Jerauld County residents had face-to-face access with District 20 legislators Representative Tona Rozum and Senator Joshua Klumb at last week’s Farm & Home Show, providing community members the chance to ask lawmakers a variety of questions on legislative topics.
In light of recent legislative changes involving school wind tower funding, Jerauld County Commissioner Larry Olson asked legislators if the county should be concerned about losing wind farm money down the line.
“I’ve heard nothing about county wind tower dollars going away,” responded Rep. Rozum. “The school funding package is completely separate from that.
Rozum is referring to the Blue Ribbon Task Force’s Education Funding Plan and the equalization of other revenue, including wind farm tax, among all public school districts in the state. The equalization process will take place over a five-year step down period with other revenue collected by the district being decreased by 20 percent each year.
When asked about education funding in general, Rozum said that the biggest challenge South Dakota faces is to “find teachers and figure out a way to pay for them.”
“Wessington Springs is already really good when it comes to teacher sharing,” she said. “As a state we’re going to have to get creative when it comes to the teacher shortage problem. It’s not just smaller towns either, even in Mitchell they’re facing it.”
Both Rozum and Klumb pointed out that the education-funding plan was top of mind during last year’s legislative session but this year’s session is different.
“Education has been really quiet,” said Sen. Klumb.
The conversation shifted to Initiated Measure 22 and dominated the discussion for the remainder of the cracker barrel.
IM 22 aimed to reform campaign finances and ethics in the state. In last November’s election, South Dakota voters passed it, but days after the election, lawmakers said that voters were tricked into supporting something that was unconstitutional and ended up passing a bill to repeal it under a “state of emergency,” which prevents voters from putting it back on the ballot in the next election.
“How can you tell the people who voted for it that it won’t have its day in court?” asked Jim Burg of Wessington Springs.
“Why did this county vote for IM 22?” Sen. Klumb asked in response to Burg’s question. “Was it because of EB-5 and GEAR UP?”
Klumb referred to two recent ethics scandals in the past two years: investigations into EB-5, a federal program where immigrants can earn green cards for investing $500,000 in U.S. projects; and the GEAR UP scandal, where a private company embezzled more than $1 million of federal grant money intended to increase the number of low-income students to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.
“This new ethics commission would not have been able to stop those scandals because they involved misuse of federal, not state, funds,” said Klumb. “IM 22 would have zero impact on things like EB-5 and GEAR UP.”
Klumb said that the state legislature is working on strengthening laws this session that would have helped prevent the GEAR UP and EB-5 scandals. Rozum cited strengthening the auditing process to prevent situations like that from happening.
“The biggest problem with IM 22 is the ethics commission piece that essentially would have formed a fourth branch of government,” said Rozum. “We didn’t want to fight an uphill battle on something that’s likely unconstitutional. Instead we are working on bills to address the parts of IM 22 that people wanted.”
Doug Kronaizl, an organizer with Represent South Dakota, the local chapter of the nonpartisan anti-corruption group Represent Us also presented at the Farm & Home show and attended the cracker barrel.
“This sets a bad precedent – saying that voters didn’t know what they were voting for so we’ll just repeal it,” said Kronaizl. “The legislature has gone too far. We’re asking why they didn’t try to work with it instead of getting rid of it.
Kronaizl cites that legislators have stayed on message regarding voters being “hoodwinked,” that the entire bill is unconstitutional and that the bill is too intertwined so they had to completely do away with it.
“What Represent South Dakota points out to legislators is that there has not been a final declaration of unconstitutionality, the bill is not too intertwined and that voters knew what they were voting for.”