…and Whose Fault Is That Unfairness?
Rep. Al Novstrup and I agree that South Dakota’s current method of assessing agricultural land for property tax is a mess. Yet Rep. Novstrup’s response to a question about ag land assessment at Saturday’s candidate forum shows a typical Republican inability to recognize his responsibility for that mess.
Asked Saturday where we stand on the productivity assessment model, I offered my long-standing position that taxing farmers based on what their land could have produced rather than what it actually produced is not just unfair but “a mathematical absurdity.”
In Shannon Marvel’s words, Rep. Novstrup “took a similar stance”:
“I’ve been deeply involved in this issue. I was on the first agricultural task force. It’s broken, it doesn’t treat citizens fairly,” Novstrup said. “That’s the No. 1 criteria for a tax, it has to treat citizens fairly. I don’t think there are three people in South Dakota that understand the formula. I spent hours with the person that was deeply involved writing it. I asked her the question of where did that number come from. Show me where it came from, and her answer was ‘I made it up.’ And it was the most critical number on the spreadsheet. Based on that number shifting, millions and millions of dollars shift from one taxpayer to another” [Shannon Marvel, “Candidates Discuss Refugees, Drug Addiction and the Ag Production Tax Formula,” Aberdeen American News, 2016.09.25].
Wait a minute: Rep. Novstrup was “deeply involved”, was on a task force dedicated to ag land assessment, and acknowledges that the system is “broken” and unfair? Rep. Novstrup’s own words indicate that Rep. Novstrup is an integral part of that broken and unfair system. A simple step toward fixing that broken and unfair system is to remove and replace that part with a better Senator.
Maybe we should cut poor Rep. Novstrup some slack. He’s just suffering from the same swift amnesia that afflicts his entire South Dakota Republican Party when asked about problems in government. Rep. Kristi Noem has failed to acknowledge problems of her own making. Republicans shout that Washington is broken, but they don’t acknowledge that their majority party is in charge in Congress and could fix problems if it really wanted to.
But Republicans don’t get around to fixing the problems that are staring them in the face. Republicans (including Rep. Novstrup’s son Senator David) blocked a 2015 effort just to study a fairer method of ag land assessment, just as Republicans resisted study and improvement back in 2010, when problems in implementation of the ag productivity tax arose.
To Al’s credit, he and Rep. David Lust tried in 2009 to repeal the ag productivity tax before it launched. Alas, Novstrup and Lust couldn’t muster the leadership to rally fellow Republicans, including then State Rep. Kristi Noem, to support a more fair tax system. So here we sit seven years later with a broken system and Al and his Republican majority doing nothing to fix it. If we want to fix ag property tax, we need to fix the Legislature… and that means electing new legislators.