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22nd of November 2017

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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

The Capital Journal, Pierre, Nov. 8

Counties need more revenue resources

There is a crisis looming in South Dakota.

This problem has flown under the radar for the most part. It’s a bit arcane, after all. But it affects more than most folks think.

We’re writing about the basic services that we quite often take for granted such as maintenance of county highways and bridges, the operation of the local jail, enforcement of court orders, tracking property ownership, paying for indigent health care and prosecuting crimes. These are things that most of us don’t deal with - consciously at least - on a daily basis but can and do affect our lives in a profound way.

These things all are paid for by county governments. In fact, counties are mandated by state law to fund these items. They don’t have a choice in most cases in what they’re asked to manage.

We expect our counties to prosecute people who commit crimes, though we, by and large, don’t pay too much attention to it. By the same token, we expect our county roads to be safe and smooth enough that our fillings don’t fall out when we go pheasant hunting. Again, we don’t pay a whole lot of attention to where the money that fixes county roads comes from. We just expect repairs to be made.

Fixing roads and bridges, locking up convicted criminals, prosecuting suspected criminals and even keeping a handle on vehicle registrations is getting tougher for counties to do. This is because the main source of revenue counties can draw from, property taxes, can’t grow beyond 3 percent or how much the consumer price index rose in a given year - it rose 1.5 percent between Sept. 2016 and Sept. 2017 in the midwest region - unless there’s new development in the county.

The problem is that expenses for some things, such as employee health care, have risen far faster than the consumer price index. Simply put, county government expenses are rising far faster than the amount of money they’re collecting.

In our own Hughes County, simply giving county employees cost of living raises, has become a tough debate.

When it comes to government spending, South Dakotans are rightfully skeptical. We tend to object to paying taxes for most anything because we believe we should be able to spend our money how we, as individuals, believe it should be spent. We’ve seen boondoggles at all levels and don’t like watching our hard-earned money wasted.

But at some point, we have to recognize that if we want the same level of service, particularly from our counties, which are essential to our safety and our commerce, we’re going to have to find ways to pay for it.

Does this mean raising taxes? Maybe. It could mean giving counties broader flexibility to charge user fees for certain services. Or allowing them to charge a small tax on sales made outside of city limits.

We may not like having to talk about giving government more money but it’s a conversation that we need to have at least when it comes to the county level. If we don’t figure something out we may start losing, sooner than we think, the quality of service we’ve come to expect.

It’s also worth remembering that when it comes to local government, which by definition is staffed and managed by our own neighbors, we get a lot of say in how that money is spent. All you’ve got to do is show up to the monthly meetings, let your voice be heard and vote every few years. That’s not too hard.

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Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Nov. 9

Ballot measures should send message to Pierre

Direct democracy continues its resurgence in South Dakota and the performance of the Legislature seems to be a primary source of inspiration.

On Monday, the Secretary of State’s Office received petitions for eight potential ballot measures for the 2018 election, which comes after 10 ballot measures - including Initiated Measure 22 that voters approved - were on the 2016 ballot.

Now, the Legislature’s brazen act of overturning IM22 to start the 2017 legislative session and - as lawmakers claimed - protect the electorate from alleged unconstitutionality has led to three proposed constitutional amendments that zero in on election reform. The petitions for those ballot measures had a total of around 121,000 signatures.

An ethics proposal that is similar to IM22 with the glaring exception of “democracy credits” to help finance elections had 50,000 signatures. The proposed amendment tightens campaign finance and lobbying restrictions, creates an ethics commission and prohibits lawmakers from overturning ballot measures unless the public votes to allow them to do so.

An open primaries proposal (37,000 signatures) replaces Republican and Democratic primaries with a single primary that includes all candidates for a state office with the top two finishers regardless of party affiliation advancing to the general election. An independent redistricting proposed amendment (34,000 signatures) replaces partisan lawmakers with a nine-member independent commission to redraw voting districts after the census is completed every 10 years.

But it is not just those who circulated and signed these petitions who are embracing direct democracy. In a curious twist, House Speaker Mark Mickelson has led the charge to get a pair of initiated measures on the 2018 ballot.

One proposal calls for a $1 tax hike on a pack of cigarettes to raise money for the state’s four technical schools (19,000 signatures), while the other seeks to ban out-of-state money in support of ballot measures (18,000 signatures).

Medical marijuana (15,000 signatures), mail ballots (20,000) and a price cap on prescription drugs purchased by state agencies (22,000) are the other initiated measures that could appear on the ballot.

The next step is for the Secretary of State’s Office to examine the petitions and determine if there are enough valid signatures (13,871 for initiated measures and 28,000 for amendments) for the ballot measures to qualify for the election.

Of the proposals, medical marijuana may have the most difficult time making the ballot. In 2015, medical marijuana supporters turned in petitions with around 16,000 signatures but many were determined to be invalid.

Critics, including the state Republican Party, claim out-of-state interests have hijacked South Dakota’s initiative and referendum process by financing and supporting ballot measures, which has been the case as it is with politicians who accept special-interest money for their campaigns.

In the end, however, it is South Dakotans who will vote on Election Day and many feel disenfranchised by an increasingly insular Legislature dominated by a handful of Republican leaders. Rather than even crack the door to change, they have chosen to fight it on nearly every front, which was highlighted by the demolition of IM22.

If the Republican Party wants to slow the rising tide of ballot measures, it needs to be more inclusive and in tune to the needs of the entire electorate. Otherwise, it is becoming more clear that direct democracy will become a staple of politics in this state.

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The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Nov. 9

‘Munsen Court’ should come at a cost

There are many opinions about Gary Munsen.

The longtime coach who died in January 2016 at age 72 was quite the figure in Mitchell for decades. Because of the impact he had on so many lives, a mass group of people loved him. That was evident during his funeral when, for one final time, people packed the Corn Palace in his honor.

For more than 40 years, Munsen coached basketball in South Dakota’s biggest basketball community. The most notable player under Munsen was undoubtedly Mike Miller, whose foundation last month asked if it could purchase permanent stickers to place on the Corn Palace basketball court and deem the floor “Gary Munsen Court.”

Now’s the time to honor Munsen, but it should come at a cost more than just the price of a sticker.

The Mitchell City Council is still taking public input on naming the floor “Gary Munsen Court.” The council in mid-October had its first discussion on the topic. There were many positive remarks about the coach, but a decision to label the Palace floor with stickers was tabled. At its more recent meeting, the council didn’t discuss the topic.

As the high school basketball season grows closer, we say now is the time for Miller to step in and ensure the Palace floor is named after the coach. He should pay for the naming rights - through a donation to the city - along with the stickers.

While many opinions about Munsen are positive, others didn’t love the coach as much. He definitely had his critics, which is why there is some hesitation on the decision. And, we cannot forget this is a city facility that’s considering essentially a permanent change.

For his long-tenured success with basketball, Munsen certainly earned recognition and respect. But naming rights for Mitchell’s city facilities have typically followed similar paths. Take for example the Pepsi Cola Soccer Complex, which was named due to a $240,000 donation from the late Earl Nordby, former Pepsi Cola Bottling Company owner, and his family.

Additionally, naming opportunities for any new city facilities have to follow a Mitchell Park and Recreation policy that sets minimum donations for specific commemorations.

We want to see Munsen’s name on the Palace’s floor. We love the idea.

But through a significant naming-rights donation, Miller should step forward to make it happen.

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