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Taxes, CAFOs, Supermajorities, and Consistency

Here’s a political consistency question to chew on at lunch:

South Dakota voters have approved constitutional amendments that require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to impose a new tax or raise existing tax rates. If our legislators really want to fix our roads (House State Affairs! Senate Bill 1 awaits your attention!), they’ll have to muster 47 votes in the House and 24 in the Senate, not the usual 36 and 18. The wisdom of this supermajority requirement is debatable, since it increases the likelihood that the Legislature won’t fix a shortfall in public funding until we’re in a crisis and even then may get hamstrung by a few Grover Norquist pledge-nuts (oh yeah, that’s why every South Dakota Republican legislator except for Senator Phil Jensen who signed Grover’s pledge not to raise taxes also voted this year for HCR 1001, which says the fees they raise aren’t taxes). But I can understand the argument that certain things are serious enough that they should be decided by something more than 50% plus one.

That said, if taking money from the people warrants a two-thirds vote, wouldn’t we expect the Legislature to demand a similar two-thirds vote to take land or basic environmental resources from the people? Why would we privilege money over the very air we breathe and water we drink?

Legislators haven’t made that connection in their discussion of HB 1201, the CAFO-zoning bill. Ignoring my good advice (really, guys? really, Senator Betty?) voted 7–2 to send to the full Senate this measure making it easier for counties to approve giant feedlots. Again, the Republicans salve their worries by selectively invoking local control: they’re just letting counties decide if they want to get rid of the two-thirds vote requirement necessary to approve conditional use permits for big CAFOs. Dakota Rural Action points out that the only reason the courts have allowed counties to pass CAFO decisions down to boards of adjustment, which limit the scope of public appeals, is the supermajority requirement.

A conditional use permit, for a CAFO or for any other big project, takes quality of life away from the public in exception to standing rules for development. That taking and that exception together should provide a double-whammy for requiring a supermajority vote. Senate, care to address this reasoning?


  1. Paul Seamans 2015-03-04

    Steve Hickey has mentioned on this blog that many decisions are made behind closed doors in the Republican caucus. This was somewhat apparent yesterday when after all discussion was completed on HB 1201 Chairman Cammack asked for a motion on the bill and immediately looked directly at Senator Vehle. Whereupon Senator Vehle made a motion to approve the bill. Either Chairman Cammack has ESP or he knew before hand who would make the motion to approve.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-04

    Paul, why do I get the feeling that such philosophical questions as the one I pose above are never part of the discussion in those caucus meetings?

  3. Paul Seamans 2015-03-04

    Cory, unless one of us gets elected to the legislature we will never know what philosophical questions are discussed in the Republican caucus. At least you won’t. I might because I am a registered Republican (so I could vote for Stace Nelson).

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-05

    Paul, have you visited with Stace Nelson? He’s a DRA ally on CAFO issues. He helped lead the successful fight against the big cattle operation in Hanson County before the state water board. You should see if you can get him involved in CAFO campaigns around the state.

  5. Paul Seamans 2015-03-05

    Cory, good idea. I had forgotten about Stace’s involvement in that. He would be a real good ally. He would know the ropes. Too bad we can’t refer to him as Senator Nelson.

  6. mike from iowa 2015-03-11

    I noticed in today’s Cherokee,iowa shopper that Rembrandt Enterprises,which is one of the largest egg producers in the nation secretly bought land within two and half miles of my hometown Cherokee,iowa. They plan to build facilities to house 3.5 million laying hens,but have not bothered to check with city or county officials as of yet. Neighbors found out about it accidentally and are up in arms for some reason. City landfill lies in that general vicinity as well.

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