In the South Dakota Legislature, we Democrats measure success by how long it takes for our good ideas to be defeated.
On Monday, Representative Jon Hansen (R-25/Dell Rapids) finally used his hoghouse powers for good. On the House floor was Senate Bill 117, which started out as Senator Lee Schoenbeck’s (R-5/Lake Kampeska) reasonable idea to eliminate the Board of Regents’ annual “we’re not challenging white privilege” report, but got hoghoused in House State Affairs last Thursday to resuscitate Governor Kristi Noem’s dumb idea to give corporations an unnecessary fee break. Hansen actually seconded that hoghouse motion in House State Affairs, but yesterday, he undid that hoghouse with another hoghouse, the good one. He moved to erase the title and contents of SB 117 and replace them with a great Democratic idea, repealing South Dakota’s tax on food.
Republican Rep. Jon Hansen, of Dell Rapids, says the state has $90 million in ongoing revenue that is unspent.
“The question becomes what are we going to do with it?” Hansen says. “Are we going to spend every last dime? Or are we going to take the opportunity to the people? I just think we should allow the people to keep more of their tax dollars. It’s what’s best for families and individuals.”
State officials estimate removing the food tax will save taxpayers $82 million a year [Lee Strubinger, “House Votes to Remove Food Tax,” SDPB, 2022.03.07].
But this time a Republican proposed repealing the food tax, and a majority of Republicans acted like Republicans and voted to cut this tax. 36 Republicans voted for Hansen’s hoghouse motion, enough to pass a motion and a bill without any of the 8 Democrats who voted aye. Then three more Republicans (Schneider, Blare, Drury) who voted no on the hoghouse motion switched and voted aye on final passage (evidently they’d have preferred to give corporations a tax break, but with that idea off the table, they figured any tax break is better than no tax break, even one that benefits poor people right along with rich people). The final vote on the sales tax repeal was 47–22, which—hey! That’s two thirds! That’s enough votes to overcome a veto!
Alas, Senator Lee Schoenbeck denied us that chance to test the House’s overriding mettle. With SB 117 back to the Senate floor, Senate President Pro-Tem Schoenbeck moved to reject his pal Jon’s changes and let the bill die without a conference committee. Democratic Minority Leader Troy Heinert (D-26/Mission) tried to send the food tax repeal to conference committee, but the Senate went with King Lee, who’s more interested in building more prisons than lowering your grocery costs, and voted 22–9 to bust up the House’s lusty embrace of this great progressive tax cut. The nays this morning included the three Senate Democrats and six Senate Republicans.
But Democrats — albeit briefly — reveled in seeing a longtime priority debated on the House floor.
“Boy, we’ve talked about this a lot in the last six years, but it never seems it makes it out of committee,” said House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, D-Sioux Falls. “It’s the most regressive tax we have” [Christopher Vondracek, “Repeal of Food Sales Tax Rejected by South Dakota Senate,” Mitchell Republic, 2022.03.08].
Senator Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, sponsored the repeal this year that the Senate committee killed. He tweeted Monday night, “This amended bill will of course need to go to a conference committee. I think this is the first time a food tax cut bill has made it out of either chamber. But I’ve only been following this since I testified on a similar bill in 2004” [Bob Mercer, “S.D. House Strips State Sales-Tax off Food,” KELO-TV, updated 2022.03.08].
22 Republicans voted this morning to keep taxing your peanut butter sandwiches. But Hansen’s good hoghouse of SB 117 and the House’s two-thirds vote in favor show that, if we catch some Republicans in the right mood, even some archly right-wing Republicans whom we might not usually turn to for support, Democrats can get Republicans to vote for some sensible Democratic ideas.