Veto Be Gone: Daugaard Offers Grassy Buffer Strip Proposal

If you want the Governor to sign a bill, it can’t have a “D” in front of it. It has to have two Ds.

Following signals from his newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture Mike Jaspers earlier this summer and advocacy from Friends of the Big Sioux River, Governor Dennis Daugaard has announced his proposal to incentivize grassy buffer strips to protect watersheds with property tax breaks:

The proposal allows for the tax incentives on 50- to 120-foot buffers along waterways including 575 lakes and roughly 11,000 miles of streams in South Dakota. Eligible buffer strips would be assessed at 60 percent of the land’s agricultural income value.

…The measure would allow buffer strip vegetation to be harvested or mowed after July 10, but would require a minimum of 6 inches of cover at all times. Grazing would be prohibited from May through September to help keep livestock waste out of lakes and streams… [“Daugaard Administration Proposes Plan to Boost Buffer Strips,” AP via Mitchell Daily Republic, 2016.09.08].

Compared to Senate Bill 136, the grassy strips buffer bill that the Governor vetoed last spring, this new proposal calculates the incentive differently, simply cutting assessment 40% instead of assessing grassy buffer strips at the lower noncropland rate. The Governor’s proposal allows for bigger buffers: SB 136 capped strip width at 50 feet. While I don’t see a list of formal definition yet (the Governor will present his draft bill to the Ag Land Assessment Task Force next week Monday), his proposal appears to target specific lakes and streams, while SB 136 offered its incentive for any “lake, river, or stream” in South Dakota. And while SB 136 was silent on haying and grazing, Governor Daugaard’s measure specifies when those ag activities may take place.

Governor Daugaard vetoed SB 136 for several reasons. Let’s see if his proposal survives those objections:

  1. Governor Daugaard complained that SB 136 resulted in “a loss of property tax valuation and a shift of that tax burden to other property owners.” Nothing published so far about the Governor’s proposal avoids that loss and shift.
  2. Governor Daugaard complained that by taxing land differently within the agricultural property class, SB 136 might violate the state constitution. Governor Daugaard’s proposal appears to tax land differently within the agricultural property class.
  3. Governor Daugaard complained that SB 136 “breache[d] the longstanding principle of taxing property based on its highest and best use” and assessed land base on actual use. Governor Daugaard’s proposal adjusts assessment based on actual use.
  4. Governor Daugaard complained about using property tax policy to subsidize land-use decisions. Governor Daugaard’s proposal appears to use property tax policy to subsidize land-use decisions.
  5. Governor Daugaard complained that vague language in SB 136 left open the door for alfalfa hay land to qualify for a tax reduction. Governor Daugaard’s proposal appears to say haying or mowing alfalfa or other similar crops on buffer strips is just fine.
  6. Governor Daugaard complained that the Department of Revenue and county directors of equalization would have to figure out just what watery areas would count as waterways and just where the 50-foot zones would start and end. Governor Daugaard’s proposal appears to have a clear definition or list of waterways in mind; we’ll see what high-water mark he proposes to use to start drawing his 50- to 120-foot buffer zones.

Again, the full bill language isn’t before us, but from what the Governor’s policy advisor, Hunter Roberts, has told the press so far, the Governor’s plan does not appear to address a majority of the concerns that led him to veto a very similar Democratic grassy buffer strips proposal six months ago.

Whoever’s bill we pass, grassy buffer strips are a good idea. But if the administration’s draft bill doesn’t differ more substantially from Senate Bill 136, we will have to ask why Governor Daugaard couldn’t have just signed that bill in the first place.

18 Responses to Veto Be Gone: Daugaard Offers Grassy Buffer Strip Proposal

  1. The most surprising thing about this story is that the Governor hired Hunter Bob as a policy advisor. That guy is unemployable. I guess Pam Bob must really have some pull as head of the GOP Party.

  2. Paul Seamans

    God bless Gov. Daugaard. How does he manage to keep coming up with all of these original ideas.

  3. mike from iowa

    Grazing would be prohibited from May through September to help keep livestock waste out of lakes and streams…

    Do bovines have an unwritten, gentlemen’s agreement not to potty in potable water after September,but before May?

  4. Troy Jones


    That is the time of the year they stand in water to avoid the heat.

  5. Maybe we need to set up Cattle swimming /cooling aeras?

  6. Darin Larson

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery they say. What say we imitate the other states that have enacted Medicaid expansion?

    Giving the benefit of the doubt to the governor for a second, the indefinite nature of the Democrat’s bill in terms of what the total land area possible for buffer strips and possibly the reluctance of taxing authorities to figure out the small tax shift that would occur, both contributed to the bills failure in the legislature.

    Do I think the original bill might have sailed through if it was a Republican bill? Yes. Do I think the Daugaard administration could have assisted in getting the original Democratic bill shaped up to meet the concerns of folks? Yes.

    For Democrats in SD, we don’t worry about who gets credit; we just worry about getting good legislation passed.

  7. Donald Pay

    Not a big fan of this, if it increases cattle grazing close to streams. There were studies done in the 1990s that showed far more pollution resulting from cattle waste and cattle trampling down stream banks than from erosion from cropland. I would keep the cattle off completely.

  8. Mr. Pay, if the Nebraskonians keep shutting down perfectly good nuclear plants and we have to keep depending on wind mills and Hillary crushes the fracking natural gas industry, I will probably not be here to hear you whine about your heating costs go up 400%. But this is where the world is headed. We should dig The Borehole just for the hell of it and build nuclear plants in Belle Fourche and put them in the front line of our power feed, sir. You will probably live to rue the day we did not.

  9. Darin Larson

    Mr. Pay, I don’t think this will increase cattle grazing close to streams at all. It will decrease it. If it is a pasture now, grazing would be prohibited during the prime months to graze cattle, from May to September. If it is cropland that is turned into grass, nobody that I know is going to put up a fence around a small narrow strip of grass to graze it during the winter. They might graze it with the crop residue in October-December, but they could do that before the law. Typically, these strips will be put up for hay or left alone most of the year. This is a good idea.

  10. Mr. Larson makes some good sense here. grudznick approves.

  11. Daugaard is clearly a hypocrite on this one. Republicans in Pierre just can’t bare to let Democrats get any credit for any good ideas. This case clearly demonstrates how it slows inevitable progress down in South Dakota.

  12. Troy Jones


    I agree with you that this bill is tighter than the prior bill which is very common where good ideas fail the first time, get better fleshed out, and come back for passage. I think the failure to pass it last time was less about the (R) and (D) and more about the short session isn’t conducive to bills with many facets (environmental, agriculture, local taxation, and what qualifies as eligible land/waterways). The argument it was about (R) & (D) would be more credible if it hadn’t passed the Legislature and now they are bringing it back. But it had passed both Houses with (R) majorities.

    I also agree with you it will decrease grazing near streams for the reasons you state.

  13. Darin Larson

    That is a fair point, Troy, about it passing the legislature. The Daugaard administration, however, didn’t seem to do everything in its power to help this bill be the best bill it could be prior to and during the session.

  14. If memory serves, the Daugaard administration was spending a significant amount of time that legislative session trying to get their complicated Medicaid expansion negotiation worked out, and working on the half penny tax increase for teachers.

    Those were pretty big political footballs. I doubt there was a lot of time for friendly advising on other pieces of legislation (or it could’ve been ignored if given. I’m not inside the bull pen). Staff resources are finite, afterall.

  15. Troy Jones


    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Governor’s office did nothing to the improve the bill and for good reason which Wayne touched on- It is a finite number of bills (and smaller than you might think) where the Governor’s office and department staff can interject before it starts feeling like the Governor is being heavy-handed and assuming/presuming the role of the Legislature/Legislators. And, it is more than staff resources being finite which is true to some degree.

    When I worked for Governor Mickelson, there were alot of times we as staff were called off getting involved an offering what we thought were improvements because the cumulative effect of active involvement started having not only diminishing returns but became counter-productive across a broad range of issues. A lot of times we stayed away from a bill’s development when asked by a superior the simple question: “Were you asked for advice?”

    Being who I am, I had trouble not offering advice. I recall one time when I ran into Chair Homer Harding (also my legislator) and ranking member Roger McKellips and said I was available with some suggested changes on a bill that was up in their committee. They both said for me to get them my suggestions and they’d look at if they wanted to offer the changes. They didn’t think it was good I was there on one bill when they knew my boss was there the same day significantly intervening on another more significant/controversial bill. In the end, I think because of time (maybe they didn’t like my suggestions as I never got any feedback or they were just humoring me), they didn’t offer/mention the issues I raised and the bill died. My point is often time is such (unless it is a pressing issue that must be passed that year) some bills which aren’t fleshed out fail because of a lack of time to clean up every single bill.

  16. Charlie Johnson

    So where is the buffer strip legislation to keep pipelines out of streams, rivers, and creeks ?

  17. Interestingly, SB 136 passed with strong bipartisan support in the Legislature, unanimously in the Senate and with only 9 Nays in the House, all GOP, including my Rep. Al Novstrup. The Senate voted 32–1 to override the veto; it was 28 Republicans in the House who balked and backed the veto. Whatever problems the Governor had with the bill, 32 Senators didn’t see them post-veto.

  18. Charlie, if we can’t include pipelines in the buffer strip rules, how about some simple eminent domain restrictions saying no transfers of property rights from one private entity to another?