Senate Bill 159, the stealth voucher bill, died and was reborn today.
This morning I laid out four good reasons that SB 159, which would give insurance companies tax credits for giving low-income kids scholarships to private schools, should die as it did last year. House Appropriations almost granted my wish. Rep. Jean Hunhoff (R-18/Yankton) wanted to send SB 159 to the 41st day; Rep. David Anderson (R-16/Hudson) offered a substitute motion to table. The table motion insulated SB 159 from further debate in committee. Rep. Anderson’s motion to table passed on a slim 5–4 margin.
But some House members really, really want these stealth vouchers. This afternoon they voted to smoke out SB 159, forcing House Appropriations to send it to the full House for debate tomorrow.
House members should consider three items as they prepare to debate this constitutionally and fiscally unwise bill.
First, SB 159 should require a two-thirds vote to pass. It creates a new tax expenditure. It costs the state money (as laid out in the fiscal note to SB 159). It is essentially an appropriations bill, and our state constitution requires that any separate appropriations bill receive a two-thirds vote of all members of each house.
Second, Section 9 of SB 159 keeps secret the identity of the insurers receiving tax credits to fund private-school scholarships. If SB 159 is really in the public interest, the public should know who’s getting tax dollars for carrying out that interest, so we can be sure there’s no corrupt diversion of funds to friends of state government.
Third, before the House convenes, members should ask why prime HB 159 sponsor Senator Phyllis Heineman and her insurance agent husband D. Greg Heineman need any more state money to subsidize their support for Catholic schools. D. Greg’s company, Williams Insurance Agency, is clearly a friend of state government: according to the state’s invoice database, Williams Insurance Agency has received over $8.6 million in payments from the state for various insurance services:
|Fiscal Year||payments to Williams Insurance Agency|
|2016 (so far)||$1,969,352.75|
|total since July 1, 2011:||$8,628,463.02|
Heinemans get millions in nice contracts from the state, and still need tax credits to fund their philanthropy to private schools? Come on—give someone else a turn at the trough!
The big reason to vote Senate Bill 159 down once and for all is its unconstitutional effort to launder public money for private schools. The stink of cronyism and corporate welfare should ice that cake and convince the House to stick with its duty to support public schools.