I'm scratching my head over a comment reported by Ken Santema from Saturday's crackerbarrel in Aberdeen. Evidently a citizen asked the legislators about a proposal to increase funding for K-12 education through a 1% tourism tax. From Santema's phrasing, it appears the questioner opposed this use of a tourism tax because tourism and education are not connected. Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) mentioned his agreement that there is no link between tourism and education in the context of declaring a tourism tax for education a plan unlikely to pass.

Um...

  1. Isn't everything connected to education? Don't visitors benefit from an educated workforce who can count their change, give them directions, and have job opportunities that keep them from burgling RVs?
  2. Imagine you're a tourist enjoying a stay in South Dakota and we give you a choice on how you want your tourism tax dollar spent. Either you can send your dollar to the state to support K-12 education, or you can send your dollar to Pierre to pay for more tourism advertisements. Which would you pick?
  3. Just how "connected" does a thing or activity or industry have to be for us to justify taxing that thing or activity or industry to support some specific public good or service?
  4. If a thing/activity/industry we tax has to be connected in some direct way to the public good/service it pays for, should we end the use of dollars from the sales tax on food for anything other than funding the SDSU College of Agriculture?
  5. Similarly, just what public good or service is property connected to?
  6. Federally, what is income connected to?
  7. What connection does video lottery have to non-playing property owners whose taxes those video gamblers reduce?
  8. Is Senator Greenfield saying he will go to Pierre and demand a budget that funnels every tax dollar from sales, contractors, gambling, etc. into strict budget lines connected exclusively to "connected" public goods and services? Or did he just need an excuse to shoot down a reasonable plan that would raise revenue for K-12 education and give us a chance to prove his dear old mom wrong?
  9. Does this thinking turn every government function to a fee-for-service model?

Crackerbarrels do raise some good questions. They also provoke Republicans to raise some odd objections to raising revenues to help our schools.

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A couple thousand protesters kinked the hose of commerce Saturday by flashmobbing a "Black Lives Matter" protest in the Mall of America. During the protest, St. Paul writer Ira Booker Tweeted this photo:

Framing this giant warning next to the big Christmas tree brilliantly juxtaposes authoritarianism, religion, and commerce. Taking this photo may place Booker in the Mall's suspicious-activity database.

I understand and defend the basic right to private property. Pretty much every store in America is private property. When we're on their turf, our corporate overlords have the right to say, "Ho Ho Ho! Merry Shut Your Mouth and Shop!" If our actions on their property interfere with their normal business operations, they have the right to ask us to leave.

But here's our con-law civil rights brainteaser for the morning: What's the difference between the Mall of America ejecting you for exercising your First Amendment right to speak and assemble and a baker refusing to sell you a cake for exercising your Fourteenth Amendment right to be a citizen while gay or Indian?

In related news, one day after American Indian activists protested police brutality in Rapid City, Rapid City police officer Anthony Meirose shot and killed Lakota man Allen Locke:

Locke, according to [RCPD Captain Dan] Rud, attacked Officer Anthony Meirose when the officer was responding to an “unwanted subject” at 541 Pahasapa Road, Lakota Homes.

Rud said that Locke, armed with a knife, attacked Meirose at the doorway to the home. Meirose then shot Locke several times.

The officer, Rud added, did not have time to use any non-lethal weapon [Jack Siebold, "Police Release Name of Rapid City Man Killed Saturday," Rapid City Journal, 2014.12.21].

Native Lives Matter... but don't plan to march around saying that at the Rushmore Mall.

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One of the biggest obstacles to business and housing development on the Pine Ridge reservation is fractionated land ownership. In 1887, Congress deeded tribal land to individual Indian owners. Those original 80- to 160-acre allotments have been sliced and diced by inheritance into unworkably small plots. A developer who wants to acquire a few acres to build a factory or a housing subdivision may have to cobble together land deals with dozens of separate owners.

Fortunately, Uncle Sam is stepping in to clear this obstacle to private enterprise. As part of the landmark Cobell settlement, the Department of Interior and Oglala Sioux Tribe have agreed on a Land Buy-Back Program to get titleholders to sell their land and consolidate ownership under tribal trust:

“It is a priority for the Obama Administration to reduce fractionation and implement the Buy-Back Program in as fair and equitable a manner as possible,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “Cooperative agreements give us an opportunity to work together, nation-to-nation, to ensure that the Program’s implementation is tailored to the specific priorities of each tribe. This agreement reflects a spirit of mutual respect and teamwork as we work together to address this opportunity.”

Interior holds about 56 million acres in trust for American Indians. More than 10 million acres are held for individual American Indians and nearly 46 million acres are held for Indian tribes. The fractionation of tribal lands has locked away resources and decision making from tribes. In Pine Ridge alone, there are approximately 6,028 tracts with 195,862 purchasable fractional interests. This has made it increasingly difficult to manage the land for economic development and other uses.

“I am very happy with the agreement and glad that was done,” said Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan V. Brewer. “Our Outreach workers are out meeting with the people in the communities. I am hoping that we will be able to start buying the fractionated land that is out there with the money that is available. We are also anticipating the first offer to be complete within the month” [U.S. Department of Interior, press release, 2013.12.09].

Notice that this program is cooperative and voluntary, not a land grab using eminent domain like the Keystone XL pipeline. This federal program will empower tribal entrepreneurs to invest in local economic development.

The Buy-Back Program is holding an outreach meeting in Kyle at the Little Wound School this Saturday, December 14, at 1 p.m. Central.

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Boyd County (Nebraska)'s resolution of opposition to the Niobrara/Ponca conservation plan and to government land ownership and conservation in general declares this public goal:

...to discourage land use development or use that will lower or impair the value of the land or adjacent land that would deplete the county's tax base [Boyd County Board of Supervisors, Resolution 2013-09-24-01, passed 2013.09.24].

Proposed NIobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Area

Proposed NIobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Area (click to enlarge)

I still struggle to find the the real, non-partisan downside to the Niobrara/Ponca plan that would so incense Senator Lederman and other officials to so grievously misinform the public as to the intentions of the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service. One of the only logical conclusions I can reach is that Dan looks around at all that expensive flood-plain housing that he and his country-club neighbors live in and thinks, "Gee, the whole world should look like this!" Maybe he just can't stand the thought that conservation easements or federal purchase would take even 10% of the 1.4 million acres along the South Dakota–Nebraska border (and remember, that's the maximum area in the mapped project area that the NPS and FWS would acquire for conservation).

The short-sighted Lederman is missing two points. One should be obvious from his own flood experience: building in some areas along the Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs watershed only increases costs to taxpayers. Remind me: how much did the lack of foresight cost residents and taxpayers to sandbag Dan's golf course when the Missouri flooded in 2011? Had Dakota Dunes been left undeveloped, Lederman and his neighbors wouldn't have needed any state or federal flood assistance.

More important and market-oriented is the property values argument. Lederman and Boyd County are ignoring the value that conservation areas add to adjoining property. Why do people build along rivers and lakes in the first place? Because they can look out at a beautiful open stretch of land! At Lake Herman, I've felt a little crowded by new houses going up around our house. I cherish both the view of the lake and the conservation area to the north that GF&P acquired from Gerry Lange four decades ago. That open space makes my Lake Herman property more valuable than it would be if it were completely surrounded by Lake Madison McMansions.

Check the evidence: open spaces make adjoining land more valuable, not less. They cost the county less than developing them for residential purposes, which would require the county to extend public services.

Boyd County, if you mean what you say about wanting to protect land values, you should encourage landowners to be good neighbors and good stewards and sign up for the Niobrara/Ponca conservation easements.

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One of the arguments people make against wind farms (yes, there are some avid opponents of South Dakota's greates and cleanest potential power source) is that they decrease property values. But that argument doesn't hold up to real data.

Looking at data from 50,000 home sales in 27 counties in nine states (inlcuding our less windy but more wind-powered neighbors Minnesota and Iowa), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers found no appreciable appreciation difference between homes within a mile of a turbine and homes farther out in a ten-mile radius.

Lawrence Berkeley did find a difference in size: the houses and lots closer to wind turbines tended to be smaller. They also quantified the noise pollution: houses a half-mile from a wind farm generally experienced a ten-decibel noise increase, about the same as living near a busy road. Whether those extra ten decibels are more annoying than the screech from the Keystone tar sands oil pipeline's pumping stations is open for debate.

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Poor Gordon Howie. No, really, I mean this: I sympathize with Gordon Howie, who is seeing property he co-owns torn up by thoughtless motorists:

A few Rapid Valley residents are frustrated that freewheeling drivers turned the area near their neighborhood pond into a rutted mess this weekend.

Turtle Pond property manager and part owner Gordon Howie shares the neighbors' irritations but says the destruction is not a new problem for the undeveloped park, especially after a rainstorm.

"It's disappointing, but not a surprise," said Howie, a former state senator. "We've tried to put obstacles in the way, huge rocks and other obstacles to keep people off. The people who are intent on being destructive just find a way around them."

Although privately owned, the Turtle Pond area, at the corner of Long View Drive and Reservoir Road, north of S.D. Highway 44, is open for public fishing. South Dakota Game Fish & Parks has stocked the pond with fish in the past, Howie said.

Neighbor Pat Cromwell said she called the Pennington County Sheriff's Office four times over the weekend to report mud-bogging ATVs and pickups.

"They are ripping the daylights out of the pond here," Cromwell said. "People are having fun without thinking about what they are doing to it. It's mindless vandalism" [Holly Meyer, "Mud Boggers Making a Mess of Rapid Valley Pond," Rapid City Journal, 2012.04.16].

Attentive readers will recall that I'll have no truck with motorheads who can't have fun and tread lightly. Sportsmen (and I suspect we have to use the term loosely here) have an obligation to respect the land, whether that land is owned by all of us or by a few private landholders who generously allow public use of their property.

But note that even arch-Tea Partier Gordon Howie has to admit that sometimes he needs more government. It takes a strong man to admit that his philosophy is incomplete.

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Rep. Betty Olson (R-28/Prairie City)

Rep. Betty Olson (R-28/Prairie City)

Representative Betty Olson (R-28/Prairie City) gets the highest score of any South Dakota legislator on the shadowy SDFC's Freedom Index. Voicing her support for Governor Dennis Daugaard's two-year moratorium on acquisitions of land by the state Game Fish and Parks Department, Olson reveals that in her Wild West anarcho-capitalist utopia, the state would own no land:

Some in agriculture oppose state acquisitions in part because they take land out of production. Other objections are more ideological.

"I don't think the state has any business owning any land," said state Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, who has been a vocal critic of Game and Fish [Cody Winchester, "Ban on Buying Land Stirs Hunting Debate," that Sioux Falls paper, 2011.09.26].

Oh my. I guess Rep. Olson would prefer that she and her colleagues hold session next to the buffet line at the Kings Inn. I guess she would prefer that SDSU abandon its land-grant status and rent space in the Brookings Mall. I guess she would prefer we cede all of our great state parks to the private sector and see common folks priced out of the ability to swim and fish and camp on land that should belong to all of us.

In bad news for Olson's Freedom Index score, the good representative advocates higher taxes for people who disagree with her:

Olson advocates taxing game production land at a higher rate to replace the contributions of the former owners [Winchester, 2011.09.26].

That's Betty Olson's brand of freedom: you get low taxes, but only when you do the things she wants you to with your land.

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