Senator David Novstrup established for absolute certain today that he won’t run against me for his District 3 Senate seat. He was appointed errand boy for the doomed effort of conservative Republicans to kill House Bill 1182, the sales tax for teacher pay, by amending it into an unpassable form. When his amendment failed, he voted against HB 1182, a vote that by itself would cost him 40% of his usual turnout… if he were foolish enough to run for re-election.
Senator David Novstrup opened the long-anticipated floor debate with an amendment that included the following provisions:
- Instead of raising the state sales tax from 4.0% to 4.5%, raise the tax only half as much, to 4.25%.
- Eliminate the property tax relief provided in Governor Daugaard’s plan.
- Direct revenue from sales on remote sales, to be collected under the as yet unpassed and still unconstitutional SB 106.
- If revenue from additional taxes exceeds what’s needed to reach target teacher pay averages, incrementally reduce the sales tax on food.
Senator David Novstrup’s numbers didn’t add up to the $67.4 million that the Governor is proposing for teacher pay. Questioned by Blue Ribbon K-12 panel leader Senator Deb Soholt about the discrepancy, Senator David Novstrup insisted that there was more money somewhere in the budget, but he didn’t write that money into his amendment. He thus proposed rewriting HB 1182 to provide less money than necessary to meet its goals and then have faith that someone would figure out where to get the rest later. In other words, Senator Novstrup asked legislators to vote for a plan that, by itself, would not work.
After a few speeches for and against, Senator Novstrup seemed to improvise, offering an amendment to his amendment. Apparently not prepared with a written amendment, Senator Novstrup asked every to replace his quarter-penny sales tax increase with a three-tenths-penny. If Senator Novstrup was winging it, he winged it well: if the Governor’s half-penny would produce $107.4 million in new revenue, Novstrup’s half-penny would produce $53.7 million; bumping up to three-tenths-penny would yield $67.1 million, close enough to the Governor’s figure that we shouldn’t quibble.
On face, Novstrup’s amendment to his amendment made his proposal superior to the Governor’s. He provided just about the same amount for teacher pay. He offered less new sales tax burden. It was voodoo fiscal policy, but he at least sorta-kinda-someday-maybe offered a chance of lowering the tax on food, thus making his plan sorta-kinda-someday-maybe less regressive than the Governor’s. And in a bigger whack at regressivity, he didn’t transfer wealth from grocery shoppers to property owners.
But that last part would have killed the deal, and I get the impression that Novstrup and every other Senator in the room knew it. Senator Soholt said commercial property owners in her District 14 had signed on to HB 1182 on the promise of property tax relief. Property tax relief is completely superfluous to the proper functioning of the plan, but as Rep. Lee Schoenbeck might have explained to me last summer, it is politically indispensible to passage of the plan in the 2016 Legislature.
Senators defeated Novstrup’s amendment to his amendment and his amendment on 22–13 votes. In the debate on the amendments and HB 1182 itself, the conservative Republicans opposing HB 1182 unamended bemoaned the sales tax’s regressive impact on the poor, its unfair transfer of wealth to property owners, and its potential to pressure schools to shed 400 teachers. For two hours, I was the ideological leader of the radical right wing of the South Dakota Republican Party.
But we know Senator Novstrup and his right-wing colleagues didn’t mean the things they were saying. David has been in Pierre for ten years. If he and the nine Republican Senators who voted nay with him on the unamended HB 1182, they would have done something about regressive taxes and their woeful neglect of K-12 funding long ago. Instead, after countenancing 30 years of the lowest teacher pay in the nation, Novstrup and his fellow opponents cast one more vote against doing right by our teachers.
And that is reason enough to make sure that David Novstrup and the nine naysayers for whom he fronted today never serve in our Legislature again.