Killer Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg received comments from five parties concerning his official explanation of Amendment C, but he acted on one only, from Rapid City attorney Jim Leach, and ignored the other four. Whose words fell on Jason’s deaf ears, and what were those words?
Before we see the objects of Ravnsborg’s ignorance, let’s refresh ourselves on Ravnsborg’s explanation of Amendment C. Here’s the full final text he submitted Friday, with the word removed from the original version at Leach’s wise behest in brackets:
Currently the constitution requires that any new tax or tax increase must be approved either by voters or by two-thirds of the members of each legislative branch. To be approved by voters, such a measure must obtain [only] a majority of the votes cast. This constitutional amendment requires that any initiated measure, proposed constitutional amendment, or referred measure imposing or increasing taxes must obtain three-fifths of the votes cast to be approved.
This constitutional amendment also adds the requirement that any initiated measure, proposed constitutional amendment, or referred measure obligating the state to appropriate $10 million or more in any of the first five fiscal years must obtain three-fifths of the votes cast to be approved.
This constitutional amendment additionally requires any initiated measure, proposed constitutional amendment, or referred measure which imposes or increases fees to obtain three-fifths of the votes cast to be approved [Atty. Gen. Jason Ravnsborg, official ballot explanation of Amendment C, submitted to SOS Steve Barnett 2021.11.19].
Both Sioux Falls attorney Brendan Johnson and South Dakota Education Association exec Ryan Rolfs recommended that Ravnsborg remove the first two sentences, as the comparison of the proposed 60% vote threshold for taxing and spending ballot measures to Legislative fiscal bills, in Johnson’s words “has been a talking point used in support of” Amendment C but does not “describe the content of the proposed constitutional amendment itself.” Since Amendment C “does not alter, address, or even mention the process by which the legislative branch may increase taxes,” Johnson says Ravnsborg’s mention of the Legislative process does not contribute to the statutorily required “objective, clear and simple summary” of Amendment C. Johnson and Rolfs both expressed concern that comparing the Legislature’s two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases to Amendment C’s 60% vote threshold for taxes, fees, and large spending measures, in Johnson’s words, “risks confusing voters regarding the substance of the proposed amendment.” Ravnsborg, obviously, does not share those concerns.
If Ravnsborg is to persist in comparing Amendment C’s three-fifth’s requirement for voters to enact fiscal measures to the Constitution’s two-thirds requirement for legislators to enact tax measures, Senator Reynold Nesiba (D-15/Sioux Falls) said the Attorney General should at make that comparison accurately. Calling the proposed explanation “deceptive, misleading, and therefore unfairly biased in support of Amendment C and against the power of the people.” Senator Nesiba that while Ravnsborg focuses on the two-thirds vote legislators must muster to pass new taxes or tax increases, he fails to note that the Legislature can pass 93% of the state’s spending with a simple majority:
The vast majority of SD state spending—93%—occurs through passage of the general appropriations bill and the supplementary bill. Read that again, almost all spending in SD is done through a mere majority vote of the legislature. This should be reflected in the second and third paragraph of your explanation.
…To be clear, the FY21 Supplemental and the FY22 General bill require only a majority vote…. The second paragraph of your statement does not point out that we would also be raising the people’s standard higher than that used by the vast majority of spending by the legislature.
This proposal suggests holding the people to a far higher voting threshold for spending than the legislature holds itself. Failure to point this out is deceptive, misleading, and biased. Please correct this [Sen. Reynold Nesiba, email to Jason Ravnsborg, 2021.11.12].
Senator Nesiba even said please, and Ravnsborg still ignored him. Shame, shame.
South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and industry president David Owen, whose organization birthed the new statutory comment period that Ravnsborg extrastatutorily tried out on Amendment C, said on November 12 that the Chamber was fine with the 144 Ravnsborg wrote but recommended adding 16 to 24 words to explain how unusual it is that the Legislature has called for a vote on a ballot question in June rather than November:
There is additional information that should be considered for the final explanation dealing with the unusual timing of the election and the fact that placing Amendment C on the June primary ballot is in fact an aberration from the legislative rules and was only accomplished by suspending those rules using a 2/3rds vote in the Senate [David Owen, South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry, email to Jason Ravnsborg, 2021.11.12].
Owen notes, as this blog has, that the Legislature’s Joint Rule 6A-1(3) restricts the Legislature to placing constitutional amendments on the general election ballot. Owen does not go as far as I ahve (and seriously, when would the Chamber of Commerce ever go as far as Dakota Free Press?) to argue that this rule violation renders the Legislature’s crafty call for a June vote on Amendment C illegitimate. But Owen and the Chamber contend that mentioning this unusual rule suspension in the official ballot explanation would “put the vote in the proper context.”
The Chamber suggested adding “Amendment C was placed on the June primary ballot after the regular legislative rules were suspended” or “Voting on Amendments in a primary is rare; Amendment C was placed on the June Primary ballot after the regular legislative rules were suspended.” Ravnsborg added no such language.
Johnson, Rolfs, Nesiba, and Owen all raised valid points about Amendment C, points that could easily have been addressed in with revision of the official explanation that will appear on the June ballot. Yet Ravnsborg ignored all of those points. So much for the usefulness of the public comment period in producing better official ballot question explanations.