At least Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) is trying. Unlike Governor Dennis Daugaard, who has yet to offer clear support for his own Blue Ribbon K-12 panel’s recommendation to raise teacher pay, and who may not even discuss the single-most important potential reform of the 2016 Legislature in his budget address tomorrow, Rep. Russell is endorsing the Blue Ribbon plan to raise South Dakota’s teacher pay from last in the nation to 39th and offering a plan to appropriate the $75 million necessary to raise South Dakota’s average teacher pay from $40K to $48K.
True to conservative form, Rep. Russell refuses to raise taxes to pay teachers what they are worth. Instead, he says we can reallocate $75 million from the state lottery. Rep. Russell tells KCCR that since great Daugaard austerity of 2011, the Governor and the Legislature have added more than $300 million to other programs without restoring the hits education absorbed:
Education has lagged behind in the Governor’s budget, and for that reason I felt that a diversion of money from some of the other priorities would be more appropriate than taxing based on the citizens based on the citizens based on where we do have the money in the budget to make this thing work for the 75 [million] [Rep. Lance Russell, second audio clip, in Kevin Larsen, “SD Lawmaker Proposing Bill That Would Redirect Lottery Revenues For Teacher Pay Increases,” KCCR Radio, 2015.12.07].
We’ve heard this argument before, that South Dakotans enacted video lottery on the promise that the money would go to K-12 education, but that those darned legislators have thrown that money into other budget lines.
The South Dakota Lottery 2015 Annual Report shows us that in FY2015, the state lottery took in $112 million, with $99 million of that revenue coming from video lottery:
However, only 9.8% of that revenue, $11 million, went to the general fund:
And there’s the problem with Rep. Russell’s thesis that he can fund the Blue Ribbon plan by reallocating lottery revenue without raising taxes. 84.5% of FY2015 lottery revenues went to the Property Tax Reduction Fund. If Rep. Russell moves $75 million of that $95 million over to K-12 funding, he’ll need to reallocate another $75 million from some other budget line to prevent property taxes from going up. Where will that $75 million come from—this year’s $85 million road bill? (Rep. Russell did vote against that road bill.)
Rep. Russell appears ready to have that conversation about competing priorities. But maybe we could keep things simple and talk about personal fiscal priorities. Recall that South Dakotans spend triple the national average per capita on lottery. The numbers above show that, on the state’s stoking of our irrational fantasies, we shelled out $693 million to randomly redistribute $472 million of our wealth, serving little social good and promoting the social ill of gambling addiction.
Instead, Rep. Russell, how about we ban video lottery (go ahead, leave the scratch tickets, let people have a little fun) and tell South Dakotans that instead of taking $642 million out of their pockets each year, we’re going to take a measly $99 million (pick your poison—sales tax, property tax, corporate income tax, gun seller’s excise tax) and redistribute that wealth to our 9,362 teachers? We’d raise every teacher’s pay by $10,558, vault South Dakota from 51st to 26th in the nation for teacher pay, put us smack in the middle of our region for what we offer teachers (better than North Dakota, Montana, and Nebraska, still behind Iowa, Minnesota, and Wyoming), and enjoy the social benefits of better, happier teachers who redistribute their priceless wealth of knowledge and skills to our kids.
Oh, and since lottery is arguably a tax, we’d technically be raising teacher pay by cutting taxes from $642 million to $99 million. Holy cow, Lance! You can’t get more conservative than that!
This conservative plan brought to you by South Dakota’s true liberal media. You’re welcome.