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GOP Senator Russell Olson Backs Corporate Welfare, Calls Referendum Political Stunt

The South Dakota GOP is in full spin cycle over the potential referral of HB 1230, their corporate welfare bill. Senator and GOP chairman Tim Rave issued his distracting cries of partisanship Monday; Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson took to the SDPB airwaves this noon to expand on his colleague's smoke and mirrors in defense of Governor Daugaard's hard-to-defend economic development grants fund. Permit me to translate some of Russ's gems:

Senator Olson opened by saying the HB 1230 referral is just a political stunt. He said the issue wouldn't have been on folks' front burner if the South Dakota Democratic Party hadn't made a political issue of it. Translation: Dang you Democrats! How are we supposed to hand out all those millions of tax dollars to our corporate chums if folks are paying attention?
Senator Olson said that HB 1230 gives the governor more flexibility to close economic development deals. Translation: This bill lets the governor throw money at corporations as he sees fit.
Senator Olson said South Dakota was in the running for a multi-million-dollar renewable energy project but lost when Iowa threw another $9 million on the table. Translation: If I say "renewable energy," all the Dems will change their mind... and they won't notice my tacit acknowledgment that businesses just play states off each other in the Toyota lottery.
When a petition circulator from Rapid City called in to the program, Senator Olson asked him to lay out the pitch he gave to get people to sign. The caller said he pointed to language on the petition, said it's a plan to take 22% of contractors excise tax from general fund, then asked if we should take money out of general fund when we're short and put it in a separate economic development fund. Senator Olson said he heard that circulators in East River were telling people, "Sign this, and you get more money for education." Senator Olson said that pitch doesn't make clear the true intent of the referral to continue partisan politics in the off-season. Translation: Dang it! More facts getting in the way of my imagination! I'll just ignore this caller, emphasize hearsay, and gripe that petition circulators didn't say things to deter people from signing.
Lori from Belle Fourche calls, thanks the Democrats for bringing this issue to her attention, and suggests we could invest the money more wisely in education an assistance to young farmers and entrepreneurs who want to get into business. Senator Olson says this referral won't make that happen; it only takes $17 million from governor's discretion. The money just goes away if we repeal HB 1230, says Olson, because the money will to the GOP-controlled Legislature. We already invest $600 million a year in education, says Olson, and that additional money in the general fund won't do anything to help the South Dakota economy. Translation: Dang! Lori isn't buying the partisanship argument. I guess I'd better admit that, even if the public turns that $17 million back to the general fund, I have no intention of using my power as Senate Majority Leader to drive that money back toward education.
Senator Olson then says Lori brought up good point, that the smoke-and-mirrors part of this referral is that the money goes all to out-of-state companies. 3M expanded entirely on basis of existing incentives. They employ 1500 people. Not based here, but substantial presence with $26/hour average jobs. Look at Dakota Provisions in Huron! These companies pay lots of payroll to South Dakotans! Translation: Actually, Lori didn't say it was smoke and mirrors, but saying she brings up a good point makes it sound like I'm complimenting her even though I'm really implying she's an ignorant dupe. Now I'll try my own smoke-and-mirrors by making it sound like 3M isn't an out-of-state company.
After state Democratic Party chairman Ben Nesselhuf pointed out the Federal Reserve of Minneapolis report that said the best investment for economic development is early childhood education, something South Dakota currently spends very little on, Senator Olson responded that investing in economic development produces all sorts of other benefits by bringing in jobs, families, more kids for the schools, and a larger tax base. Translation: Dang these facts! Why can't people just let me ignore all these studies and reports and just let me do what I want to help my corporate cronies? Preschoolers don't fund big campaigns!
Senator Olson said HB 1230 is a very small tool. Translation: This kind of contradicts what I'm saying about how vital this Large Project Fund is for South Dakota's economic development. But Cory's probably out biking or something; he won't catch me on that.
Senator Olson claimed that TransCanada received $2.85 million in tax refunds in 2010, then turned around and paid $2,9 million in property tax. Therefore, the tax refund has paid for itself. "Cory from Lake Herman" e-mailed a comment saying that Olson is ignoring the fact that we'd be even farther ahead if we hadn't given TransCanada that unnecessary refund. Senator Olson asks SDPB's Paul Guggenheimer to repeat the question. Translation: Dang! Cory is listening.
After Paul repeats the question, Senator Olson says he can't take the credit for Mount Rushmore, and he can't take the blame for earlier tax refund law. He says he just knows that TransCanada is part of our economy now, the small $2.8M refund we gave them has already been paid back, and Dems are making out TransCanada to be a big bogeyman. "I don't know about Cory at Lake Herman, but they're here," and they'll be part of our economy for next 20 to 30 years. Translation: Um... um... um... it's not my fault! TransCanada buys all sorts of electricity! My boss says I have to kiss their butts! Besides, you don't pay as much in taxes as TransCanada, so nertz to you! This is a plutocracy, dang it!

Bonus Unintended Secret Message! Check that last line from Senator Olson: he appears to acknowledge that TransCanada's Keystone oil pipeline will only operate for up to 30 years. They may be a part of our economy for a couple decades, but their leaky, abandoned pipeline, like the abandoned and polluting mines in the Black Hills, will be a part of our environment for much longer.

Yes, Senator Olson, there is a political reason that I'm eager to bring HB 1230 to a public vote. It gives us a chance to watch Republicans like you stumble through your strained rhetoric trying to defend corporate welfare.

But referring House Bill 1230 also happens to be a chance to reverse some really bad budget priorities that you and your colleagues set this year and create at least the possibility of directing more funding toward education and other essential government functions. Chairman Nesselhuf said it best in his opening comment this noon: "It may be good politics, but we also think it's good policy; sometimes those two go hand in hand."


  1. Thad Wasson 2011.06.29

    By giving Transcanada a refund that they paid back, it ends as a wash. I say why did we give them one, they have to bury their pipe in South Dakota. We know they aren't going thru Minnesota and they aren't rerouting down Wyoming.

  2. Curtis Loesch 2011.06.29

    I wonder if HB1230 could help Huron get another Turkey Plant?

    The only way things are going to get better for the average Joe/Joellyn is for workers to form strong unions. Nation-wide. People need to get riled up. But until Joe and she can't afford their [metaphorical] six-pack, they won't. What's this got to do with HB1230 I can hear pragmatists asking? It further weakens our ability to hire good teachers, and good teachers are some of the most important people in this little town of south dakota. Even more important than the business men with clout in pierre.

  3. Guy 2011.06.29

    “The people of South Dakota understand what the Democrats choose not to: job creation spurs alarger tax base, meaning more money for education, roads, and taking care of people. I’m confident that South Dakotans won’t be fooled,” is what Republican Party Chairman Tim Rave posted on Dakota Voice about this HB.

    One question Tim and I also left it on your voicemail (thanks for leaving your phone number on the press release that Bob Ellis reposted on his blog):

    If the "people of South Dakota," who you claim to speak for in this press release Mr. Rave, think this is a political stunt, then, why don't we support this house bill and put the issue up for a vote? Then, we will get a most accurate measurement of how the "people of South Dakota" truly view this issue instead of you just attempting to speak for all of us. A vote is needed because this issue is too important to leave to the good old boys in Pierre.

  4. larry kurtz 2011.06.29

    Thad: TransCanada's engineers are fighting the Pierre shale that has thwarted rail improvements and have broken up roadways for generations. If we in Montana put up a good enough fight we can stall them long enough to give up.

  5. Brett Hoffman 2011.06.29

    Olson's performance was so strange and full of obvious nonsense that I started wondering if Sacha Baron Cohen had snuck in and was impersonating him. He actually did the impossible and made me feel sorry for him; I was cringing with embarrassment on his behalf.

  6. Elizabeth T 2011.06.29

    I am completely inspired to take the concurrent "translation" approach either to explaining (ir)rational political discourse or for pure personal amusement for my politically aware friends.
    Elizabeth in Minnesota

  7. Steve Sibson 2011.06.30

    Senator Olson was present during the Senate State Affairs hearing on HB 1230 and heard my testimony in opposition. No one refuted my research. The governor's spokesman could only deny it without supporting evidence. The political stunt is on the side of faux conservatives, including Dusty Johnson who lobbied for the governor on this bill.

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