Ahlers: Legislature Violating Public Trust on Teacher-Pay Renege; Rhoden: Be Glad We Don’t Do Worse

The key exchange over the Legislature’s cancellation of its promise to dedicate 63% of last year’s half-cent sales tax increase to teacher pay came in House floor debate between two veteran legislators who were not in the chamber last year to vote on that sales tax.

Rising to address Senate Bill 35, Representative Dan Ahlers (D-25/Dell Rapids) said the Legislature has an obligation to keep its promises. Representative Larry Rhoden (R-29/Union Center) said schools should be thankful they aren’t getting worse treatment:

Representative Ahlers (speaking at 1:46:40) said the recurring theme of the 2017 Session has been trust. Ahlers said voters have asked him throughout this Session if that half-cent tax is going to stay in education. He has told voters he hopes so, SB 35 changes that.

Ahlers said this Legislature has an obligation to uphold the previous legislature’s commitment. He noted that the Legislature has certainly expressed such an expectation of the school boards that benefited from last year’s sales tax deal. Just last week, House Appropriations rejected a bill (SB 92), which would have extended the time school districts have to spend down their reserves. Opponents of that bill argued that spending down reserves by the end of the 2017–2018 school year was part of the deal that secured passage of the Blue Ribbon sales tax and funding formula, and schools now have to hold up their end of the deal. “But today in this bill,” said Ahlers, “we’re going back on our deal. We’re telling the school districts that you need to abide by the rules but we don’t, and we can change them.”

“We can find ways to fund this $2.4 million if we really want to,” Representative Ahlers concluded. “Your vote today will demonstrate whether or not this is really an honorable body.”

Representative Larry Rhoden rose (timestamp 1:50:10) with a noticeably hot response. He labeled Representative Ahlers’s comments “absolutely ridiculous.” Rhoden said past Legislatures make commitments based on the economy at that time… from which we are to conclude that no Legislative commitment lasts beyond the next monthly revenue and employment reports.

Rhoden said his fellow ranchers would be “tickled pink” to have a zero decrease in their budgets this year. Ditto rowcroppers. With agriculture pouring out $25 billion in gross product, ten times more than the second largest industry, claimed Rhoden, (Darin! Here are the political implications of our argument about measuring industry size!), “80 to 90 percent of our budget shortfall is directly at the feet of agriculture,” said Rhoden. “So then to get up here and beat your chest and say that we have no right to hold education level I think is ridiculous and quite frankly it makes me a little upset!”

“I had noticed,” muttered Speaker Mickelson from the chair.

Representative Rhoden said that, “given the increase from last year,” the education community “should feel extremely fortunate that they aren’t taking a cut.”

Representative Ahlers highlights a public trust issue that may cut as deeply among voters as the repeal of Initiated Measure 22. The 2016 Legislature made a deal. The 2017 Legislature is now backing out of that deal. And Representative Rhoden’s best response is, essentially, be glad we aren’t doing worse to you.

9 Responses to Ahlers: Legislature Violating Public Trust on Teacher-Pay Renege; Rhoden: Be Glad We Don’t Do Worse

  1. Once again the legislature gives the people of SD the finger. I sure hope nobody is surprised by this.

  2. The GOP Party just pulled a bait-and-switch on taxpayers. They really just wanted a general tax increase, but they couldn’t get it. So they held education out as bait to get enough support. Now the switch.

    It’s kind of like what they did with video lottery years ago. They sold that as more money for education, but just put it in the general fund and used it for replacement money instead of new money.

    Fool voters once, shame on you. Fool voters twice, shame on voters. SD gets the government it deserves, and it deserves these idiots.

  3. Darin Larson

    Rep. Ahlers hit the nail on the head here. If the legislature wanted to keep its commitment to education under the law requiring the inflationary increase of .31%, surely the legislature could come up with $2.4 million from somewhere. Our reserves are somewhere near $157 million as I recall which is up over $40-$60 million from five years ago. We could fund the $2.4 million for education, along with the same increases for state employees and medical providers and still only decrease reserves by $7.5 million.

    Many schools dipped into reserves last year to make the teacher pay increase as large as possible and to meet the 85% requirement under the law. Now a zero percent increase for schools will have many schools going backwards in terms of teacher pay and in terms of deficit spending. In a couple of years, we will be back to 51st in the nation for teacher pay.

    Rhoden has a lot of nerve being angry about calls for the legislature to meet its meager commitments. The Ag industry has gone through probably its best years in SD in modern times during the last 10 years, while education funding has sucked hind tit for a generation up until last year. I can’t imagine why someone in ag would be angry about investing in our educational future. Our future in SD is our young people and their future is tied strongly to their education.

    Frankly, it is the principle of the thing that is probably as important as the money. If you can’t find $2.4 million or $7.5 million in a $4 billion budget with $157 million in reserves, your priorities are clearly not set on education.

    PS Grudz, you thought the legislature was going to honor its commitment under the law for education? No soup for you!

  4. Charlie Johnson

    It’s a stick in the eye to voters ,educators, and taxpayers! All of which should not come as a surprise . Politically everyone should have stood their ground and made the the GOP majority put increases for teacher pay in iron clad agreements . Even the small minority that the dems held last session could have forced that deal .

  5. Darin Larson

    I watched the house debate. Here is the disconnect that I think bears mentioning: last year’s tax increase was not directly tied to the teacher pay increase to $48,500. The 63% of the tax increase was allocated to teacher pay, but that resulting number was always going to vary based upon how the actual sales tax came out.

    The legislature passed a tax increase of a half percent to the state’s sales tax that was estimated to provide the money to get the average teacher pay increased to $48,500 given x number of students and x number of teachers. It also provided funding to offset and reduce property taxes. The Schoenbeck amendment mandated the percentage of the tax increase that would go to k12 education, property tax reduction, and vo-tech instructor pay.

    However, there was no provision that specified what would happen if the tax increase was not enough to fund the $48,500 average teacher salary. According to one of the Republican Representatives during the debate, the tax increase failed to fully fund the $48,500 by just shy of $4 million. So, all of the tax increase went to fund the teacher pay increase, but the state had to come up with $4 million more general funds than the tax raised to get to the $48,500 funding level.

    So, now they have taken the opportunity to take the Schoenbeck amendment out of law, so funding from the half penny sales tax will not be directly allocated to k12 education. If the sales tax rises above that necessary to fund the $48,500 level, education will not necessarily receive that increase. On the other hand, if the sales tax revenue declines, k12 funding doesn’t have to decline, because the $48,500 teacher pay target sets the funding level.

    What this all leaves out of the debate is the part of the statute that still remains that says that the increase in funding to education will be at least the level of inflation. The legislature ignored this part of the statute and went to a zero percent increase.

    There was quite a difference in viewpoint here. You have Republicans who viewed the half penny sales tax increase as the only funding source for the teacher pay increase, so they think it was a gift that they didn’t decrease education funding by $4 million. While Ahlers and the education lobby point to the commitment of raising educational funding by at least the rate of inflation as being broken. I’m with Ahlers, especially since the rainy day reserves were raised over the last five years on the strength of conservative revenue estimates that short-changed yearly education funding increases.

    Wow, Rep. Heineman sounded pissed that people were trying to get the legislature to stand behind its promised meager increase of .31 percent. Especially, because his reimbursement rates for Medicaid were not going up either and he didn’t get any of the half penny sales tax. We better look into how our poor dentists are doing in this state! Mine just retired at around 50 years old, probably from low medical provider reimbursement rates, I’m sure.

  6. Greg Duffy

    Darin Larson, a year ago when HB1182 was passed with support from broad support across our state. When they were promoting this bill for raising teacher pay increases they knew the ag economy was declining. Most of the opposition was from the rightwingers that said we had enough revenue that we didn’t raise taxes to fund teacher wage increases. As a farmer I too am offended that they are going back on their word. Mr. Rhoden does not speak for me or most of the ag industry, don’t worry when the ag industry turns profitable we will spend our money again, which will generate more revenue for the state. Mr. Rhoden should focus on continuing funding education and find the funds that are available. Maybe it is time to use some surplus money.

  7. Bill Kennedy

    What a bunch of BS!!!! Rules, laws and regulations seem not to matter to many of our fine representatives in Pierre. It seems that the legislators believe we have enough brains to elect them, but when the voter goes to the ballot box on an issue, the voters suddenly loose what ever smarts they may have had on an issue. Rhoden’s “should feel extremely fortunate that they aren’t taking a cut” line was also BS. Does that mean that when corn hits over $6, and beans go over $13, that Mr. Rhoden will push to give the schools extra money??? I am not a betting man, but I will put money on him not doing anything like that. Many millions of dollars of sales and transactions go untaxed in South Dakota every year. I believe that the figure is in the hundreds of millions (the list has been published on this site before). Why not tack a 1/8 or 1/4 percent tax on these non-taxed items – opps, can’t do that, can we Mr. Rhoden, as many are related to agriculture.(yes, I am being sarcastic). Man up Mr. Rhoden, and all your buddies in Pierre along with you. I grew up being taught that a hand shake and your word were your bond. Sometimes you made money on a deal you made that way, other times you may not have, but you had pledged your honor with that hand shake and word. To you Mr. Rhoden, and your buddies who are short changing the education system in South Dakota, it seems that your hand shake and word are worth exactly what you are giving the schools. In other words, they are worth nothing.

  8. And once again, Republicans screw over teachers and education, courtesy of the monumentally stupid electorate we have here. All they care about is if a candidate has an “R” beside their name on the ballot. THAT’S IT.

    Is it any wonder we’ve had these hacks in office for the last 40 years? At least they used to be sneakier with their backroom antics, backstabbing and other underhanded crap, but now, thanks to our Moron In Chief, SD’s uneducated electorate will just shrug their shoulders and vote these liars and thieves right back in again when the time comes. Republicans couldn’t care less about breaking any promises made.

    I wonder when the uneducated voters here will finally smarten up. I think it’ll take another 40 years at least!

  9. Representative Ahlers is correct when he says the central issue of this legislative session was trust. IM 22 was the people’s request to bring trust back but it evidently fell on deaf ears.