (complete with an exemption for religious schools), and certain fearful conservatives went ape. Legislators worked themselves into a lather trying to usurp the SDHSAA’s authority with legislation that would have repealed that inclusive transgender policy. Legislators and religious lobbyists engaged in false fear-mongering and shameful bullying. All of that legislation failed, but now legislators (including some who helped defeat that legislation) are pressuring the SDHSAA to rescind its transgender policy.
That’s what’s happening with this summer study. The Legislature isn’t studying a major problem. The Legislature is practicing procedural extortion: Repeal the transgender policy, or we’ll propose all sorts of legislation to take away your control over your own activities. The Legislature will grab the last annual audit of the SDHSAA and blow the errors found out of proportion into proposals that far exceed any changes the Legislature felt necessary in the wake of the far larger sins discovered in the 2014 audit of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
The Legislature already commits serial abuse against our schools by throttling their funding. Now the Legislature wants to kick around our schools’ authority to govern their own extracurriculars. The Legislature makes time for this enhanced abuse by ignoring other genuine problems to which it could dedicate some problem-solving energy like…
- studying the immediate impacts of its new $85-million road tax bill and the 80-mph speed limit;
- looking for legislative policies that could support workforce development (Senators Sutton and Parsley advocated for exactly that, but the Republican majority said workforce issues don’t warrant their attention);
- reviewing the state’s multi-million-dollar expenditures on foolish ad campaigns;
- conducting formal Legislative hearings on each Indian reservation to talk about serious proposals to support white-tribal reconciliation.
I look forward to the formal interim hearings on county funding and the practical solutions that may arise. I dread the repetition of uninformed paranoia and ill-disguised prejudice and bullying that will come from the SDHSAA rule-making summer study.