Mike Rounds's campaign manager Rob Skjønsberg has been burning up Twitter saying Rick Weiland is an extreme, far left liberal whose views are out of synch with South Dakotans...

...as opposed to the liberal, red-state-moocher policies of Rounds, Daugaard, and Noem that are in synch with South Dakota.

Consider transportation funding. South Dakota Republicans have bleated about the need for Congress to prop up the federal Highway Trust Fund. Rounds and Daugaard have touted how great they made South Dakota roads thanks to federal stimulus dollars.

But they don't back that call for federal spending with an equal commitment to state-level responsibility. Nationwide, state spending on transportation, adjusted for inflation) dropped 20% from 2002 to 2011. Federal spending over the same period, including stimulus dollars, dropped just 4%.

Nationally, the federal share of transportation funding is 24%. In South Dakota, the feds pick up 37% of the highway tab, the ninth highest in the nation.

Federal share of transportation funging 2007–2011, Pew 2014For a red state, we look awfully blue on that map. In other words, if "liberal" means relying on the federal government, South Dakota is one of the top ten liberal states in the nation.

Governor Daugaard has acknowledged that South Dakota's state-level funding is dwindling. He has proposed that we "restore the purchasing power of the gas tax," which is the hilarious conservative euphemism for "Let's raise taxes!" If "liberal" means asking people to pay more taxes, well, there Dennis goes.

South Dakota Republicans like to shout "liberal!" They are projecting their self-loathing, because when they get down to the brass tacks of practical policy like highway funding, they realize that we South Dakotans are all liberals.

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Mr. Ehrisman rightly dings his hometown for plopping a school in a neighborhood with no sidewalks and then banning students from walking. The absurdity of a pedestrian ban around George McGovern Middle School rankles on multiple levels:

  1. Cities should not build any public facility that can be accessed only by motor vehicle.
  2. Schools dedicated to teaching kids healthy lifestyles should never make a rule against walking.
  3. Local governments should spend less time bickering about jurisdiction (the city's "flagpole annexation" of 40 acres for the school and just a narrow strip to connect it to the city proper makes unclear who ought to lay footpath along the connecting road) and more time solving problems.
  4. Parents should not put up with the school's interference with their lifestyle choices. If George McGovern Middle School parents want their kids to walk home, then when the school calls to alert them that their children are walking, the parents should respond, "Yup, they sure are. What's it to ya?"

City Engineer Chad Huwe says a four-foot sidewalk in a developed urban area costs $25 per foot. A ten-foot-wide asphalt pedestrian path costs up to $140 per foot. Let's meet in the middle and say we could build some sort of walking path for George McGovern Middle Schoolers for $80 a foot. Let's say we need to build two miles of walking path around the school on Maple Street and Marion Road to the nearest housing developments. That's $844,800. If one bus route costs a school district $37,000 a year, the school district could pay for those two miles of sidewalk with the savings of eliminating four of its bus routes from McGovern over six years.

But if the city and county and school board can't find a way to make the kids safe, then it's up to us. I know it's asking a lot of Sioux Falls motorists who seem to think cars always have the right of way, but motorists, slow the heck down. Pay attention, share the road, and let those kids get to and from school.

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The Bakken oil boom is making North Dakota rich! Too bad its universities are falling apart:

Students returning this week will attend classes in buildings without adequate ventilation or fire detection systems and in historic landmarks with buckling foundations. A space crunch is making it difficult for researchers to obtain grants and putting the accreditation of several programs at risk, administrators say.

“It’s embarrassing,” said North Dakota state Representative Kathy Hawken, a Republican from Fargo who sits on the higher education funding and budget committees. “We have a divided legislature on higher ed: Some think we put too much money into it and some think we don’t put enough. Buildings aren’t people, so we don’t put dollars there” [Jennifer Oldham, "North Dakota Universities Crumble as Oil Cash Pours In," Bloomberg, 2014.08.26].

Moving that money from petro-tax revenues to classrooms is complicated: Oldham reports that 30% of the money is locked up in a state trust fund until 2017, while another big chunk goes to municipalities. The $300 million the North Dakota Legislature gets faces competition from road needs. While the universities need $808 million in repairs, the state also needs $925 million to fix roads statewide over the next two years, including $485 million for repairs to industry-battered oil-patch roads.

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President Harry Truman endorses Rickstock:

Photo from Kevin Weiland, Rickstock Facebook page, 2014.08.06

Photo from Kevin Weiland, Rickstock Facebook page, 2014.08.06

While I tie-dye my press hat for the big August 16 Rick Weiland musical fundraiser in Piedmont, the Democratic candidate continues his crusade to win a seat in the Senate by shaking hands in every town in the state. Journalist Kevin Woster is impressed with the effort Weiland is making in a campaign he's "almost" certain to lose:

It’s the “almost,” of course, along with a young, palm-studying staff of smart-phone addicts, that gets Weiland out of bed early each day to pound the pavement, press the flesh and pass mile after mile of lonesome South Dakota roads in a low-budget, wrist-wrenching retail campaign he wouldn’t trade for just about anything. OK, maybe he’d trade it for a lot of campaign cash and a 15-point lead over Rounds, but let’s get serious. This is South Dakota, where Republican candidates begin any statewide campaign with a 50,000 vote edge over Democrats in registered voters.

Still, Weiland is serious about the campaign and actually seems inspired by it. Asked to compare this campaign to his previous two, Weiland said: “This one has been much more hands on. It’s a real campaign, and these are real visits. Our goal has been to meet at least one person in every town. And we’ve done that" [Kevin Woster, "Haven't Been to Hillsview? You Haven't Really Campaigned," KELOLand.com, 2014.08.05].

Rick Weiland campaign van next to SDGOP campaign bus

Rick vs. Mike—David vs. Goliath

Compare Rick's hard-charging minivan tour of South Dakota with Mike Rounds's comfortable cruise around the state in a giant wrapped bus, and you can understand why the press, not to mention hard-working voters, might talk more about Weiland's travels than about what a Weiland fundraising pitch deems the GRA$$ROOT$ EXPRE$$. Weiland's Everywhere-Everyman-van versus Rounds's luxury travel could also explain why, even though he has more name recognition, his favorable–unfavorable ratio is notably worse than Weiland's.

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Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Mike Rounds is telling the press that federal stimulus dollars made South Dakota highways better. Rounds is emphasizing that South Dakota needs big government because it depends on nearly $300 million dollars every year to maintain its roads. And the Republican is saying he wants more big government help for South Dakota in the form of replenishing the Highway Trust Fund... because when he was governor, he knew darn well that depletion of the Highway Trust Fund would mean South Dakota would have to spend more of its own money, and Rounds never supported that kind of self-reliance.

Alas, Rounds says, Congress is struggling to pass that vital legislation because "nobody" trusts President Obama:

You can't give 'em more money until you know how they're going to spend it, and I think that's the biggest problem we've got in D.C. is, is nobody trusts that the Administration will spend the money the way they say that they will [Marion Michael Rounds, audio interview, "Rounds Supports Highway Funding Bill," KJAM Radio, 2014.07.24].

Hold on, Mike—I think you're projecting. You don't trust President Obama. You took stimulus dollars that President Obama and Congress intended for education and then spent those dollars on other budget items.

But hey, suppose Rounds is right. Suppose the problem with highway funding is that Senators don't trust President Obama.

Since President Obama isn't on the 2014 ballot, there's one obvious solution: elect Senators who trust President Obama. Elect Rick Weiland.

Thanks for the advice, Mike!

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Who needs highways when I've got a horse!

Who needs highways when I've got a horse!

What?! Kristi Noem still hasn't fixed the Highway Trust Fund? What do we pay our Congresswoman for?

While Kristi's colleagues fiddle with short-term stopgaps to fill our potholes, a new study funded by the Soybean Transportation Coalition suggests that a long-term fix may rely on some tax judo: ease drivers into a long-term gasoline-tax increase with an immediate tax break.

The federal gasoline tax has hung at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. Back then, that would have been about an 18% tax on gasoline. Today, 18.4 cents per $3.75 gallon is about 5%.

The soybean lobby suggests knocking a penny off the gasoline tax as a political palliative but then indexing the gasoline tax to inflation to keep up with the cost of concrete, steel, and everything else we need to build and maintain roads. Their study, conducted by the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, says that inflation-indexing would make up for the lost revenue of the penny drop within four or five years. The study finds that South Dakota would take a $6.7-million hit in the first year, but we'd recoup the loss by 2019. By 2025, we'd accumulate $119 million in extra revenue ($25.9 million in 2025 alone) while paying 3.4 cents more per gallon.

Governor Daugaard will tell you that raising more money through the gasoline tax by indexing it to inflation is not a new tax or a tax increase; it's just restoring the purchasing power of the gas tax. Alas, the cut-then-index plan would extend the road budget bind for another couple years before road-building states would see any progress. Is additional fiscal pain (and rump pain, as you bounce over those potholes) really the only way we can coax Kristi and Congress into fixing the Highway Trust Fund?

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On Monday, Pat Powers bemoaned the loss of his "texting freedom" as South Dakota inched toward common sense in enacting its ban on texting while driving.

Christopher Weber of Madison shows us what "texting freedom" really means:

One minute Christopher Weber was checking his smartphone, trying to navigate mobile banking options as he guided his pickup truck along Highway 270. The next, according to a criminal complaint, he was attempting CPR on a young mother who was out for a bicycle ride with her two young children when she was hit by Weber's truck in southwestern Minnesota.

...Andrea Boeve, 33, of Steen, was biking with her young daughters along the shoulder of Highway 270 on Monday morning when Weber's pickup drifted over the white line, the State Patrol said. The pickup struck and killed Boeve about a quarter-mile from her home. There were no skid marks, the complaint said.

Weber told the investigator, "yes it would be fair to say, it could be," when asked if he was looking at his phone and not the road, the complaint said ["Madison Man Charged in Death of Minnesota Cyclist," AP via Madison Daily Leader, 2014.07.02].

While you're at it, Pat, how about bleating about how the BAC and sobriety checkpoints infringe on your "drinking freedom."

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Pat Powers parrots another press release from Rep. Kristi Noem claiming that she led the House in passing the Reliable Home Heating Act. Given that the bill, sponsored by Senator John Thune and co-sponsored by Senator Tim Johnson, coasted through the Senate in May on unanimous consent and yesterday in the House by voice vote, saying Rep. Noem "led" passage is like saying I got the sun to rise by heading west.

The Reliable Home Heating Act isn't a terrible idea. The bill arose from last winter's propane shortage, when South Dakotans and others saw supply dwindle and prices jump due to, among other factors, propane exports growing faster than production and farmers burning up propane to dry a bigger and damper than usual corn crop. It acknowledges that when folks are freezing, we need to move fuel out faster.

Governors can already declare 30-day residential heating fuel emergencies, during which fuel trucks are exempted from certain federal highway safety regulations (specifically, 49 CFR 3 Parts 390–399). The Reliable Home Heating Act authorizes governors to extend those emergencies twice, for a total of 90 days. It also directs the Energy Information Administration to notify governors of possible home heating fuel shortages. In the latter, Rep. Noem, Senator Thune, and the rest of Congress are acknowledging that the market fails, that government has to monitor supplies of vital resources to ensure their proper distribution.

Alas, deregulation and monitoring do not do much to address the fundamental market failures that constrained domestic supply and jacked up prices. Letting bosses require truckers to drive longer without sleep and skipping inspections and maintenance aren't the safest ways to ensure that folks on the reservation don't freeze to death. Helping all South Dakotans afford a reliable supply of propane will take more than some feel-good temporary deregulation.

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