After nine weeks and hundreds of committee hearings, the 2015 Legislative Session has ended. Although a day has been set aside two weeks from now to consider any vetoes the Governor may make – for example, the teenage minimum wage bill – the main run of the 2015 legislature is done.
What did I learn my first year? I learned we’re a people of great political diversity, from the most liberal Democrat to the most conservative Republican – and each of us passionate in our beliefs. I also saw first-hand that the old saying “politics makes strange bedfellows” is true, as legislators from the far left and far right sometimes join together in a voting block against the majority in the middle. I learned that bills come at you fast and furious, and though I studied bills from early morning until I went to bed at night; there aren’t enough hours in the day to fully research every issue.
Looking back, there were three highlights to the 2015 Legislative Session. The first was passing a balanced budget while providing additional funds for education and Medicaid.
This was even more challenging than anticipated due to revenue reductions that were $10 million less than previously forecast. However, we were able to deliver on the core proposals that the governor sought, including:
- 2 percent more per student in the general allocation to public schools;
- 2 percent more across the board in salaries for state government employees;
- 2 percent more on average to Medicaid services providers, with the increases varying from 1.6 to 2.5 percent depending on the category.
The general-fund portion of the budget is approximately $1.4 billion, an increase of about $41 million, with an all-funds increase of about $68 million. The Legislature, by law, needed to provide a 1.5 percent increase to K-12 but came through with the 2 percent, though it did so by adding an additional 0.23% on the backs of local taxpayers. I voted against the local increase, but it garnered enough support to pass.
The second highlight of Session was passage of juvenile justice reform (SB 73). The measure changes the way the court system deals with minors – while holding them accountable for their actions, it provides for evidence-based programs to help keep most youth in their communities for treatment and probation rather than sending them to jail.
The last highlight of the Session was passage of a Roads and Bridges Funding Bill (SB 1). This was the first bill introduced this year and the second-to-last one to pass, after the House and Senate found compromise during the last day of Session. The bill was the result of the Highway Needs and Finance Committee that was created to conduct a summer study to determine the intermediate and long-term needs for highway funding and determine financing options. SB1 was amended extensively in the Senate to reduce the amount of revenue generated and to more closely reflect the legislation introduced by Governor Daugaard. The bill was further amended in the House to reduce revenue even more. After extensive conference committee discussions between the two chambers to reconcile differences, a compromise was reached. The biggest sticking point was the amount of fuel tax.
The Senate wanted a two-cent per year increase over eight years (total of sixteen cents) while the House wanted a two-
cent per year increase over three years (total of six cents). The deal was struck when both sides agreed to a one-time up-front six cent tax. The amended legislation then passed both Houses, 25-9 in the Senate and 55-11 in the House. If signed by the Governor, the measure will generate about $85 million per year for highways and bridges and would:
- Raise the motor-fuels tax by six cents per gallon on April 1 to 28 cents, raising $40 million.
- Add 1 percent of excise tax on vehicle purchases, to 4 percent, raising $27.2 million.
- Increase license plate fees by 20 percent on noncommercial vehicles starting in May, raising $14.8 million.
- Increase license rate for noncommercial agricultural trucks from 60% to 70% of the commercial rate, raising $2.5 million.
The bill will also allow counties to:
- Raise the wheel tax from $4 to $5 per wheel and increase the number of taxable wheel from four to twelve.
- Impose additional property taxes for roads and bridges up to:
- $1.20 per thousand dollars of taxable Valuation if the total taxable valuation of the county is $1 Billion or less.
- Ninety cents per thousand dollars of taxable Valuation if the total taxable valuation of the county is between $1 – 2 Billion.
- Sixty cents per thousand dollars of taxable Valuation if the total taxable valuation of the county is $2 Billion or more.
It’s been said you can tell when a bill has gone through lots of compromise because there’s something for everyone to dislike. From my perspective, the 16 cent gas tax the Senate wanted and the six cents up-front gas tax are too much. I also dislike the inequitable tiered property taxing approach for county and township roads. That said, I voted for the
bill because it was the best compromise we could get, and because the good outweighed the not-so-good.
Thank you again for the opportunity to serve you. As I write this, I’m now back home but will keep plenty busy with legislative meetings throughout the year. The Blue Ribbon Education Task Force should be kicking off shortly, and I plan to be involved. . Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Thanks for reading, and I hope to hear from you soon!