The Governor’s Office of Economic Development’s latest CAFO bribe is $477,585 in tax rebates offered to Hand County if it will let Kirk Aughenbaugh of De Smet build a big hog operation southeast of Miller. GOED chief Steve Westra insists that’s not a bribe or pressure of any sort on the Hand County Commission:
In response to a Journal request for an interview about that criticism, Westra, an appointee of Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, sent a written statement via his departmental spokeswoman.
“I categorically disagree with your inaccurate characterization of the reinvestment payment proposed to Ratio LLC for its Hand County project,” Westra’s statement said. “The incentive is provided under GOED’s Reinvestment Payment Program, which allows companies to assign all or some of their incentive to a third party. County officials are ultimately free to approve or deny a permit on any lawful basis as they see fit. The incentive provided to the company and later assigned to the county does not change that” [Seth Tupper, “State to County: Approve Hog Confinement, Get $477K,” Rapid City Journal, 2019.09.01].
Hand County Commission chairman J.D. Wangsness doesn’t feel ultimately free or unchanged by an incentive that equals more than 16% of the county’s general fund budget:
He called the prospect of a sales-tax rebate windfall a “giant elephant in the room” for county governments, which are dependent on property taxes. Counties do not receive sales-tax revenue, which is earmarked for the state and cities.
“A lot of times, these decisions come down to whether it’s in the best interest of the county to have one of these projects,” Wangsness said. “And when you throw that kind of money at it, it changes the perspective on that” [Tupper, 2019.09.01].
The state wouldn’t be offering these CAFO bribes to counties if they didn’t think those big checks would influence the decision-making process. GOED should stop issuing contradictory statements and just admit that they are pressuring counties to get in line with the state’s business-first, environment-last agenda.