Attorney General Mark Vargo has been on the job for less than two months, and his job doesn’t really include keeping the public updated on potential ballot measures, but he’s doing a better job of letting the public know about brewing ballot measures than Secretary of State Steve Barnett, who’s been on the job for over three years and whose job really is to keep us posted on the progress of initiatives and referenda.
Secretary of State Barnett has tucked potential ballot measures for 2024 at the bottom of his page for 2022 ballot measures. That SOS webpage shows the LRC comments and the draft Attorney General’s explanation for the pending initiative amendment to codify Roe v. Wade. However, the SOS has posted none of the public comment submitted on that explanation. To get that information, we have to turn to the Attorney General’s “Ballot Explanations” page…
…where we also discover two new initiatives proposed to repeal South Dakota’s food tax. The Secretary of State’s website hasn’t posted these measures yet, but Attorney General Vargo has posted text of two initiatives, a constitutional amendment and an initiated law, that would prohibit the state from taxing the sale of food:
These initiatives come from Rick Weiland, leader of Dakotans for Health, which is also sponsoring the above-mentioned initiative to codify Roe v. Wade. Both food tax measures would prohibit the state from taxing the sale of food (currently taxed at the 4.5% sales tax rate). Both would leave in place the ability of municipalities to tax food (typically under a 2% city sales tax). Both measures apply to groceries but not to alcoholic beverages, tobacco, or prepared food—i.e., you could get sandwich fixins tax free, but the state could still charge you 4.5% sales tax on a Subway sub.
In those regards, the proposed initiatives are practically identical to 2022 Senate Bill 117, which the House hoghoused and passed as a food tax repeal last winter, only to be rejected by the Senate.
The food tax amendment would require twice as many petition signatures as the food tax law to qualify for the 2024 ballot; both would require a simple majority from the voters to pass. The amendment would be impervious to Legislative repeal; the Legislature could amend or repeal the food tax law.
Both documents include the Legislative Research Council’s comments and recommendations, which are dated August 12. The AG’s posted copies documents are stamped received August 15. The Attorney General has not yet received final initiative language on either food tax measure from Dakotans for Health, so the Attorney General’s 60-day clock for producing his title and explanation of the measures has not yet started.
But five days after the LRC sent out those documents, the Secretary of State’s office still (as of 09:22 CDT Wednesday) hasn’t posted these public documents, while the Attorney General, who has no obligation to act on these proposals until the sponsors send him final revised language, has used his website to inform the public of these potential ballot measures.