Predictably, Governor Kristi Noem is not willing to call a Special Session to enact her new campaign promise to repeal the food tax. She rejected the proposal for fast-acting tax relief while shopping for votes at the grocery store yesterday:
“I’m not convinced that we have enough votes to pass it right now,” Noem told reporters at Sunshine Foods. “I don’t want to put us in a situation where this bill fails. It’s too important for us to get relief to the families of South Dakota and I want to make sure the legislators are well educated so that they do vote for this” [Eric Mayer, “Smith, Noem Differ on When Food Sales Tax Should Be Repealed,” KELO-TV, 2022.10.12].
Noem then tweeted a jumble of statements about wanting to sign a food tax repeal as soon as possible, needing a two-thirds vote to pass such a measure before the regular Session, and pretending that she is the real leader on the food tax issue:
No wonder Noem couldn’t stay long at the grocery store: Sunshine would have thrown her out for selling baloney on their property.
Noem’s gaslighting on leadership is blatant and appalling. Her Democratic opponent in the governor’s race, Representative Jamie Smith, and other Democratic legislators have been advocating a food tax repeal for years. The Republican legislators who have jumped on that bandwagon have supported the idea for months. Noem has been publicly supporting a food tax repeal for two weeks.
Her gratuitous slam against Smith for lacking leadership is a distraction from her failure to wield her power and lead her party to make her promise real. Sure, Smith said he doesn’t have a headcount right now, but he’s at least calling on legislators to get together and work out a solution that will provide immediate tax relief. Noem is the Republican Governor of a Republican state with a Republican supermajority in the Legislature. She is proposing a tax cut for every South Dakotan, an idea that epitomizes the Republican platform. And she has millions of dollars in spare campaign cash. A Republican leader in that lucky situation shouldn’t have to namby-pamb around “educating” legislators. She should be able to exercise real leadership by convening her fellow Republicans (and all those helpful Democrats who will solidly support a proposal to enact this moral policy that they’ve been fighting for for years) and saying, “We’re going to vote on repealing the food tax. Your voters back home will go to the polls in a few days. Do you really want to look them in the eye and tell them you just refused to lower their grocery bill? Do you want me to look them in the eye and tell them that? Pass this bill.”
Noem’s two-thirds vote assertion is also a distraction from her refusal to act as soon as possible—i.e., through a Special Session—to provide the tax relief she claims she supports.
First, let’s be clear: it does not take a two-thirds vote to cut taxes. It takes a two-thirds vote to raise taxes or implement new taxes [SD Const. Art. 11 Sec. 14], but cutting taxes requires a simple majority. It takes a two-thirds vote to enact a bill with an emergency clause to take immediate effect [SD Const. Art. 3 Sec. 22], but a food tax repeal enacted by majority vote at a Special Session on November 3 would take effect 90 days after the Special Session adjourns—i.e., on February 1. And the two-thirds-plus Republican Legislature has been passing more emergency clauses than ever lately, so getting a two-thirds vote for a Republican Governor’s proposal to do a Republican thing should be no problem.
Waiting for the regular Session does not make it any easier to pass swift tax relief. If Noem anticipates that she can’t muster a two-thirds vote from Lee Schoenbeck’s Senate, waiting for January to put a bill before the Legislature won’t get us food tax relief until July 1, if at all. A leader would recognize that we may have a better chance of pushing a majority to back a food tax repeal right now, in the heat of an election, under the attentive eye of citizens casting votes, than we will come winter when all of the legislators are safely insulated from ballot-box consequences by 20 months.
The only reason Noem wouldn’t want to call a vote on food tax now is that she’s afraid she can’t exert the leadership necessary to get the Senate to pass the Democratic policy that she has endorsed as a campaign promise. She is afraid that her own party would rebuke her, with all the voters watching, just days before the election.
In other words, Noem’s campaign mouth is writing checks that the public cash. She now must spin wild tales to stop Smith, Phil Jensen, and other legislators from taking us all to the bank to see how little cash Noem has in her account.