SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — This story has been updated with responses from Noem’s challengers in the race for governor.

After years of advocating from state lawmakers, Governor Kristi Noem is joining the discussion on ending sales tax on groceries.

The governor made the announcement at Dakota Butcher on Wednesday in Rapid City. Noem said that if elected in November, she will fight to repeal the tax to benefit South Dakotans struggling to buy food.

“What I’m hearing from families is they cannot believe how much groceries cost,” Noem said.

The Republican governor placed the blame on President Joe Biden, citing rising gas prices and inflation as hitting South Dakota families hard.

Lawmakers in the state legislature have been working to remove the state sales tax from food for several years. This past session, several Republican lawmakers joined with Democrats to fight to repeal the tax, but it ultimately failed in the Senate, 22-9.

Gubernatorial candidate Jamie Smith spent his time in the legislature working with other senators trying to get rid of the tax. During the Senate debate, Smith called the tax “regressive” and said that removing it would put money back in South Dakotan’s pockets.

Noem said that it has been her administration’s mission to remove unnecessary taxes.

Noem’s opponents in the gubernatorial election also shared their thoughts, with Democrat Jamie Smith and Libertarian Tracey Quint both speaking with KELOLAND News on Wednesday afternoon.

Asked if she would support or oppose an effort to remove the sales tax on grocery items, Quint spoke positively. “As a Libertarian, I definitely would support that,” she said. “We want to see taxes as low as they can possibly be while still supporting members of South Dakota society.”

Quint said that a move to repeal this tax has been a long time coming. “Especially for something as essential as food, we would hope to be able to at least greatly reduce if not eliminate that tax burden.”

Smith also voiced support for removing or repealing the tax on groceries.

“I support this and I’ve supported it for years,” Smith said. “We’ve brought this bill year-after-year-after-year in the legislature. My caucus has been a big supporter of this bill.”

Smith has been in the legislature for the past six years, and in at least three of those sessions, specifically 2017, 2018 and 2021, was a sponsor on bills to reduce the sales tax on food items.

Noem’s decision to embrace the movement to reduce or remove the sales tax on groceries surprised Smith. “It shows me they must’ve done some polling, and they’re scared,” he said. “They’re trying to do anything they can to win over voters.”

Smith said that in the last session a bill to reduce the food sales tax made it out of the House before being killed on the Senate floor. He alleges that Noem helped kill it. “She didn’t testify necessarily to this bill, but she makes her point quite clear to the leadership behind the scenes,” he said.

The timing of Noem’s announcement was also called into question. “It’s a good idea,” Smith said, “It’s just interesting — with five weeks to an election, bringing back an idea that in the past you’ve opposed.”

Quint also commented on the timing. “As a candidate for governor, I don’t want to throw shade at any of the other candidates or anything, but I know that it’s something [Noem] has fought in the past. It does seem like very much a timing thing that it would come this close to the election– that she would change her mind on that issue,” she said.

Smith said that regardless of who wins the election, he would continue to support a move to repeal the sales tax on groceries. “I still continue to support this idea,” he said. “This is not a new idea for me or my colleagues in the House of Representatives. This is a new idea for the Governor.”

Noem’s voting record on food sales tax bills

From 2007 to 2011, Kristi Noem served in the South Dakota House of Representatives, where she sat on the House Taxation Committee.

2008: Noem votes to defer HB 1242 to the 41st day (effectively killing it). 1242 was an act to “impose sales and use taxes on certain advertising services and products and to dedicate the increased tax revenue to the food tax relief fund for the purpose of reducing sales and use taxes on food.”

2008: Noem votes yes on SB 180. 180 was an act to “make an appropriation to provide certain refunds of sales tax on food.” It allowed the Department of Social Services to provide refunds of sales tax on food for some South Dakota families.

2009: Noem votes to defer HB 1190 to the 41st day (effectively killing it). 1190 was an act to “provide for the reduction of the sales and use tax on certain food items.”

2009: Noem votes yes on HB 1237. 1237 was an act to “make an appropriation to fund certain property and sales tax refunds for elderly persons and persons living with a disability, to make an appropriation to fund sales tax on food refunds, and to revise the eligibility requirements for the sales tax on food refund program.” Like SB 180, this bill allowed DSS to provide vouchers to some South Dakota families, but added increased restrictions to who could be given refunds.

2010: Noem votes no on HB 1255. 1255 was an act to “lower the state sales and use tax on certain food items and to increase the rate of taxation for the sales and use tax on certain goods and services.” Noem voted no on the bill in the Taxation Committee, but failed to stop it. She then voted no on it again in the full House, where it died.