Governor Kristi Noem has done a remarkable job of not spending federal coronavirus relief dollars on coronavirus relief. Now Representative Chris Karr, who came down with coronavirus himself last weekend, wants to make sure we never spend $200 million of that coronavirus relief money.
Karr’s House Bill 1255 would create the “South Dakota Forever Trust Fund,” a new fund into which the state would sink $200 million, which is one of the estimates of cash left over from the $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding the federal government sent us to fight the pandemic and the concomitant recession. In a surprise special address to the Legislature yesterday, Governor Noem said we may have $125 million more in leftover cash on top of the fake $250-million surplus she has fabricated from not spending CARES Act dollars as intended. Since we chose to promote tourism and throw old folks into the economic furnace instead of supporting people who are trying to stop the spread of coronavirus, and since we have no plan for deploying the remaining funds to, oh, I don’t know, hire more online teachers and educational technologists, construct a statewide vaccine tracking database, or train and hire hundreds of people to make house calls with vaccines, Rep. Karr evidently figures we should codify Noem’s clever plan to simply sock away our CARES Act money in the bank and live off the interest.
And that interest is all we’d ever see of that hijacked coronavirus money. HB 1255 would require a three-fourths vote of both chambers of the Legislature to spend any of the principal in the new Forever Trust Fund. HB 1255 would add more principal to the Forever Trust Fund by shifting half of each fiscal year’s unobligated cash balances to that new lockbox.
South Dakota, like the rest of the nation and the world, faces a real public health emergency. But rather than proposing emergency measures to spend the huge sums we have left to protect South Dakotans from sickness and the immediate economic harms of the pandemic, Rep. Karr thinks the real emergency is the need to not spend that money and instead stuff it in the state’s mattress. Yes, HB 1255 includes an emergency clause, meaning it would take effect immediately and not be subject to a vote of the people.
Interestingly, Representative Karr thinks we may need a vote of the people to enshrine his Forever Mistrust Fund in the state constitution. House Joint Resolution 5005 would place on the 2022 general election ballot an amendment creating the Forever Trust Fund, securing the principal except for appropriations by a three-fourths vote of each chamber of the Legislature, and directing the South Dakota Investment Council to make that money grow. Of course, HJR 5005 is illegal: it encompasses more than one subject. It creates a trust fund (one subject), it orders investments (two subjects), it appropriates money to the general fund (three), and it establishes voting thresholds for appropriations measures in the Legislature (four). Rep. Karr filed this bill last week Thursday and has since fallen ill, so he may have Judge Christine Klinger’s ruling Monday that Amendment A violated our single-subject rule, so perhaps we can generously allow Rep. Karr to divide his motion into four separate proposed amendments.