The Aberdeen American News reports on a community meeting Thursday night where district officials laid out plans for dealing with the impending budget cuts from Pierre. I hear from someone who was there that 150 people were in attendance (when's the last time you saw that many people come to talk about a school budget four months out from passage?). When asked to stand to indicate whether they would support a one-cent sales tax to fund education and avoid such cuts, everyone in the room stood up... except for Senator Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen). Novstrup said he support balancing the budget and will probably vote for the governor's plan.
Now it's one thing for a legislator to look a roomful of people in the eye and say, "You're wrong, that's bad policy, and I can't support it." But that's not what I'm hearing from legislators like Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson (R-8/Wentworth). Senator Olson apparently still believes that he can't vote for a tax increase because none of his constituents want a tax increase. That's not an evaluation of the policy; that's a mistaken evaluation of the political implications of voting for the policy. In the echo-chamber minds of too mnay legislators, it is apparently better to put a bunch of those good-for-nothing teachers out of work than to risk an imaginary backlash from an electorate that they think all attends Tea Parties. (Reminder: the only objective data we have says 73% of voters who think of the Tea "Party" as a good thing also support a sales tax increase for education.)
Of course, I might be coddling my own soothing worldview by telling myself that our Republican legislators lack the intellect and courage to overcome their campaign slogans and support the tax increase people want. Perhaps there is a simpler explanation than widespread stupidity and disconnection from reality for our legislators' intransigence. Perhaps our legislators' bullheadedness comes from another source: that second-floor office in the Capitol.
Governor Dennis Daugaard has laid out the budget plan. 10% cuts, no new taxes. Permanent diversion of money from the general fund to corporate handouts. Maybe an occasional extension of existing taxes. But no, no, no extra sales tax, even if the people want it. Those are the governor's orders, even if those cuts kill three times as many jobs as the tax increase.
And almost every Republican legislator is saying, "Yes, sir!"
Ha! And you thought your legislator worked for you. No, no, no. Governor Daugaard is the alpha male, and his barking dogs know it.