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HJR 5003: Hansen Seeks 60% Vote for Initiated Taxing and Spending Measures

In 2018, Senator Jim Bolin tried to hamstring our power to write our own laws by placing on the ballot Amendment X, which would have raised the vote count necessary to amend the South Dakota Constitution from 50%+1 to 55%. South Dakotans rejected this unnecessary measure at the polls.

Representative Jon Hansen (R-25/Dell Rapids) takes a different tack in hampering direct democracy. He proposes House Joint Resolution 5003, which would require that any initiative, constitutional or statutory, that “imposes or increases taxes or fees” or “obligates the state to appropriate funds of ten million dollars or more in any of the first five fiscal years after enactment” receive a 60% vote to pass. HJR 5003 would also authorize the Legislature to adjust that $10M threshold for inflation every year… but the language “as determined by the Legislature” means Hansen and his cronies could adopt any definition of inflation they wanted and swiftly price more initiatives into supermajority-vote territory. (Yes, I am suspicious of this Legislature, and so should you be! We need clear definitions, not Legislative latitude.)

Tying fiscal measures down with high vote thresholds has some precedent in current Legislative practice. Article 12 Section 2 of the South Dakota Constitution requires the Legislature to muster a two-thirds vote to appropriate any money outside of the general budget bill. Article 11 Section 13 (passed by the voters in 1978 53% to 47%) requires a two-thirds majority vote to increase income or property taxes but applies that supermajority rule explicitly and only to the Legislature, not the people.

We have those two-thirds majority vote requirement because (a) South Dakota Republicans have rigged the system to stymie efforts to raise money to pay for good public works and (b) we may have some reasonable concern that crafty legislators rush through bills without much scrutiny (for every bill, there are five or ten that may sail through committee and floor debate and on to the Governor’s desk before I can analyze them) and may use the opaque legislative process to pad their pockets with pork.

There’s no rushing or hiding a ballot measure, whether it raises taxes or increases spending by any amount. Proposed initiatives are made public as much as two years before the election. Initiative sponsors have to collect tens of thousands of signatures and submit their signed petitions to the Secretary of State a full year before the vote (I’m still working on that). If someone proposes an initiative that would adopt a nice progressive income tax or spend any state dollars on Medicaid expansion, you can bet that Representative Hansen and his party will grab their megaphones and robocallers and make sure you know about it before you go to the polls. We thus don’t need a higher vote threshold to protect ourselves from any taxing or spending initiative from sneaking past us at the polls.

The only reasons to support Representative Hansen’s HJR 5003 are that (1) you think the people are as sneaky, ignorant, and/or beholden to party bosses as Representative Hansen and his fellow legislators, (2) you are a Republican seeing your party’s influence dwindle and want to be able to maintain your grip on public policy with only 41% support, and (3) you support Hansen and Bolin’s Legislative elitism and want to keep passing incremental restrictions that over time make enacting meaningful change by direct popular vote practically impossible.

I’d rather the Legislature stop HJR 5003 now and spare us the trouble of beating it at the polls. But Hansen’s party happily threw the 55% vote threshold at us in 2018; they’ll gladly give their 60% attack a shot on the 2022 ballot.

7 Comments

  1. Richard Schriever 2021-02-03 07:28

    Seems as though Hansen has been watching the degree to which the arcane filibuster rules, not laws – rules, hamstring democracy. This is the local/state iteration of the GOP’s swirling down to an anti-citizen, pro-autocrat Fascism.

  2. Donald Pay 2021-02-03 08:31

    Pretty stupid idea by a very stupid and corrupt Legislator. Legislators are supposed to think about the long-term impacts of their decisions, rather than just curry political favor with the elite. The elite, after all, have a cushy deal of pushing the costs of government on those poor suckers who don’t funnel cash to corrupt legislators like Hanson.

    But it’s not just legislators who are dumb. Right this very day, South Dakotans are paying for their bad decision of not passing an increase in the severance tax on gold to fund a sort of mini-Superfund program to clean up the messes left after the gold mines left or went bankrupt. This ideas was carried in one of our initiatives in 1988. We thought it was a no-brainer to make the mining industry, not citizens, be responsible for leaks coming from their mines. It was clear at the time that the state’s effort to set bonds for the mines was insufficient, so this program was designed to patch over the failure of the Legislature to regulate correctly.

    I’m not sure what we did wrong, but this proposal went down harder than our other regulatory proposal for the mines. When we analyzed it later, it seemed that people like taxes increases, even tax increases on foreign mining companies, less than legislators do. When actual voters get a chance to vote against a tax, even a tax they don’t pay, they take it out on the tax. Who’da thunk? That’s why I don’t think you need a super-majority. Voters tend to be much more against taxes than their representatives.

    In all my time in voting, I have voted against all tax increases that don’t have anything to do with education or better stewardship for the environment. Some of the worst taxes I voted against were the Rapid City half-penny sales taxes for a slush fund for the elite. Hey, it passed by majority vote. I was fine with that. In a democracy, the majority rules. We don’t need anti-democratic methods of controlling the public will. We have far, far too much of that.

  3. Bob Newland 2021-02-03 19:52

    “In a democracy, the majority rules.” So sayeth Don Pay.

    Fact is, that is not true. If the majority of SoDakians voted to castrate all Indian males (not an idiotic proposition, given SoDakians’ political proclivities), the SCOSoDak would (maybe) declare it unconstitutional.

    Fact is, in a constitutional republic with democratic elections, it is the supreme court which decides what is “constitutional,” and, therefore, what is “democratic.”

  4. Donald Pay 2021-02-03 21:18

    Well, sure Bob. Courts may have a swing at things. Courts are a part of our system. Courts in South Dakota have generally been pretty good on upholding voter’s decisions.

  5. grudznick 2021-02-03 21:27

    Let us not now start bashing the Rapid City half-penny sales tax. I mean, who among you cannot shell out a half-penny here or there. Even homeless fellows won’t stoop to the ground to pick up a wayward penny, so those half-pennies may as well go somewhere even if it is a slush fund. Which it is not.

  6. Donald Pay 2021-02-04 13:29

    Grudz, I’m a common sense progressive. That half cent funded a worthless travel center, which was built, then tore down. All for the special interests. What a waste! Meanwhile, we had to go to an initiative to try to get an ice arena for kids. We lost, but eventually the city built ice. Since I left they’ve gone nuts on downtown projects for the special interests , while the city waste treatment plant spews pollution. Better if they didn’t have a fund, and budgeted to fix real problems.

  7. o 2021-02-04 14:04

    Is this the same Grudznick who turned himself inside out ranting against the 1/2 penny sale tax increase for school funding?

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