Talking 2023 session

Jason Ferguson

While saying they are glad the South Dakota Legislature passed the largest tax cut in state history in the recently concluded session, District 30 legislators say they are disappointed the body was unable to agree on statewide property-tax relief again this year.
Since the session opened in January with a $423 million surplus, many lawmakers were adamant about giving relief to the state’s taxpayers. Part of that goal was realized in March when both houses approved a reduction in general sales taxes from 4.5 to 4.2 percent—a cut that is expected to reduce taxes by $104 million a year. Gov. Kristi Noem, who called the measure a “tax holiday” because it is only temporary, signed the bill into law last week. HB1137 is set to expire in 2027.
First term District 30 Rep. Dennis Krull of Hill City hailed the historic event but noted it did not come easily or without much discussion. He said the legislation took up almost the entire 98th session and seemed often to be on thin ice.
“There were times when it seemed like we would not be able to come to agreement on what the best tax cut would be,” said Krull. “The house did not initially support the sunset clause that was suggested because that would have made this tax cut temporary, but because the Senate insisted on it, we agreed to get the tax cut passed. When all was said and done, and discussion ceased, the bill passed in the House 70-0.”
“This tax cut will apply to all taxable items across the board,” said Rep. Trish Ladner of Hot Springs, who added, “As a side note, I would not have supported the tax cut if it had required cuts to education, state employees or Medicaid. After talking about tax cuts for years, the proposed sales and use tax bill passed!”
However, Ladner said she was disappointed that efforts to reduce property taxes—something she has made a priority throughout her time in the legislature—failed to pass again this year.
Ladner said although the measure made it all the way through the conference committee process, it failed on the floor.
“Personally, I am disappointed that after so much hard work and so many long hours that the property tax bill didn’t make it across the finish line for the homeowners in South Dakota,” said Ladner, “yet I am proud that we got very, very close. We can take another look at taxes next session.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller of Rapid City, who has also championed property tax relief, said the failure to pass the legislation was one of the things that put a cloud over the entire session for her.
“I don’t believe it went that well,” said Frye-Mueller, “especially for us taxpayers. Property-tax relief is one of the biggest issues and we can’t seem to pass legislation to address that.”
In addition, the senator said the legislature’s failure to cut state spending was an even bigger issue.
“We could have helped the citizens with even more tax cuts if we didn’t waste so much money,” lamented Frye-Mueller. “State government spending is the big problem. This year the budget has gone up $1.1 billion dollars from last year’s budget. Remember, we don’t even have 900,000 people in our state. Are you happy with a budget that is $7,374,900,889? Our state needs all departments to zero-base budget and only provide for needs, not wants.”
On the other hand, Krull called the passage of the state budget for Fiscal Year 2024 a highlight of his first session. He said the budget is based on a very conservative revenue estimate at 3.8 percent.
“We have been seeing growth exceeding 10 percent over the last couple of years,” said Krull. “We budgeted conservatively for the possibility that we could face a significant slow-down in the upcoming year.”
Krull also hailed the passage of a 7 percent inflationary increase for K-12 schools and the technical colleges, a freeze of tuition and fees for state universities and technical colleges, and a 7 percent increase for state employees to help recruit and retain the current workforce at the state level.
Ladner celebrated the fact that lawmakers this year “made real strides in college affordability, addressing workforce shortages and helping those struggling with mental health and suicide.”
She said bills were passed which addressed the elderly and disabled tax issues, protected the public and “wholeheartedly” backed law enforcement.
“We made improvements to our election system,” said Ladner. “We defeated needless laws and avoided creating a bunch of new government programs. It has been a very productive 2023 legislative session.”
She also noted that money was set aside in the budget for “known expenses in the future with the implementation of Medicaid expansion,” as approved by voters last year.
There were both positives and negatives for Frye-Mueller with regard to cultural issues in this year’s session.
“A good bill that would have protected our children by removing obscene materials in school and public libraries was killed,” said the senator. “Also, a bill to prohibit the use of state resources in hosting ‘lewd and lascivious content’ shows got killed. I don’t know why some legislators think these issues are appropriate to expose our young children to. I supported both of these bills.”
Frye-Mueller said she was happy, however, with the passage of HB1080, which protects minor children from transgender procedures such as hormone therapies and surgeries.
“Also, I am very glad the governor vetoed HB1193 regarding centralized banking/redefining money,” said Frye-Mueller. “We need to uphold her veto and not lose our freedoms to government control of our money.”
“My first year was a very exciting and educational time,” stated Krull. “Being on the Appropriations Committee kept me very busy working on one-time spending bills and the fiscal year 2024 budget.”
Thanking district voters for their support, Krull said “I think we can be proud of the work that was accomplished this year for the state of South Dakota.”
Now in her second term representing District 30, Ladner noted 43 percent of the House was new to the legislature this year.
“Because of that, the leadership scheduled training and orientation prior to session beginning so we were all ready to go to work on the first day. We worked through 462 bills and joint  resolutions placed before us, as we do every year. It was unfortunate that there were significant issues in the Senate that they had to deal with this session. But I am proud to report that in the House we were unified and worked together for the citizens of South Dakota and we will continue to do so next session.”
Frye-Mueller said one of the things she is thankful for this year is the formation of the South Dakota Freedom Caucus, which she called “a wonderful group of legislators who work diligently to preserve our freedoms.”
“They are privileged to work with the National Freedom Caucus in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “This group helped bring to light the dangers of HB1193 along with other bills that could have negatively impacted us citizens.”
She encouraged her constituents to look up to find information on pending legislation.
Referencing her temporary suspension from the Senate this session due to allegations arising from a conversation she had with a staffer, Frye-Mueller said, “I am still angry that my voice for District 30 was silenced from an orchestrated attack against me. My rights were violated which negatively affected all of you (voters in District 30). I was falsely accused and lied about. The 27 senators who voted to suspend me broke the law and ignored my constitutional rights. I am still working with attorneys and this is far from over. I will continue to work for the people, not the establishment.  It has been an honor to serve the citizens of our state. The numerous phone calls, texts, and emails I have received are very much appreciated and I thank you for your support.”
The legislators returned to Pierre for Veto Day on Monday where they voted on four bills vetoed by Gov. Noem. All of the vetoes will stand because none of the bills managed to get the required two-thirds majority to override the veto.


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