Republicans most likely went looking for a constitutional excuse to can Kathy Tyler because of her outspoken criticism of the EB-5 scandal brought to us by the Rounds-Daugaard regime. But Republicans probably also don't like the former Milbank legislator's criticism of the current administration's only noteworthy education initiative, the Build Dakota Scholarship for vo-tech students:

Why should we as a state fund a student’s entire post-secondary education so that he or she can get a job for a private company? Yes, there is the three year, stay in South Dakota caveat, but is it a state’s job to train workers for private companies? I don’t think so. We don’t pay to train state employees and we certainly don’t offer scholarship programs to them. And I won’t even start on the teacher shortage [Kathy Tyler, "Build Dakota Scholarship," Kathy's Corner, 2015.01.05].

Tyler raises a good question for our legislators to debate: is this subsidy for workforce training really within the proper role of state government. The Build Dakota Scholarship serves to support the low-wage system that is the root cause of the workforce problem. It targets education that does not offer the highest chances for full-time employment. As Tyler suggests, it seems a bit drop-in-the-buckety compared to other pressing education and workforce needs in the state.

Tyler also catches a whiff of partisan selectivity in Republican support for this scholarship plan:

The Build Dakota Scholarship applies to certain programs at certain technical institutions. These programs train students in high-need workforce areas. There will be 300 full ride scholarships for five years and then 50 per year. The full ride scholarship is open to resident and non-resident students. I have to smile at that. Last year, I sponsored a bill to allow out-of-state students who attend South Dakota high schools to be eligible for the $1000 per year Opportunity Scholarship given to top high school seniors. It didn’t pass. It must have been the letter behind my name [Tyler, 2015.01.15].

Tyler refers to her 2014 House Bill 1078. This partial scholarship would have had to have recruited several hundred high-achieving non-resident students to cost as much as the full-ride Build Dakota Scholarship. Tyler pushed her bill through three votes before the full Senate finally killed it. Every vote against the bill was Republican.

Reaching for my lemonade squeezer, I notice that, in this blog post written before session started, Tyler noted that she would have to stay mum on political issues once she took her position as a state employee. The good side, then, of Speaker Wink kicking Tyler out of the House Dems' caucus secretary job is that we can hear more of her observations and analysis on Legislative matters like the Build Dakota Scholarship. Keep speaking up, Kathy!

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Sixteen groups applied last November for workforce development grants from the South Dakota Workforce Initiative. The Workforce Development Council rejected just two of those applications: Madison's and Sioux Falls's.

I'm willing to bet that the council rejected Madison's just because it was Darin Namken pitching new online banners with slogans and logos as underwhelming as the old ones his people came up with. Madison's application was just pork to pay Namken's people $5,000 to fiddle with search engines and post vacuous comments to social media. The application says Madison has a housing shortage, a problem the proposed marketing program does nothing to fix, but then goes on to say that Madison already has successful programs in place to recruit workers. I skim the application and see no compelling case to hand Namken's company more free public dollars.

Madison's plan was weak, but at least they offered a plan. Sioux Falls got rejected, apparently because they wanted state money to pay for thinking about a plan. Forward Sioux Falls applied for $56,433 to pay a third of the cost for having consultants help them develop a workforce development plan. (What? People can get paid six figures just for sitting around helping people think? I do that job in the classroom all the time, and I never get six figures for a gig! I need to rebrand: I'm not a teacher; I'm a brainforce development consultant.)

And let's get real: Sioux Falls needs the least assistance developing its workforce. Almost every other town in this state loses workers to Sioux Falls, because Sioux Falls, in the South Dakota scheme of things, has almost everything. Their application and their own woe-is-us reaction to the state's rejection in today's paper state that Sioux Falls has growing and diverse industries. Its population is growing at nearly twice the state rate. The city offers more opportunities, more people, and more money. In an environment like that, the workforce pretty much develops itself.

The proper role of government is to help along those worthy projects that aren't happening on their own. Madison already has the tools it needs to Tweet job openings. Sioux Falls already has the economic and cultural attraction to build its workforce. The state can justify focusing its meager workforce development resources elsewhere.

You can peruse the fourteen winning applications here and see how Aberdeen, DeSmet, the Associated General contractors, and eleven other organizations snagged their pieces of government pie.

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The Tax Foundation reminds us that South Dakota continues to stay afloat on red-state moocherism. Our conservative one-party state relies on the federal government for a greater percentage of its general revenues than all but three other states:

Federal-Aid-as-a-Percentage-of-State-Revenue_0

(click to embiggen!)

 

South Dakota got 40.8% of its general fund revenues from Uncle Sam in Fiscal Year 2012. Only Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi got bigger portions of their pie from the feds.

When I reported the Tax Foundation's figures on this topic two years ago, South Dakota was at 45.56%. Governor Dennis Daugaard's proposed FY2016 budget brings that federal percentage down to 38.9%. Gee, Pastor Hickey: it looks like Governor Daugaard is already soft-landing us for that Long Economic Winter! (See Rev. Hickey's September 14–20, 2014, podcasts on the topic.)

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When incoming Secretary of State Shantel Krebs announced she was hiring Brown County GOP chairman Jason Williams to serve as her public information officer, I wondered if she was expanding government to make room for what looked like a little partisan patronage.

Secretary Krebs tells this blog there's no government expansion going on under her watch. Secretary Krebs says that, while she is still bound by law to operate under her predecessor Jason Gant's budget until the end of the fiscal year on June 30, she's already making the office run leaner. Gant's budget included 15.6 full-time equivalents (FTEs). Right now, Secretary Krebs is holding down the fort with 13.5 FTEs. That's not just a temporary lag in bringing new people on board; Secretary Krebs says that's plenty. The Secretary's office has not prepared a budget proposal yet (they have petition reform legislation to write up for tomorrow's pre-filing deadline—stay tuned for a post on that topic over the weekend!), but Secretary Krebs says that instead of continuing the 15.6 FTE allocation found in Governor Daugaard's FY 2016 proposal, she may knock another half FTE off her current staff and budget 13.0 FTE.

Multiple Krebs staff members are thus picking up duties that were spread among others in the Gant office. Secretary Krebs says PIO Williams is no exception. In addition to getting the word out about SOS activities to the public, Williams will handle special projects, like Secretary Krebs's initiative to increase voter turnout. Secretary Krebs says Williams is already studying turnout data, breaking it down by age group, and thinking about which voters to target and how. Expect PIO Williams to be getting out to schools, talking with voters, and looking for answers to our dwindling turnout.

In addition, Williams will track legislation for the Secretary of State's office. He'll be following the progress of the reforms proposed by the Board of Elections. He'll also keep an eye out for new bills from legislators and researching their impact on the office. He'll report on those bills to the boss, the Secretary herself, who will then speak to legislators in committee and in the lobby, as necessary, to protect the interests of fair elections and other functions of the Secretary of State.

Secretary Krebs says Williams and the rest of her staff are putting in overtime and delivering "exceptional" customer service. The Secretary herself seems to be setting the pace. Consider that, in response to a media inquiry from this blog, the Secretary herself texted me at 6:25 a.m. today. She had meetings all day, but she arranged to visit with me on the phone at 6:30 p.m. She said she had 10 minutes; she gave me 19.

I did not keep track of the multiple times I left messages for Secretary Gant and never heard back from him. But so far, Secretary Krebs is batting 1.000 on fielding media requests from the Madville Times. Perhaps the state's chief election officer has bigger fish to fry than speaking to some blogger, but I find my first interaction with the new election chief... satisfactory.

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Hartford just got bus service. Yay, mass transit! Hartford City Administrator Teresa Sidel tells me that Hartford residents can ride a new (well, new to Hartford!) ten-seater bus around town three days a week (MWF), courtesy of Hartford Area Transit (what fun! "Ride the HAT to the store!" Or, on snowy, windy days, "Careful, Harold! Don't tip your HAT!"). Once a week (Tuesdays for now!), Hartfordians will be able to ride the HAT to Sioux Falls. (Sidel did not indicate whether one can bring one's cat.) Rides will be $2 one way in town and $8 for the big Sioux Falls round trip. Bus fare is optional for folks 60 and older. Sidel says riders can call 906-1483 for service.

The way Perry Groten (KELO's subtle gadfly) writes it, mass transit is making its way up Highway 38 thanks to the AARP and no thanks to Pierre. Groten frames the story around the efforts of 78-year-old Hartfordian Ellie Sturdevant, who, bless he heart, recognizes her limitations:

"I have no family around and eventually, I know I'm not going to be able to drive into Sioux Falls and I saw the need, I saw the need of many others in the Hartford community and it was something I thought I could give back to the community," Sturdevant said [Perry Groten, "Bringing Bus Service to Hartford," KELOLand.com, 2015.01.01].

That's the spirit, Mrs. Sturdevant! But she says that spirit was not shared in state government:

At first, Sturdevant ran into many road blocks.

"I called Pierre, the social services, and I called different places and I called places that had buses and I was getting no place," Sturdevant said [Groten, 2015.01.01].

So who got the bus rolling?

But the persistent Sturdevant didn't slow down. With the help of the City of Hartford along with area non-profit agencies and businesses, she helped secure grant money that will pay for a ten seat bus that will begin picking up passengers of all ages next week.

"This way, you can pick up the phone and call and say hey, I'd like to go to Dollar General tomorrow, or I'd like to go to the grocery store tomorrow, and so they'll come and pick you up right at your door," Sturdevant said [Groten, 2015.01.01].

Thank you, O mighty Republican regime in Pierre, for reinforcing your credo that big government can't solve problems and that local action and volunteers work best—

But hold on a minute: Ellie's efforts were essential, but Pierre and Washington both helped, According to the Hartford City Council minutes from December 16, 2014, the city arranged the grant in cooperation with the South Dakota Department of Transportation. Sidel explains that Hartford Area Transit is funded by "grants provided by South Dakota Department of Transportation through the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act of 1991." SD DOT is covering 80% of the cost; the city covers the remaining 20%. Sidel says the city expects the first-year cost will be around $28,000. Thus, federal dollars will pay for $22,400 of this year's operating cost; the city will pick up the remaining $5,600. Sidel says the city has received some donations to help defray the local cost. AARP says it's chipping in, as are Sioux Valley Energy, Sanford Health, the Hartford Foundation.

Pierre saved Hartford and the feds a nice chunk of cash by finding Hartford a cheap set of wheels. Bruce Lindholm, program manager for public transit at the South Dakota Department of Transportation, explained to me that DOT tracked down a used bus—2003, Ford chassis, 80,000 miles—that the feds had funded in Clark. These small buses usually run $70K, DOT valued the used Clark bus at $4K. The federal interest in the bus remains at 80%, so the acquisition cost to Hartford was a measly $800, which it paid to Clark.

DOT offers this map of rural transit services in South Dakota. Much of the state is covered, but there are some notable exceptions, including the relatively populous I-29 corridor from Minnehaha to northern Union County. Urban Minnehaha and northern Lincoln are served by Sioux Area Metro. Also lacking rural mass transit are Pine Ridge, Harding and Perkins counties, Hanson County (can you picture Stace Nelson taking the bus to go visit friend of the blog Owen in Alexandria?), and Noem-land around Codington, Hamlin, Clark, and Kingsbury counties.

Groten reported that Mrs. Sturdevant was planning to serve coffee and rolls on yesterday's inaugural voyage. Let's also send a donut or two to Bruce Lindholm at the state Department of Transportation and the nice folks in D.C. who are footing most of the bill. Hartford Area Transit seems to be a fine example of local, state, and federal government working together to make the quality of life in rural South Dakota better.

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Shantel Krebs opens 2015 with a splendid example of Republicans promoting big government and regulatory capture.

Our new Secretary of State, who takes her oath tomorrow morning at 8 a.m., a week and a day before any other new constitutional officer, announces that she is hiring young but veteran GOP campaigner Jason Williams as her Public Information Officer. Darn—and I was hoping Jason would step away from politics and make his fortune building straw bale houses.

But hold on: a public information officer for the Secretary of State? Does that position exist? I could be wrong, but I don't recall Secretary Gant having a designated spokesman or spinmeister. It's hard to check, because the currently grossly ego-centric Secretary of State website lists no one's name but the Secretary's. The contact page lists the various services but doesn't tell us with whom we'll be speaking. The contact page lists no PIO or media contact person. Secretary Gant's press releases seemed to come out under his own name, listing him and not a PIO as the contact person. Is this one more sign that Republican Krebs is really a big government liberal?

Whether Krebs is really expanding the SOS budget or will cover her press man's pay by cutting some other vital service, Krebs is letting a fox into the henhouse. Williams is a veteran campaigner, having worked for Mike Rounds, Kristi Noem, Steve Barnett, and the state GOP. The Secretary of State's office exists to regulate political campaign organizations. In hiring Williams, Krebs appears to be giving in to the partisan pressures that are pulling Secretaries of State across the country away from their duty to act as fair, non-partisan umpires of elections.

And hey, we were all looking forward to seeing Shantel's smiling face and hearing her dulcet tones on the airwaves! Now we're stuck listening to some PIO? Booo!

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In a holiday Facebook chat, my crazy cousin Aaron says, 'Taxation is theft!" I respond that taxation is our expression of true Rousseauian liberty (living under rules that we prescribe to ourselves) to provide public goods to sustain civil society and invite my cousin to emigrate to a land where he won't have to participate in any such system, like Antarctica.

In a civil society, it's not taxation that is theft; it is the refusal to pay taxes while enjoying all the benefits of roads, schools, and police and fire departments. It is also the rigging of state budgets to cut pensions for middle-class workers to fund tax cuts for the rich, as practiced by Republican governors Sam Brownback of Kansas and Chris Christie of New Jersey. These cuts were rank redistributions of wealth (theft, in my cousin's language) which produced no public goods:

Both Brownback and Christie promoted their tax cuts as instruments to boost economic growth. Yet, a recent review of federal data by the Kansas City Star found Kansas “trails most other states when it comes to job growth.” Likewise, an investigative series by Gannett newspapers recently found “New Jersey’s job growth rate [is] the second worst in the nation. … New Jersey’s middle class has lost billions in income through layoffs, salary cuts and wage freezes [and] more than 100,000 job seekers have been unemployed for months on end.”

South Dakota's Republican leaders have practiced a similar theft, handing subsidies and tax breaks to all sorts of corporations while chronically throttling investments in schools and roads. There's some hope that Governor Daugaard is realizing we can no longer shirk our duty to pay for road repairs, but his only noteworthy proposal on education so far, the Build Dakota vo-tech scholarship, seems to continue the process of redistributing wealth from taxpayers to subsidize businesses that don't want to pay their own way with competitive wages. And there is no sign the Governor or the Legislature have any desire to use our stockpiled wealth to stop stealing talent from teachers as we pay them the lowest wages in the nation.

Taxation is not theft. Theft is mooching public goods without paying one's fair share of taxes. And theft is not paying the wages that workers deserve for the value they add.

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Kevin Drum produces a remarkable chart that shows President Barack Obama's clear superiority to his predecessor in helping the economy recover from recession:

Chart: Obama vs. Bush Employment Recovery

Source: Kevin Drum, "The Obama Recovery Has Been Miles Better Than the Bush Recovery," Mother Jones, 2014.12.06

Count private employment as a percentage of the labor force, and you see that in five and a half years, President Bush never got private employment back to a larger percentage of the workforce than it was when he took office. Under President Obama, that percentage has climbed steadily higher. President Obama achieved this recovery from a far worse recession than President Bush faced. President Obama has also achieved this recovery without the housing boom that fueled much of President Bush's recovery but which, as Drum reminds us, ended in "an epic global crash."

Drum spots President Bush a few points with a second graph that includes government employment:

Obama vs. Bush, Total Jobs Recovery

Source: Kevin Drum, "The Obama Recovery Has Been Miles Better Than the Bush Recovery," Mother Jones, 2014.12.06

We raise President Bush's numbers and lower President Obama's if we include government payrolls.

Bush got a nice tailwind from increased hiring at the state and federal level. Obama, conversely, was sailing into heavy headwinds because he inherited a worse recession. States cut employment sharply—partly because they had to and partly because Republican governors saw the recession as an opportunity to slash the size of government—and Congress was unwilling to help them out in any kind of serious way [Kevin Drum, "The Obama Recovery Has Been Miles Better Than the Bush Recovery," Mother Jones, 2014.12.06].

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: President Barack Obama is beating his predecessor George W. Bush on economic performance. The difference would be even greater if President Obama had grown government the way President Bush did.

Related Reading: Discussing British politics, Simon Wren-Lewis says that ideologues who adopt a "small state" as a matter of principle miss lots of points:

...they are not prepared to look at these items on their merits. Instead they have a blanket ideological distaste for all things to do with government. The evidence that government is ‘always the problem’ is just not there. The idea that private sector activity is always welfare enhancing and is best left alone was blown out of the water by the financial crisis.

...reducing government spending during a liquidity trap recession does real harm. It wastes resources on a huge scale.

...a final problem I have with small state people... is their disregard for the evidence. It is true that most people are bad at acknowledging counter evidence, but those with an ideological conviction are worse than most [Simon Wren-Lewis, "The Imaginary World of Small State People," Mainly Macro, 2014.12.07].

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