Attorney General Mark Vargo has sandbagged the Dakotans for Health initiative petition to repeal the state sales tax on food with his incorrect official assertion that the repeal would ban municipal food taxes as well. Dakotans for Health chief Rick Weiland says he can’t circulate a petition when the AG’s explanation contradicts the facts of the Legislative Research Council’s fiscal note:
“We’ve got a ballot explanation that says one thing and a fiscal note that says another. They’ve created a real problem for us and for the people we’re trying to help. It doesn’t make any sense to circulate (the petition) when the explanation says it affects municipalities and the fiscal note that says it doesn’t. Even if we get a favorable result, they’re in conflict. It will be confusing. People aren’t going to sign it” [Rick Weiland, in Stu Whitney, “Controversy Surrounds Plan to End Food Tax by Ballot Measure Rather Than Through Legislature,” South Dakota News Watch, 2022.11.16].
The LRC is sticking to its legally accurate fiscal note:
LRC Director Reed Hollweger, in a written statement to News Watch, noted that “only the state was specified” in Dakotans for Health’s final submission (after the LRC had asked for clarification) and that municipalities are not legally defined as agencies of the state. “Therefore, LRC concludes the proposed (ballot measures) would not prevent municipalities from imposing a sales tax on food,” Hollweger wrote [Whitney, 2022.11.16].
…while the AG’s office is refusing to tell us what gives:
Vargo declined an interview request for this story. Stewart Huntington, a spokesman for the office, told News Watch that Vargo, “has issued his ballot explanation and that serves as his statement at this juncture on the topic” [Whitney, 2022.11.16].
Come on, Mark! There’s a clear conflict between your official explanation and the LRC’s fiscal note. You and Holwegner have a statutory duty to provide the documents necessary to allow the initiative petition process to proceed. The conflict between your documents—opposite statements about a basic fact of law—prevents the petition from proceeding. You have an obligation to the petitioners and the public to explain and resolve this conflict. We shouldn’t have to take you to court to do it. Explain your reasoning in the press and to Holwegner, find out who’s reading the law wrong (hint, Mark: it’s you!), and revise the explanation so Weiland and interested voters may conduct their business.