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In the Interim: Legislature to Study Funding for Counties and Nursing Homes

Never mind nuclear power; the Legislative Executive Board has decided to direct legislators’ interim attention to ways to fund county governments and nursing homes. Rookie Senator Randy Deibert (R-31/Spearfish), vice-chair of the county funding study committee, notes long-standing Legislative resistance to allowing counties to implement new taxes:

“We really need to dig into that to see what the counties should be funding and what the state can be funding,” Deibert said. “We’ve seen over the last seven years the sales tax bills for counties to allow them to tax to build facilities have failed in the legislature. We’re looking at a fresh approach of looking deeper into how counties are funded and what they’re paying for and see what resources are available besides property taxes” [Lee Strubinger, “Lawmakers to Study County, Nursing Home Funding Models This Summer,” SDPB Radio, 2023.03.28].

Rookie Senator Jim Mehlhaff (R-24/Pierre) puts his colleagues’ stinginess less delicately but also more confusingly:

“The state’s got to get its foot off the throat of the counties to broaden their tax base or there’s not going to be any meaningful tax relief,” Mehlhaff said [Makenzie Huber, “Legislature Will Tackle County Funding and Long Term Care in Summer Studies,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.03.27].

I’m not sure what Senator Mehlhaff means by saying the county-funding study committee needs to find a way to broaden the tax base to provide tax relief. Granting counties the authority to impose sales taxes might allow counties to ease back on property taxes, but counties aren’t pressing for a study on how to shift local tax burdens; they’re asking for more money, which means more taxes.

Absent more tax revenue, either from local levies or state assistance, we need to reduce county services… or maybe just reduce counties. Let’s see if county consolidation is whispered by anyone on the interim committee.

Senator Jean Hunhoff (R-18/Yankton) and Representative Taylor Rehfeldt (R-14/Sioux Falls), both nurses, will run the long-term care study committee. Governor Kristi Noem grudgingly signed the 100% reimbursement rate for nursing homes that the Legislature included in the FY2024 budget; it seems Hunhoff and Rehfeldt will have a hard time convincing the Governor (and probably many legislators) to greater long-term investments in long-term care. They’ll also have trouble addressing one of the major factors in what South Dakota Health Care Association exec Mark Deal last month called a nursing home “catastrophe“: the lack of workers to take care of folks in long-term care.

Yet North Dakota finds a way to funnel more Medicaid dollars to its nursing homes and help them pay better wages, so addressing long-term care is possible. Maybe Hunhoff and Rehfeldt can take their interim study committee on a field trip to Fargo….


  1. larry kurtz 2023-03-28

    Sometimes you’re the windshield
    Sometimes you’re the bug.

  2. Bob Newland 2023-03-28

    Having just completed an 1800-mile tour of South Dakota, with 250 miles left on my downhill run to home, I admit to having given some thought to reducing the number of counties in SoDak from 65 to, say, 12. There probably are some economic advantages, but the idea, even if it only reduces the number of counties to 33, indisputably further centralizes power.

    Not that I’m opposed to centralized power, but it sometimes seems like it’s unfair. I mean, it’s okay when the centralized power does what’s right, but then….

  3. sx123 2023-03-29

    Expand the tax base by passing legislation that doesn’t make kids want to leave the state and legislation that gives kids a reason to stay. Not everyone wants to farm and ranch.

    And tame the winter weather.

  4. Donald Pay 2023-03-29

    It seems the South Dakota Legislature took a one year vacation from trying to solve the problems of out-of-state special interests (Minnesota special interests’ push for nuclear power in South Dakota) and are looking to solve some basic problems that have festered in South Dakota for half a century. We elderly folks who have followed the SD Legislature over decades have seen these problems with nursing home care and county funding crop up repeatedly. It’s like the teacher salary/education funding issue.

    Yeah, there are too many counties and too many school districts, but reducing those numbers will buy you a five year respite. It’s not going to solve the issue. Until South Dakota taxes corporations and rich folks, they will always be revisiting these funding problems.

  5. Arlo Blundt 2023-03-29

    We’ll never tax the wealthy, the risk takers, the most successful in South Dakota. It’s out of the question. We’ll expand video lottery.

  6. Mark Anderson 2023-03-29

    Shut down half the county court houses and plow out those towns. Speed up the process?

  7. Donald Pay 2023-03-29

    Arlo, I fear you are correct, and you have history on your side. The legislators can’t tax their minders. It just wouldn’t be South Dakota unless the poor were paying for the rich.

  8. Arlo Blundt 2023-03-29

    Yes, Donald, if you’ve lived in South Dakota you know the Legislature will mandate video lottery in every church basement and sports gambling on high school games before ever considering an onerous tax on the wealthy.

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