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SDPB Radio Coverage of the South Dakota Legislature. See all coverage and find links to audio and video streams live from the Capitol at www.sdpb.org/statehouse

SD House Approves Sales Tax For Teacher Pay

Jenifer Jones

Lawmakers are endorsing a sales tax increase for teacher pay. House Bill 1182 adds one half-penny to the state’s sales tax to generate money for education and property tax relief. The measure failed by one vote last week. Monday it succeeded by the same margin.

Hours of debate have echoed in South Dakota’s House of Representatives chamber regarding House Bill 1182, and the discussion before its latest vote was no exception. Lawmakers clashed over points of contention including whether the state can find money for higher teacher pay within the current budget.

State Representative Tom Brunner says increasing the sales tax doesn’t fix South Dakota’s education funding problems.

"I don’t think we have a revenue problem at all. I think we have a priority problem. And if we don’t change these priorities, if we adopt this, we raise taxes, we raise revenue, high tide floats all ships, if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll be right back here," Brunner says. "Unless we change the culture and the priorities within state government, to continue to raise – and raise at the same rate the revenue comes in – in five years I hope you all save your button with the 51 and the line through it because you’ll still be in the same spot. And then are we going to raise it another half-cent or what are we going to do? Because I think we’re going to be in the same position."

Brunner says a sales tax is “the easy way.”

State Representative Ray Ring says what’s easy is speaking vaguely about funding education instead of citing specific areas where lawmakers should take millions of dollars from other state departments.

"If you know that our priorities are wrong, if you know that we’re not using the existing funds appropriately, don’t tell me we need to reset our priorities. Tell me where to reset them," Ring says. "If you know that there’s inefficient in government, tell me what to cut."

Rings serves on the Appropriations committee.

State Representative Jacqueline Sly co-chaired a task force on education funding.

"I heard over and over again, ‘We have a broken system. We have a broken system. We have a broken system.’ Ladies and gentlemen, the work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force was about that broken system. We spent weeks – months – addressing our broken system. That’s why you have the plan before you," Sly says. "It is true there’s extra money in reserves; the plan addresses that. We have challenges with funding and making sure that our schools have enough funds so they can pay their teachers so we have teachers for our students; the plan addresses that."

Forty-seven state representatives voted to support House Bill 1182. That is just enough to meet the two-thirds majority necessary to increase the sales tax.

Three state representatives switched their votes from last week. One Democrat changed his yes vote to a no, and two Republicans switched from voting against the measure to supporting House Bill 1182.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).
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