As one of the majority whips, Senator Al Novstrup ought to have some pull in getting his own legislation passed. But he was able to whip almost no one into supporting his property tax increase in its first committee hearing yesterday.
Senate Bill 169 proposed raising property taxes by over $39 million dollars to fund pay increases for organizations like Aspire in Aberdeen, Advance in Brookings, and other “community support providers” who provide services for the developmentally disabled. The eight-term tax-and-spend Republican legislator came to Senate Taxation with all the tools he could muster: an amendment dropping the tax hike by 70%, tearful testimony from beneficiaries of CSP services, and a roomful of backers in yellow t-shirts reading “Support the Need.”
But all of Novstrup’s tools and status and experience and relationships were for naught. His only active ally on the committee was Democratic Senator Jason Frerichs, and even he said Novstrup had erred in trying to raise taxes to pay for his wage enhancement program. Frerichs offered an amendment to scale funding back to $3 million and change the funding mechanism from a tax hike to existing revenue in the Governor’s Future Fund.
Strangely, Novstrup spoke against Frerichs’s effort to help. He said the Future Fund wasn’t as sustainable as his property tax hike. I would contend that the Future Fund is the perfect funding mechanism, tapping an existing tax stream dedicated to economic development to support important jobs that aren’t able to pay competitive wages without state assistance. Frerichs said he wasn’t wedded to his mechanism but just wanted to keep the bill alive in hopes that other legislators could come up with a passable funding mechanism. yet in the face of obvious defeat, Novstrup turned down that offer from a friendly Democrat. It was almost as if Novstrup didn’t really want to keep his bill alive.
The Republicans on Senate Taxation unanimously rejected the Frerichs amendment, then killed SB 169 on a 4–2 vote.Senator Jack Kolbeck said it was hard to vote against SB 169, but he did it anyway. Senator Ernie Otten said the CSP wage problem is at “critical mass” and “we have to do something,” but he offered no action of his own. Senator Gary Cammack at least explained the main policy problem, that Novstrup was taking the unprecedented and unpalatable step of directing property tax dollars to the state instead of directly to local governments but, like Otten, ignored the opportunity offered by Frerichs to discuss acceptable alternatives.
Chairman Jeff Monroe joined Frerichs in voting to keep SB 169 alive. Trying to put a good face on his committee’s rejection of a social service program in the face of a couple dozen providers and supporters of that social service, Monroe said Novstrup had “worked harder than any other human has ever worked” on his proposal. Really, Jeff? We saw harder work from Republicans on the much larger road tax and sales tax hikes that Novstrup quietly voted for in the last two Sessions. A proposal for a smaller tax increase for a clear community need from a high-ranking Republican among a Republican supermajority should not require Olympian effort.
After the vote, Chairman Monroe said, “It looks like something didn’t work here.” I think he meant “someone.”