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10-Cent Gasoline Tax Hike Has Big Business Support

The GOP spin machine is trying really hard to scare Republicans away from investing $100 million in South Dakota roads by calling "the single largest tax increase in state history." Pat Powers tries to lower expectations and deter support by claiming the proposal from the interim Highway Needs and Financing Committee is dead on arrival.

Powers had better get in line with his corporate overlords, who are lining up behind road investment. For the past year, a variety of industry lobbying groups have been building a "Roads Are Vital" campaign to make taxes sound fun. Who's on the team supporting a ten-cent gasoline tax hike? The Chamber of Commerce, the general contractors, the truckers association, the cement and asphalt groups (yes, there is a Dakota Asphalt Pavement Association—they initiate new members by tarring and feathering), county commissioners, co-ops, Big Ag, engineers, AAA, the auto-dealers....

The Roads Are Vital Coalition is out tweeting and marketing its pitch, saying, among other things, that the current dip in gasoline prices presents the perfect opportunity to raise the gasoline tax. And while they don't have Governor Daugaard full-throatedly singing their song, they don't have him killing the roads proposal, which he could do with a word if he wanted.

Dead on arrival? I don't think so. The Roads Are Vital Coalition poses a powerful, big money threat to Republicans' commitment to their campaign-trail slogans. Add to that pressure the glaring reality of our crumbling roads and bridges, and we just might see the 2015 Legislature fill some potholes.


  1. Nick Nemec 2014.12.10

    A 10¢ per gallon fuel tax increase makes a hell of a lot more sense than the grab bag of increased fees, new fees, new taxes and increased taxes that the summer study proposed. It has the benefit of being simple to understand and has no additional costs in order to administer.

  2. toclayco 2014.12.10

    And when it happens, we will find that Powers was for it all along. The site will be scrubbed and edited of anything to the contrary.
    "Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved BIG BROTHER."

  3. larry kurtz 2014.12.10

    Yet Powers applauds the autism dollars because his kids are sick from neurotoxins generated by GOP donors.

  4. Troy 2014.12.10


    Today, I don't think there even close to a majority of either house in support of this for two reasons:

    1) The discussion is just beginning. The rallying of support by the groups you mention is only getting people to turn their focus to this need.

    2) The "plan" specifics are at best nascent and not concrete (pardon the pun) enough to engender people to support it yet. Unlike the Stimulus and Obamacare, the GOP in the Legislature will expect a plan before they pass such a tax increase.

    3) And, personally, I think the first step is a 20-30 year plan on what roads and infrastructure that will be needed in the far future and not just the current 5 year plan. Our network of roads and railroads was essentially designed pre-1920 and only amended by the Interstate (1950's) and to some degree related mostly to the growth of Sioux Falls plus the additions of some fourlanes (ala Aberdeen and Pierre).

    In case nobody has noticed, the depopulation of many parts of the state and migration to Rapid City area, Sioux Falls area plus a few other major towns on the Interstate certainly justify a re-look on what highways are needed. Plus, the critical nature of rail must be re-examined. 40 years ago, we mostly only exported wheat with the other grains consumed locally for pigs, cattle, etc. Today, we export a lot higher percentage of our grain production.

    My exercise in #3 might determine $50mm is needed or $200mm needed. I don't know what is needed until this type of study is done.

    This said, my visceral reaction is the same as yours: A major infrastructure improvement and related increase in taxes is due. But, I'm not going there until we have a plan that considers the needs of South Dakota all the way to the end of this century.

  5. o 2014.12.10

    This is a watershed moment in GOP tax philosophy: the party could be actually looking at needs and moving from knee-jerk absolutes of "no new taxes."

    Powers ought to be afraid, soon even Republican rank-and-file may look at the justifiable need to pay for public policy projects - thereby justifying the need for taxes (or more taxes even). Once the damn breaks on the Randian "all taxes are evil and unwarranted" slogan, thoughtful discussion might even begin on many more elements of state budgeting.

  6. larry kurtz 2014.12.10

    Maybe South Dakota should sell the cement plant to Mexico...oh, wait.

  7. o 2014.12.10

    Oops, clearly a freudian slip on "dam."

  8. jerry 2014.12.10

    The mention of utilizing rail to take freight from the highways makes sense to me. The heavy truck traffic beats the roads and bridges down very quickly. Rail freight would help solve that problem and make any fixes on the roads and bridges last that much longer. Passenger transportation on those rails makes sense as well.

  9. Steve Sibson 2014.12.10

    "I think the first step is a 20-30 year plan on what roads and infrastructure that will be needed in the far future and not just the current 5 year plan."

    That can't happen until the crony capitalist buy up the land where those roads will go. The plan will not be developed until they know where all the subsidized corporate dairies will be located. Most don't know we are operating under the Soviet's "Planned Economy" model.

  10. Nick Nemec 2014.12.10

    I'm confused Troy, the vast majority of the railroads in the state are private property, are you suggesting the need for government investment in those railroads?

    I thought the legislative summer study completed this summer and fall identified the costs and needs you are wondering about.

  11. Troy 2014.12.10


    I think that transportation infrastructure needs to be looked at as a whole and comprehensively long-term. In addition to population, I'd consider what is likely to be grown where and how best to get it to market with comment/input from both farmers and agriculture product marketers like the coops and Cargill. We need everyone's brains and eyes if we are going to spend $100 million.

  12. Bill Fleming 2014.12.10

    Isn't the summer study's number to bring existing SD road/bridge infrastructure up to par more like $600 million?

  13. larry kurtz 2014.12.10

    Building two east-west freight systems in South Dakota is lunacy: build track good enough to offer passenger service from MPLS through Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Cheyenne to link with the proposed line between the Empire Builder somewhere in Montana and the Southwest Chief at Trinidad, Colorado.

  14. Jana 2014.12.10

    Kurtz...Love it! Makes sense on so many levels, especially when tourism is the number 1 or 2 industry for South Dakota.

  15. larry kurtz 2014.12.10

    Revision: building two east-west rail systems exclusively for freight is lunacy. Sioux Falls should get behind passenger service between Omaha and the Empire Builder, too.

  16. Jana 2014.12.10

    Nick. Funny that Troy and the GOP are pushing for all taxpayers to subsidize agriculture over and above their already subsidized operations. Troy the Big Government socialist...go figure.

  17. Douglas Wiken 2014.12.10

    Transportation support is not just a taxpayer subsidy of agriculture. Taxing ag diesel fuel burned tilling, planting, or harvesting crops is inherently unfair.

    That said, the taxes on heavy trucks should be greatly increased and specially colored fuels for such vehicles should be required and highly taxed. Such trucks probably do 15,000 times as much damage to a road as do cars. Even if such vehicles use ten times as much fuel per mile as autos, the fuel tax is woefully short of covering costs.

    Low fuel taxes on heavy trucks coupled with comparatively onerous fuel taxes on light vehicles to build highways has moved such transport from railroads to highways. Even if the railroads need to be built by taxpayer money and run by government, we and the environment, and the highways would all be better off. Light rail for highspeed passenger travel should replace commerical domestic airlines as well.

  18. Steve Sibson 2014.12.10

    "Troy the Big Government socialist"

    Larry, to be technically precise...the Big Government fascist.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.10

    Excellent Orwell reference, Toclayco.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.10

    Troy, if you and I were in Pierre, I think we could get business done on this issue. If you could show me that we don't have a comprehensive assessment of our transportation needs statewide, I would consider seconding your motion to hold the phone until we have that data and can formulate a 30-year plan.

    Then again, I can see where such policy caution could be used as an excuse not to make the tough call and raise taxes to make necessary investments. We may not know every road and bridge that ought to be fixed, but we can surely identify five years' worth. Pass the funding plan (gas tax, wheel tax, other sources—we can have that fight, too), pour it on so the current five-year plan gets done in three or two years (assuming we can orange cone and hardhat that many roads at once), and set a deadline for the Highway Needs committee: If you guys haven't figured out the comprehensive plan, do it now! The money's coming in, and you have two years to tell us what we need to do with it after we finish the current projects.

    Plus, pass a funding plan now to accelerate projects in the chute, and how many jobs do we create? (Hint: more than Keystone XL!)

  21. Loren 2014.12.10

    Wait! I thought the Republican mantra of "tax cuts" might apply here. If we CUT fuel taxes, each gallon would be cheaper, ergo folks would buy more gallons providing increased fuel tax revenue. Isn't that how it works?

  22. Disgusted Dakotan 2014.12.10

    So, we allow Daugaard to campaign all year long on how perfect SD and it's roads are, then after the election he comes out with a 180 turn and claims the roads are terrible and we need to raise taxes? And the Democrats are coming out saying this is a great idea?

    How about putting a stop to these crony-capitalists diverting taxes from infrastructure to "economic development?" Hard to do when Democrats push the same thing, but you could hold them to their own Republican principles of being for the free-market, limited government, etc., without being on both sides of the issue.

    If state government agencies were required to deposit all of the fines into the general fund, as required by our constitution? We would be a long way towards being able to pay better wages for teachers. Right now? Millions are diverted by the slight of hand trick of state government calling them something totally different so they can keep them.. "civil fines!"

  23. grudznick 2014.12.10

    What if we just got rid of civil fines? I had no idea there were so many civil fines that they could be used to fund raises for good teachers but if we cut the fines out then the legislatures couldn't divert them and would have to raise money in some other way. That would make the lid come off the can and the raising could be locked into good teacher raises or what other items people want to revisit. grudznick is saying "cut taxes to raise taxes" might be an approach people could use.

  24. Bill Fleming 2014.12.10

    Grudz, how about "A Fine Way to Raise Taxes."
    And we could put a cartoon of you grinning with your index finger up, and a light bulb going on over your head, like Mr. Natural in Zap Comix.

  25. grudznick 2014.12.10

    You could probably do a whole fancy one of your web sites and make the cartoon of me move and do my classic facial expressions too, Mr. Fleming. When the initiated measure group hires you to do just that I want you to make sure they know it will cost them a breakfast every Saturday for a year.

  26. rollin potter 2014.12.10

    I am probably wrong but it seems that the biggest road problems are township and county roads!! Maybe put a mil levy on the crops raised in those townships and counties and used for there roads and bridges only!!! They,the crops, are the ones that are causing the problems on the township and county roads!!!! NOT the little ol' volkswagons etc.!!!

  27. Bill Fleming 2014.12.10

    Grudznick, if I'm going to be your agent, I get 30%. Just sayin. LOL

  28. Donald Pay 2014.12.10

    Hey, I think Pitty Pat, Sibby and I might actually be on the same side of this issue. How often will that happen?

    The road construction companies and ancillary industries are welfare queens. They depend on the taxpayers for virtually all of their money. And generally they recommend vastly overbuilding road infrastructure just to grab more tax dollars.

    Transportation planning was supposed to tame that "tax and spend and tax and spend some more" natural lobby for road-building. Unfortunately, too much of transportation planning has become just more planning for the wealth of the road-builders, as taxpayers don't really show up at these meetings or submit comments.

    Yeah, put money into maintenance of local roads. And tax the truckers more (good luck with that) to pay for the damage they do. But don't tax the folks any more who are just driving to and from work. They can't afford it, and they do very little damage to the roads.

  29. grudznick 2014.12.10

    Bill, I'd give you 30% of my gravy taters any weekend morning of the week.

  30. Roger Elgersma 2014.12.10

    The big businesses that are for building infrastructure are those who would make money building them. That is not reason to do it. But if the people realize they are necessary then it should be done.
    The city of Atlanta talked a long time about their old collapsing sewer system. Everyone knew they needed to do something about it but no one wanted to tax and do it. Finally a black lady ran for mayor on the issue of fixing the sewer system and taxing to do it just because it was needed. She won, she followed through and did it, and they lover her and call her the sewer mayor.
    Before this happened my brother in law who is a lawyer in Atlanta saw a neighborhood with no sewer system at all. He went to city hall and told them that those people needed a sewer system. He was told 'no'. So he took them to court and got them a sewer system. It was his proudest case. Atlanta is over half black and so when the old establishment white guys did not get the job done, the regular people had to get in there and do it. Who is the old established white guys in South Dakota.

  31. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.11

    Good question, Roger. I don't know who in South Dakota benefits from letting the general road network fall into disrepair. Is there any pattern of favoritism in current road-building and maintenance activities in South Dakota?

  32. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.11

    Donald, come on: you expect us to engage in smart government and hit the sweet spot between rank neglect and frivolous corporate pork? You expect us to actually do what needs to be done? :-)

  33. Wayne Pauli 2014.12.11

    Part of our revenue problem regarding the repair of roads is the fact that our license plate renewel fees are too cheap. it should cost more to put a vehicle on the road. call it a wheel tax, call it a gross to age tax, call it what it is, a revenue stream that is needed to begin elevating our poor roads, from township to U.S. highways.
    that is another thing that the faux South Dakotans driving around with #2 plates on their vehicles joke cheap our plates are.

  34. Wayne Pauli 2014.12.11

    tonnage not to age . I am going to throw this iPad away

  35. mike from iowa 2014.12.11

    Texas won't tax oil companies for road damages so when pavement gets wrecked,the state replaces it with gravel roads. How's that for low tax-low maintenance wingnut gubmint?

  36. Tim 2014.12.11

    Close business tax loopholes John T pointed out in his blog and SHAZAM, roads and teacher pay all fixed at once. Any bets on if the republican single party rulers will even consider it in committee? Of course, we know where Daugaard will stand.

  37. Bill Fleming 2014.12.11

    Wayne, somewhere deep down in the bowels of your 'settings' app on your iPad is a switch where you can shut the ^#%*+ auto-correct dohickey off.

    I finally got so disgusted with mine that I dug in, found it and did it, and now cyberlife is a little better. The remaining typos are due to my own stupidity which I much prefer over a stupid software program trying (and failing) to make me look smarter. ;-)

  38. Troy 2014.12.11


    I agree we could get something done on this issue. Transportation issues aren't inherently partisan or ideological. And, I want something done earlier than later and am willing to pay for what needs to be done.

    That said, the long range plan needs to be in place before we spend anything extra-ordinary. We have postponed a long-term reflection/discussion on our comprehensive network of transportation for at least 30 years. Moving forward without the plan will remove the carrot to do what must be done. Plus, we will end up fixing/expanding infrastructure that needs to be transitioned out of the network which is a waste of scarce resources.

  39. larry kurtz 2014.12.11

    Troy: you have an amazing capacity to synthesize and communicate calumny, innuendo, slander, rash judgment, and misdirection in one paragraph.

  40. mike from iowa 2014.12.11

    Troy-how do you raise taxes when wingnuts refuse to raise taxes?

  41. mike from iowa 2014.12.11

    Wayne P- :)

  42. Nick Nemec 2014.12.11

    Bill F and Wayne P, I use an old Mac laptop. It doesn't have auto correct (that I know of) but it does put a red line under potential misspellings. I really love that feature, I never really was a very good speller and appreciate the machine trying to gently nudge me to at least look up a spelling.

  43. Nick Nemec 2014.12.11

    Troy, I don't disagree that there might be roads that need to be downgraded or abandoned but I think you overestimate the amount that can be saved by downgrades or abandonment. That you advocate doing this is fine and common sense but don't hang your hat on it.

  44. John Tsitrian 2014.12.11

    Troy, in his State of the State address last January, Governor Daugaard said, "South Dakota's 8,000 miles of paved state highways rank a 4.4 out of 5 for quality and our state bridges rank 91 on a 100-point scale." Was he misleading us or was he uninformed?

  45. Bill Fleming 2014.12.11

    Nick, yes that function is helpful. What's not helpful is when the computer starts filling in possible words right as you're trying to type them, and sometimes substitutes some nonsensical absurdity having nothing to do with the context of what you're trying to write. it's basically being both too smart and too stupid at the same time, and gets really annoying after a while.

  46. Disgusted Dakotan 2014.12.11

    Daugaard and his merry band of faux conservatives have increased government, increased spending, increased taxes these last 3 years. They have also helped funnel millions of tax dollars to their cronies like Bell Brand. Now? That the cookie jar Is low? Create an emergency, raise taxes, get more money, divert more to their cronies, all the while acting like it pains them to do so.

    Yes, Troy.. was Daugaard lying about the state of our highways?

  47. Nick Nemec 2014.12.11

    I agree Bill. I turned that auto fill in function off on my phone.

  48. Troy 2014.12.11

    Nick and John,

    I have no idea the magnitude of the number of roads that need to be abandoned. Neither do you because the issue hasn't been directly studied and discussed. All we know is we have with the same basic network we had in 1930 but for the interstate and a few additions mostly around Sioux Falls.

    And, I have no doubt we have the need of a major upgrade for our transportation network and I'm willing to pay for it. I just want the assurance we have both contemplated what roads we need for the next 50 years and what roads we won't need.

  49. larry kurtz 2014.12.11

    So, screw public education and affordable health care because if SDGOP doesn't fix the roads nobody will come kill the state bird using subsidized air service: right?

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