Governor Kristi Noem vetoed three bills on the last day of Session (bringing her veto total for 2023 to four so far). But she hasn’t acted on her biggest veto threat, rejecting the state budget if the Legislature doesn’t repeal the sales tax on food. The Legislature didn’t repeal the food tax; instead, it chose to reduce the state sales tax from 4.5% to 4.2% for four years, providing around $12 million less in tax relief than Noem proposed and spreading that relief around less helpfully. So we should expect Governor Noem to ink up that VETO branding iron and mark up Senate Bill 210, the general budget, right?
Well, if she’s going to take that drastic step, practically speaking, she’d better do it this week. Vetoing the entire state budget, leaving the state without a funding plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1, would send the Joint Appropriations Committee back to the drawing board. Even if Noem’s threat worked, if it made legislators immediately capitulate and promise to repeal the food tax, appropriators would have to recalculate the tax savings and rebalance the budget. Adding or subtracting any millions in SB 210 would bring everyone back to the table asking to get more than they got over the last two months of budget negotiations or to deflect any necessary cuts to someone else’s program.
That renegotiation won’t happen in just a couple hours on Veto Day, Monday, March 27. Appropriators and the rest of the Legislature would need the next two weeks to call and email and Zoom back and forth to figure out how they would respond to a veto of the entire state budget. If Noem expects a budget veto to have the effect she desires, she needs to give the Legislature time to effect that effect.
Of course, if Noem simply threatened her veto for show, and if she has done the headcount with Senators Schoenbeck and Crabtree and realized there’s no way the Legislature will be swayed by her tantrum, she can sit on her branding iron until next Friday, then stamp her veto and her feet, knowing legislators will return on the 27th and swiftly override her veto to ensure the smooth fiscal functioning of the state while she goes on Fox News for more conspiracy-air time.
If Noem’s veto threat was offered in good faith, then it’s time for her to act. Put up or shut up, Kristi. If you’re going to veto the budget, do it now, so the grown-ups can work out Plan B.