Lawmakers voted down two proposals this week that would have
shifted financial resources away from schools and into city coffers. Both
efforts were backed by the South Dakota Municipal League, the advocacy
organization representing city government officials.
Legislators voted down a proposal Wednesday that sought to
change the make-up of local boards of equalization, shifting majority control
to school districts. Schools would have been required to assume administrative
costs of conducting the equalization meetings. By rejecting SB 97 on a 21-13
vote, municipal governments will continue to have majority representation on
equalization boards, which act as a first-line appeals process for local
property valuation. A school board member from each school district will continue
to serve on each panel.
Rep. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner, tried to convince lawmakers
that school districts needed to assume control of the boards because schools,
not municipalities, receive the bulk of property taxes. She chided school
boards not showing up to equalization meetings and for not wanting to assume
the responsibility for valuation appeals.
“That one school board member that should be on the local
board of equalization usually doesn’t show up,” Krebs said before suggesting
that the biggest beneficiaries of property tax dollars should be willing to
show up and talk to citizens about their property tax concerns.
Sen. Mark Johnston, R-Sioux Falls, spoke in opposition to
the plan. He chronicled e-mail communications from school board members, county
commissioners and city officials – all of whom he said opposed the change.
“If the counties don’t want it, if the school boards don’t
want it, if the city counselors don’t want it – what are we doing,” Sen. Johnston
Other lawmakers argued against the change because they
believe the current process is better for property owners. Sen. Stan Adelstein,
R-Rapid City, characterized the proposal as “grossly unfair” to property tax
payers because schools have a greater interest in higher valuations.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted down an attempt
Thursday by the Municipal League to reverse a recent South Dakota Supreme Court
ruling that concluded city governments were improperly enforcing traffic
violations on state highways.
Fine revenue collected from a violation of municipal ordinance
flows to city governments. When revenue is generated from a traffic violation
on a state highway, the money goes to schools. By using the improper
enforcement procedure, city governments were collecting money for the city’s
coffers at the expense of the state’s school districts. The issue was settled
by the Supreme Court last year, when the Court determined that the South Dakota
Constitution requires all revenue from state fines be distributed to schools.
The Municipal League is pushing SB 164 to try to counter the constitutional
Dick Tieszen, a lobbyist representing ASBSD, testified in
opposition to the legislation, urging lawmakers to ignore the back-door attempt
subvert the Constitution and divert funding from the K-12 schools.
Yvonne Taylor, the executive director of the Municipal
League, countered Tieszen’s testimony, arguing that the money isn’t being
diverted from schools because cities have been following the procedure for
Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, voted against the measure,
arguing that the state sets traffic laws for state highways and the
Constitution clearly requires the money to go to schools.
Members of Senate Judiciary deferred the legislation to the 41st
legislative day on a 4-3 vote, which typically kills the measure. However,
ASBSD lobbyists have confirmed that the Municipal League is attempting to
revive the bill using a legislative maneuver called a “smoke-out.”