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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.