In the most stunning blow to Governor Kristi Noem’s agenda this Session, House Appropriations yesterday rejected Noem’s signature campaign promise to repeal South Dakota’s unusual food tax.
The Governor herself ventured upstairs from the Second Floor to testify for House Bill 1075, which would change the sales tax rate on groceries from 4.5% to 0%, before House Appropriations yesterday. She underscored popular support for repealing the food tax, as shown most recently by a poll her PAC paid for and released a few days ago. She spoke from the same table as long-standing (and, in the eyes of most Republicans, liberal) supporters of the food tax repeal like the Presentation Sisters, Cathy Brechtelsbauer, and Dakota Rural Action.
But the committee chose to heed the opposition testimony of the retailers and the (in this case hypocritical and wrong) tribes who said the state, municipalities, and tribes can’t do without the money they get from taxing people for eating. House Appropriations, including its sole (in this case hypocritical and wrong) Democrat Representative Linda Duba (D-15/Sioux Falls) voted to kill the food tax repeal. The committee voted instead to support Representative Chris Karr’s (R-11/Sioux Falls) House Bill 1137, which in amended form would lower the sales tax on everything from 4.5% to 4.2%.
That’s not the tax cut Noem promised. To get what Noem promised, we might have to turn to the initiative process, which Noem warned legislators about yesterday:
The Republican governor also warned Tuesday that a ballot measure being circulated by a group headed by Democrat Rick Weiland calls for the grocery tax to be repealed. She said that, given the support found for her proposal, Weiland’s would pass too in November 2024 and possibly put the Legislature in a tighter strait [Bob Mercer, “Analysis: South Dakota’s Tax Cut May Depend on Senate,” KELO-TV, 2023.02.21].
A tighter strait? Kristi, read the initiative: it’s the same grocery tax repeal as yours!
But hey, we’ve learned once again that if we want anything done in Pierre, we can’t rely on jetsetting Kristi Noem. Either we have to wait and see what Senate king Lee Schoenbeck wants—
The Senate’s president pro tem didn’t show his cards. “Looks like there’s going to be one vehicle. What’s riding in the vehicle in three weeks is to be seen,” he said [Mercer, 2023.02.21].
—or we’ll have to take to the streets to do the job ourselves.
Taxing folks for eating is the wrong way to fund a government. We need to repeal South Dakota’s food tax and seek more moral means to fund our state, local, and tribal governments.
But even Governor Kristi Noem, with a 62% voter mandate and 90% of the Legislature belonging to her own party, is unable to make that case. Her defeat on the food tax shows that while she knows how to win elections, she doesn’t know how to make and enact practical legislation.