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LRC Maintains Proposed Food-Tax Repeal Only Applies to State, Not Cities; Vargo Refuses Comment; Conflict Delays Petition

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.


  1. Nick Nemec 2022-11-17 08:29

    When this is resolved I hope the courts extend the deadline for submitting the Dakotans for health petitions by as many days as were lost by this unnecessary delay.

  2. All Mammal 2022-11-17 08:53

    Fighting to defend democracy against your own state is sick and wrong. It is not meant to be us vs them. They are meant to be us! Tf is wrong with these creeps we put in Pierre with their noses up in the air constantly? Gets old. You work for me and every other South Dakotan. Your own interests are not important and your other boss, whoever tells you what to do who isn’t the public, should be sent pounding sand. Our coc blocking piliticians are just like diapers- they need changed often because they get….so soiled. Pew.

  3. Scott Ehrisman 2022-11-17 09:20

    I have argued the compromise should be just removing the tax (city and state) from preparable and raw foods (like fruits, veggies, uncooked meat, bread, milk, etc.) and leave the tax on all the garbage like pop, chips, candy, restaurants, etc.) I have suggested the same thing should apply to SNAP. I’m all for removing the tax on food, but let’s make it a teachable moment.

  4. Jake 2022-11-17 13:52

    I agree, Scott, but I’d go further and tax ALL advertising in SD. A 4 1/2 tax on such is a small amount, damn small to help pay for all the services business gets from our state government. Not to mention, the simple satisfaction that those (here insert your favorite cuss word) politicians are helping to pay toward the job they so covetously pursue!
    They get a free rein (witness Noem’s travels as “ambassador”) at our expense and spend millions to keep it.

    Much needed reform of the state’s tax system is darn sure needed! But the GOP will never do more than tinker around the edges and argue against an income tax ($$$- the one thing no-one seems satisfied with) being $$$ focused themselves.

  5. grudznick 2022-11-17 17:07

    And bull semen. We need to tax advertising and bull semen. If they throw those items into the food tax potato chip mix, it’ll kill the whole deal.

  6. Arlo Blundt 2022-11-17 19:10

    Dysfunction and obfuscation. Republican governance.

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