Speaker G. Mark Mickelson (R-13/Sioux Falls) wants us voters to decide whether to raise our wholesale tobacco tax to reduce tuition at our regionally uncompetitive vo-tech schools. Speaker Mickelson has submitted two ballot initiatives to the LRC, one raising the wholesale tobacco tax from 76.5 mills per cigarette to 101.5 mills, the other raising that tax to 126.5 mills. Each measure would create a new “postsecondary technical institute tuition reduction and workforce training fund” (PTITR-WTF? Come on, G. Mark! You can do better than that…) to which $15 million to $20 million would be appropriated.
Wait—did somebody say “appropriated”?
An Act to increase the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products and to appropriate the revenues.
Sure enough, that’s the title of each measure. And that’s exactly what Speaker Mickelson, in his lawsuit to overturn Initiated Measure 22 last year, said we cannot do by ballot initiative.
This argument traces back to LRC Director Jason Hancock’s July 29, 2015, comments to sponsors of IM22, in which he warned that IM22’s appropriations for Democracy Credits could run afoul of South Dakota Constitution Article 12 Section 2. Donald Pay and I don’t buy it, but Sixth Circuit Judge Mark Barnett did last December and used that “unconstitutional appropriation” as grounds for enjoining IM22 in toto. Speaker Mickelson subsequently cited that LRC warning in chiding IM22 sponsors and justifying the Legislature’s total repeal of IM22.
And now, strangely, when Speaker G. Mark Mickelson presents two initiated measures with provisions by which voters would (in Mickelson’s and Barnett’s minds, unconstitutionally) appropriate money, LRC Director Hancock says not one word about Article 12 Section 2. LRC only offers style and form revisions.
Speaker Mickelson, you know I’d be happy to help you lower tuition at our vo-techs. We need $13 million to get our tuition down to the regional average; get $20 million with that higher tobacco tax, and we can have the lowest vo-tech tuition in the region. And since I don’t smoke, I won’t have to pay a penny of it! Rock on!
But I don’t want to have my ballot cluttered with a sloppy initiative that your legislator and judge friends will just throw out again as unconstitutional. I want my vote to count!
So which is it, Speaker Mickelson? Can we citizens vote to raise taxes and spend money or not? Or can we only appropriate money for the things you want, not the things we want?