Voters, the Republican campaign to overturn your will on the minimum wage has begin. Today, Representative Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) filed House Bill 1094, which would repeal one small provision of the minimum-wage increase that you wrote into law by passing Initiated Measure 18 less than three months ago. HB 1094 removes the sentence, "In no case shall the minimum wage be decreased," from SDCL 60-11.3.2, the annual inflation adjustment included in Initiated Measure 18.

Republicans are trying to gain a foothold on a pretty big hill. They know they can't come storming out and advocate repealing the whole thing. They know they'd get strung up at the next crackerbarrel by attentive voters. Rep. Bolin and his conservative pals Reps. Brunner, May, Novstrup, and Stalzer and Senator Lederman are tackling what may be the most easily opposable portion of the plan. "Well, if we're going to adjust for inflation," they'll say, "isn't it only fair that the adjustment follow that rate regardless of whether it's positive or negative?"

Prepare for that argument, and prepare to reject it. The ratchet clause (allowing adjustment up but not down) is far from unfair. It helps us catch up with how much purchasing power the minimum wage has lost over decades of neglect and exploitation. We still have a long way to go before our minimum wage catches up with the family poverty level. I don't think it's unreasonable to leave in place a mechanism that ensures our lowest-paid workers don't lose ground.

But watch out: when the Republicans get tired of losing that argument, they'll angle for other amendments. A friendly observer of all things Legislative warns that Republicans may slide the current version of HB 1094 through the House, then amend it in the Senate. Then they'll send HB 1094 to conference committee, where they'll break out the big knives, safe from the opportunity from public testimony at regular committee hearings and crackerbarrel hell-raising.

Watch House Bill 1094, folks. Watch its House committee assignment (not posted yet), and be ready to vibrate those committee members' phones right out of their pockets. Tell your legislators, very simply, to leave the minimum wage alone this year and let the voters' will stand.

Related Reading: Pat Powers mewls that the Democratic minimum-wage increase (yes, do keep reminding people that we Dems brought that initiative forward; we will happily take the credit!) is hurting students by forcing the SDSU Student Union to cut its hours.

Yup. The SDSU Student Union is covering $30,000 in wage increases by closing the Union two hours earlier, at 10 p.m. instead of midnight. By closing "early," the Union will save $6,000 on utilities. The only "service" students are using is the ability to sit in that building with pretty much no one around: nothing was open from 10 to midnight but the building itself—no food service, nothing else. Union manager Jenn Novotny says there are usually only a "handful" of students hanging around the Union past ten. The "early" close is temporary, for just this semester; Union management will see how budgeting goes for FY2016 and decide whether demand justifies restoring those late hours.

So for the price of a couple dark hours in a mostly empty Union, we get $30,000 in wage increases. Sounds like a fair trade to me.

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Rep. Kristi Noem retools Mike Rounds's "South Dakota common sense" mantra to say the the economy would be fine if the feds just did things the way South Dakota does. Her weekly column cites the new French cheese plant as affirmation of South Dakota's tax policies and work ethic:

...Our state tax policy makes it cheaper to run a business. The workforce is one of the most dedicated and talented in the country. We put our hearts into everything we produce. And we are surrounded by communities that generously support each other during the good times and pull together like a family would during the hard times.

It’s probably no wonder, then, that I joined Gov. Dennis Daugaard to welcome a new manufacturer to Brookings. In addition to 3M and Daktronics, Brookings is now home to a new Babybel cheese manufacturing facility. It was an honor to welcome them to our state [Rep. Kristi Noem, "SD's Economic Policies Worth Copying," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.10.07].

First, let's be clear: most people everywhere work hard and help their neighbors. South Dakota workers are not uniquely virtuous. Working folks in New York or Texas or California are not uniquely lazy or anti-social.

As for the Bel Brands cheese plant, let's review the main reasons the French decided to build in Brookings:

  1. South Dakota saved its dwindling dairy herd by luring foreign investment through a government program to sell green cards.
  2. South Dakota handed Bel Brands $5 million in corporate welfare.
  3. Brookings offers Bel Brands access to skilled graduates of one of only two university programs in the country offering degrees in dairy production and manufacturing. That program is at South Dakota State University. State University, as in, made possible by good big government.

So really, Republican Kristi Noem is telling the country to be more like South Dakota: use big government to benefit big business.

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I must now turn my fire on my alma mater, South Dakota State University, for political favoritism and restriction of free speech. Apparently they (and there's dispute as to whether "they" is the Hobo Day Committee or President David Chicoine himself) will not let Independent candidate Larry Pressler putt-putt through the Hobo Day parade on his old John Deere D.

Kevin Woster captures the supreme irony that USD and NSU are letting Pressler grace their homecoming parades with his tractor while the state's great land grant institution nixes Pressler's ag homage. Woster also explains that State hasn't banned Pressler from the October 25 parade; they've just said he can only participate if a student organization sponsors him.

That rule sets the Independent at another disadvantage to main-party candidates with campus party machines. But incumbents get an even better deal: the Hobo Day Committee up and invites Governor Dennis Daugaard, Congresswoman Kristi Noem, and other sitting elected officials to ride in the parade.

Hobo LarryBut even those favored invitees dare not say anything political. Hobo Day Committee advisor Nick Wendell says candidates are not permitted to distribute any political campaign material during the parade. Why SDSU thinks its homecoming activities are somehow too good for politics while every other campus in the state makes no fuss over pols using their parades to practice organizing and propagandizing escapes me. The Hobo Day parade organizers should let candidates march and say whatever they want... as long as they wear Hobo duds!

Forget the tractor, Larry! If you can't get the campus thespians or the women's rugby club to sponsor you, forget the tractor and just walk the parade route. Instead of keeping your tractor running, shake hands on the street, then get up to the Back Yard for tailgating!

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According to Governor Dennis Daugaard's FY 2015 Budget Book, the 32nd-highest paying state job is the head coach of men's basketball at South Dakota State University. That vital job pays $200,000, just $314 less than SDSU's VP Academic. The only other people making more than that at SDSU are the Dean of Ag/Bio and the President.

By pure market rationale, here are some jobs that the State of South Dakota values less than supervising young men dribbling and dunking:

  • Dean of the USD Law School ($194,500)
  • Head coach of SDSU women's basketball ($180,000)
  • Dean of graduate studies and research at DSU ($145,186)
  • Commissioner of economic development ($123,064... and still overpriced)
  • Deputy Attorney General ($121,798... making more than Marty because they had to add fiction writing to the job description)
  • Circuit court judges ($117,099... because facing vindictive criminals in court is easier than drilling the full-court press)
  • Professor of mechanical engineering at School of Mines ($107,004... because building better bridges and robots is only half as important as sinking a buzzer-beating three-pointer)
  • Attorney General ($103,892... o.k., given current performance, I'll agree with that prioritization)
  • Warden of the state penitentiary ($97,850... see above, on judges)
  • Warden of the state women's prison ($74,573... granted, not nearly the workload of the men's warden at the state pen, but still more bodies under supervision than on a basketball team)

My high school lit teacher said each society builds its biggest temples to its gods. Does the South Dakota budget show that we also write our biggest checks to our priests?

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The Board of Regents meets this week in Rapid City to discuss, among other things, approving a $65-million football stadium for South Dakota State University.

According to the Regents' agenda packet, two thirds of the construction costs are for enclosed seating, the fancy executive suites that will bring in the bulk of new ticket revenue and allow local royalty to enjoy the gridiron spectacle with comforting glass walls to separate them from the hoi polloi and brisk October breeze.

$63 million of the project will come from bond sales, private donations already pledged, and a guarantee from the SDSU Foundation. SDSU wants the Regents to let them take another $2 million out of students' hides via a $1.75 fee on each academic credit. SDSU justifies this charge by moving the University Police Department HQ to the stadium and adding retail space.

A student taking 15 credits (and why aren't you taking at least that many credits? Get 'er done!) would pay $26.25 per semester, or $210 for a standard four-year full-time load.

So the more classes you take, the less time you have to go watch other people play sports, but the more you will pay for an athletic spectation palace.

Conservatives are huffing and puffing about having to buy health insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act that cover procedures they'll never use (a complaint I never heard them lodging against pre-ACA insurance; when's the last time an insurer let you buy a policy that covers just the one broken arm that you plan to suffer from falling in the bathroom next summer?). Will they huff and puff similarly on behalf of SDSU students having to pay for a football stadium they'll never use?

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Most South Dakota counties and the Legislature hesitate to stand in the way of the total industrialization of the prairie with sensible drainage regulations. But if our leaders don't want to stand in the way of wetland extinction, perhaps they'll at least look at reducing the pollution impacts by requiring field tile drainage systems to include woodchip bioreactors. No, we're not burning pine trees for electricity; we're using wood chips to filter and breakdown pollutants from field drainage.

Excavation for woodchip bioreactor. Photo by SDSU Extension, 2013.

Excavation for woodchip bioreactor. Photo by SDSU Extension, 2013. (Click for SDSU Extension article and larger photos.)

South Dakota State University scientists are testing five bioreactors at demonstration sites near Baltic, Montrose, Arlington, Beresford, and Canton. A bioreactor is a long trench, maybe a couple hundred feet long and four to six feet deep. The trench can be as narrow as three feet deep, but the SDSU Extension test bioreactors appear to be a good twelve feet wide. The SDSU scientists lay plastic to hold water in the trench, then fill it with wood chips. The trench is re-covered with topsoil and reseeded.

The big result SDSU Extension highlights is a reduction of nitrates by 30 to 70 percent. Nitrates come from natural and synthetic fertilizers and make downstream lakes unlivable with explosive algae growth. The woodchips become home to bacteria that eat the carbon and breathe out the nitrogen, which escapes to the atmosphere instead into hungry algae at your favorite fishing hole.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture says bioreactors can support limited field operations and crop growth, minimizing the productivity impact.

So consider this, county commissioners and state legislators: if we can require factories to install smokestack scrubbers to protect air quality, how about we require farmers install bioreactors as drain tile scrubbers to protect water quality?

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The Black Hills Pioneer seems to run a new photo each week of hysteria in the Lead-Deadwood school district. We see teachers tackling mock gunmen in active shooter training. We see officers with weapons drawn stalking down the school hallways in training exercises.

Our universities, too, are giving in to fear. A friend at South Dakota State University says that professors must now include emergency exit routes on their syllabi and submit to active shooter training. SDSU's emergency management website offers three links on active shooter training, including this Homeland Security advice (be aggressive, but don't make any quick movements when the police arrive).

I'm curious: can our public institutions require employees to engage in violent active shooter training? Can staff conscientiously object to attacking another human being, even for pretend? Suppose I turn Quaker. Does my administration really want to get into a First Amendment fracas by making my employment contingent on my willingess to physically assault someone?

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The South Dakota State University Students' Association voted Monday to cheer the university administration's decision to bring Chick-Fil-A to campus and make its oppressed homophobic minority feel more included. The student senators then voted against a resolution criticizing dishonest anti-gay rhetoric and reaffirming the SA's commitment to addressing LGBT issues.

I fully fry those chickens in my latest South Dakota Magazine column. But for this week's great moment in journalism, I turn to Marcus Traxler of the SDSU Collegian:

Sen. Austin VanderWal, of the College of Engineering, said he didn't understand how Chick-fil-A was being hateful with their donations, which drew a frustrated response from [Senator Hassan] Ali, who buried his head in his hands [Marcus Traxler, "SA Votes to Support University Decision on Chick-Fil-A," SDSU Collegian, September 17, 2012].

I feel for you, brother. Keep up the good fight, Hassan!

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