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GOP Hates Voters, Hoghouses SB 170 to Block Your Vote on Corporate Welfare

Last updated on 2012.11.29

Let's be clear: Senate Bill 170 is pure Republican dirty tricks.

David Montgomery offers a good synopsis of where SB 170 is coming from. Here's my version:

  1. Last winter, Governor Daugaard pushed HB 1230 through the Legislature. This bill designated 22% of the contractors excise tax to fund the Governor's ongoing recruitment handouts to big corporations without legislative oversight.
  2. Liberals and conservatives alike panned the plan as corporate welfare.
  3. In what I deemed one of the biggest stories of 2011, new South Dakota Democratic Party chairman Ben Nesselhuf engineered a successful petition drive to refer HB 1230 (2011) to this year's general election ballot as Referred Law 14.
  4. The referral drove Governor Daugaard and his GOP minions bonkers. They knew this referral would mean they would have to spend the 2012 election debating corporate welfare and talking about the Rounds-Daugaard's questionable past use of such handouts.
  5. The GOP is so desperate to avoid this conversation that, according to Bob Mercer, they enter into secret negotiations with the Democratic leadership this session to repeal HB 1230 and replace it with a more palatable tax kickback scheme. Democrats won't sign on (why would you?!?).
  6. The GOP leadership thus hijacks this year's SB 170, a "carcass" that wandered emptily through the Senate waiting for someone to come up with a good idea for economic development. Rep. Brock Greenfield (R-6/Clark) then jumps up in House Commerce and Energy Friday and moves to amend SB 170 to repeal the old HB 1230 (2011), restore the same plan with the funding reduced from 22% to 18% of the contractors' excise tax, and tack on some energy company tax refunds to sweeten the deal. And by gum, he gets Democrat Spencer Hawley from Brookings to second the motion (Spence! What are you thinking?!?).
  7. And we have ourselves a hoghouse whose practical effect is to circumvent the voters and even the usual round of committee scrutiny and public testimony with one week left in the session.

At yesterday's crackerbarrel here in Spearfish, I asked our District 31 legislators, What's up with that? Here's how they responded:

Rep. Chuck Turbiville (starting at 1:30) says SB 170 isn't taking anyone's right to vote. It just takes Referred Law 14 off the ballot. And at the end (3:30), he says he'll vote to do that.

Sen. Tom Nelson (2:45) adds that SB 170 was sponsored by Democratic leadership... which indeed it was, when it was a carcass, before the GOP leadership wrote in this abrogation of the popular will and told their industry lobby friends, "Quick! Come testify!" In a graceful dance of technicalities, Sen. Nelson says SB 170 doesn't take the bill off the ballot, it just gives the sponsors "an opportunity" to ask that the measure be taken off the ballot.

And what a wonderful opportunity! Sneak SB 170 through the Legislature, and tell South Dakotans that the effort they made going door-to-door to explain a complicated policy issue to nearly 23,000 valid petition signatories and promote participatory democracy was all for naught. With opportunities like that, who needs calamity?

On the hopeful side, this anti-democratic (and anti-Democratic) chicanery will require a two-thirds vote to pass. Republicans like Rep. Stace Nelson, who voted for last year's HB 1230 in an act of party loyalty, may be less inclined to support the leadership in this blatant attempt to take away a chance for the people to vote. Governor Daugaard himself is signalling that he doesn't like the political taste of subverting the referral process:

"This takes this out of the hands of the people," said Rep. Mitch Fargen, D-Flandreau, who said SB170 would "destroy the democratic process."

Fargen and other Democrats have an unusual ally: Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who opposes the bill, even though it might spare his economic development program from being rejected by the voters.

"The governor respects the integrity of the referral process," Daugaard's senior advisor Tony Venhuizen said in an emailed statement. "He opposes an effort to remove Referred Law 14 from the ballot unless it has significant Democratic support."

Venhuizen wouldn't clarify whether the governor was threatening to veto SB170 [David Montgomery, "Opponents Say Economic Development Bill an Affront to Voters," Rapid City Journal, 2012.02.25].

The Governor's man can't bring himself to twist words as Senator Tom Nelson does: Venhuizen admits SB 170 is an effort to remove Referred Law 14 from the ballot. He plays coy on veto talk, but he at least sends the signal that the leadership will have to do its own arm-twisting on this subversion of democracy.

Dems, you lose much more than you gain by voting for SB 170. And Republicans, you now have crony capitalism compounded with mass disenfranchisement. The only reason to vote for SB 170 is to curry favor with big business and party leadership. Unless you want that on your conscience, I strongly recommend you kill SB 170 and let the legal democratic process run its course.


  1. Roger Elgersma 2012.02.26

    That pipeline went through South Dakota since it is to expensive to build it through the Rocky Mountains. So we would have gotten it anyways. This is true about most large industrial expansion. There are other reasons than small(in their perspective) interest when deciding on a location for their investment. But, OH MY, we can have a fancy dinner at a fancy resaurant with big wheel CEOs who tell us we are making a difference in the world if we give big corporations a tax break. First show me the benifit for a specific new industry rather than giving all big guys a bonus without any proof that it will make a difference to us. These blanket tax breaks to anyone who comes is like throwing money in the wind. South Dakota is a small state wishing it could get drunk with a big guy.

  2. Donald Pay 2012.02.26

    SB 170 could be petitioned as well, and you would have both bills up on the ballot.

  3. Charlie Johnson 2012.02.26

    Clip Board in each hand---refer HB1234 and SB 170. Lay the marker down this week.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.02.26

    That referral push is an option, but it's almost like double jeopardy. Referrants last year busted their chops to get 2011's HB 1230 on the ballot; they should enjoy some protection from having to invest the same resources all over again just to achieve the same result. If I have to carry two clipboards, I will, but let's try to save a little energy for the fall campaign!

  5. Donald Pay 2012.02.26

    Sen. Nelson is right--this wouldn't take HB 1230 off the ballot. But if they pass SB 170 that bill would have to be referred to assure the public's right to referendum.

    It would set up an expensive legal situation that would essentially put everything in legal limbo, and could set a legal precedent for future Legislatures to gut the referendum process. I think the Legislature would be wading into deeply disturbing territory if it tries this, and it would just boomerang on them something fierce. It would set up a Constitutional challenge that they would likely lose. It's a pretty wasteful attempt to circumvent the referendum process.

  6. Steve Sibson 2012.02.27

    Does anybody feel the tyranny yet?

  7. larry kurtz 2012.02.27

    GOP collapsing: "POLL: Rush Limbaugh is the most hated man in news. (Bill O'Reilly second-most hated)" @WSJ.

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