We don’t vote on Amendment C, née House Joint Resolution 5003, until next June, but evidently the big business and big political interests who hate democracy are starting their campaign early to trick South Dakotans into giving up their right to self-governance by requiring a 60% affirmative vote on any ballot question (constitutional amendment, initiated law, or referred law) involving taxes or $10 million or more in spending.
Our corporate overlords at Americans for Prosperity put this card in my mailbox yesterday:
The card says it was paid for by “South Dakotans Against Higher Taxes,” the paper committee Republican elitist legislators Senator Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Watertown) and Representative Jon Hansen (R-25/Dell Rapids) formed in June, but it was mailed and thus likely funded by anti-tax, anti-democracy rich-guy lobbyists Americans for Prosperity. Note that, according to thee plutocrats’ chosen imagery, the “South Dakota Way of Life” they pretend they are keeping safe from democracy involves having stacks of $100 bills piled on our desks and safes filled to bursting with cash.
The card’s bullet points are predictable bunk:
“Support Amendment C and keep more money in your pockets”—False. Consider the Medicaid expansion amendment that Senator Schoenbeck designed Amendment C to foil. According to the Legislative Research Council, South Dakota would spend up to $20.8 million to expand Medicaid. Over the last decade, we’ve run budget surpluses averaging $26.7 million per year. We could expand Medicaid out of all the cash our Legislature has already taken out of our pockets and stashed in reserves. Thus, raising the vote requirement to expand Medicaid from simple majority to 60% won’t keep any more money in your pocket.
Plus, making it harder to pass investments in public goods will only keep you and all of South Dakota poorer. Again, consider Medicaid expansion. States that expand Medicaid have seen the huge influx of federal spending stimulate their economy, allowing them to either break even or see a net positive effect on their budgets. Sometimes spending a dollar puts more dollars back in your pocket.
Or imagine an initiative to establish universal pre-K or some other public form of affordable child care. Working parents in South Dakota are pouring dollars out of their pockets right now paying for hard-to-find child care. Some are giving up paychecks because they can’t find anyone to care for their kids. A public child care program might raise taxes, but the additional taxes parents pay could be offset by savings on private child care. Plus, with child care available to everyone, more working parents could put in more hours and thus put more cash in their pockets.
Those two examples show that Amendment C could block measures that would boost our economy and net family earnings.
“Protects you from unwanted tax increases”—Unwanted by whom? Maybe a majority wants to raise taxes on gasoline to fix our roads and bridges. Maybe a majority wants to replace our regressive sales tax with a progressive income tax. Maybe a majority wants to apply our bank income tax to the trusts that global elites are using to dodge taxes in South Dakota and drive the world back to feudalism. Why should the fact that the wealth hoarders at Americans for Prosperity don’t want any new taxes stop the majority of the public from raising revenue to serve the public good? Americans for Prosperity isn’t protecting you; it’s protecting its wealthy donors.
“Requires a vote of over 60% support to enact the tax explosion”—First, details: Amendment C requires a vote of three-fifths, 60%, not “over 60%”. If you can’t get the details of your own ballot measure right, we shouldn’t listen to you.
Second, what “tax explosion”? South Dakotans haven’t approved a broad tax increase via ballot question in the last 20 years. We approved a tax on pot as part of Amendment A last year, but Governor Noem and her rich lawyers got a court to repeal the whole amendment before it took effect. We voted to increase the tobacco tax in 2006 (and that passed with 60.80%, so Amendment C wouldn’t have stopped it), but a majority rejected another tobacco tax hike in 2018. We rejected a sales tax increase in 2012, a cell-phone company tax in 2006. We voted to ban state inheritance tax in 2000. Two voter-approved taxes on a minority of consumers of a single harmful product may sound like a tax “explosion” to the anarcho-capitalist aristocrats at AFP, but the rest of us can barely hear that fiscal flatulence in the stiff conservative prairie wind.
“Halts government spending without a way to pay”—More bunk. Amendment C does not target measures that lack specific funding provisions. Amendment C requires a 60% vote to pass any ballot measure that appropriates at least $10 million in one fiscal year. It doesn’t carve out any exception for a measure that specifies a funding mechanism. For instance, Amendment C would apply to a child care initiative that specifies that funding will come from the state Education Enhancement Trust Fund. Alternatively, if Lee and Jon write a ballot measure to send $5,500 state subsidies to themselves and the other 1,800 active lawyers in South Dakota (because, you know, lawyering is hard, and they’re good guys, and they deserve our support) but don’t specify where the state would find $9.9 million to cover those handouts, Amendment C would not apply.
This postcard shows that Schoenbeck, Hansen, and Americans from Prosperity aren’t out to argue the actual language or merits of Amendment C. They’re just throwing fiscal alarmist word salad at us to achieve their nakedly political short-term goal of stopping Medicaid expansion and their equally political long-term goals of hamstringing both democracy and investment in public goods and services in South Dakota in favor of the wealthy ruling class.