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Governor candidates weigh in on food tax, abortion during first debate

Left to right: Libertarian Tracey Quint, Democrat Jamie Smith, Republican Kristi Noem
Dakota News Now/KOTA
Left to right: Libertarian Tracey Quint, Democrat Jamie Smith, Republican Kristi Noem

All three gubernatorial candidates want to see the sales tax on groceries eliminated.

It’s a policy proposal that’s taking center stage in the race for governor.

Two days before the debate on Dakota News Now, Gov. Kristi Noem issued a campaign promise to cut the sales tax on food.

She said it would be a $100 million tax cut that translates to about $111 per South Dakotan per year.

Noem called it the largest tax cut in state history.

“I supported and looked at repealing the state sales tax on food and groceries last year during the legislative session. In fact, my team in the office worked on it for several days,” Noem said. “We worked with our department of revenue to see what impacts there would be to the state budget.”

The Senate reportedly rejected a similar proposal last session on behalf of Noem’s office. The governor voiced concerns about the idea earlier this year.

Eliminating the tax on food has been a Democratic priority for years.

Democratic candidate Rep. Jamie Smith was the prime sponsor on a bill in 2021 that would do what Noem is now proposing.

He said he’s glad Noem wants to repeal what he calls a regressive tax.

“I just find the timing, though, ironic, because the governor didn’t support it this last session," Smith said. "Now, five weeks before an election it’s a great idea. That becomes an interesting thing that was done here, I believe, to stoke the fire here and get some people fired up to vote.”

Tracey Quint, the libertarian candidate for governor, said taxes should be reduced on essential items.

“Especially for things that are essential, like food,” Quint said. “We should be reducing the tax burden on the people. Those things should be able to be bought without having the burden of taxes on top of them.”

Additional exemptions to abortion ban?

During the debate, the gubernatorial candidates also weighed in on abortion exemptions.

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade earlier this year, all abortions became illegal in the state, except to save the life of the mother. That means abortions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest are also illegal.

During the first gubernatorial debate for the 2022 midterm election, Republican Gov. Noem declined to say whether she would support exemptions for those two instances.

“To be clear, I am pro-life. I’ve been clear on this issue. I am what I am,” Noem said. “Right now, the decision in South Dakota is that the law stands that was passed in 2005. That will be a discussion to have in the future.”

South Dakota’s trigger law was passed in 2005. Lawmakers proposed similar bans to the trigger in 2006 and 2008. Voters rejected both proposals.

Democratic Candidate Rep. Jamie Smith said he supports exemptions to the state's abortion ban in cases that involve rape and incest. He said the current law is not clear.

“Doctors need to be able to provide medicine in the state of South Dakota,” Smith said. “That’s become quite clear with my friends that are physicians calling me and saying they don’t know what they can do because the law is not clear. They are very worried that they will be in trouble for practicing medicine.”

Changes to the state’s abortion law are likely to come up during the next legislative session.

Libertarian candidate Tracey Quint said the decision to get an abortion should be left to patients and healthcare providers.

“It’s a medical decision and I don’t think a majority of the voters and majority of politicians have a medical degree and have the ability to make that decision for somebody," Quint said. "If it’s a health issue we should leave it up to the healthcare professionals and the individuals involved.”

Early voting is underway in South Dakota. Election day is November 8.

A second gubernatorial debate is scheduled for October 24 on SDPB.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.