PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem officially launched her second-term agenda with a State of the State address Tuesday that could be described as family-friendly, as she called on lawmakers to eliminate the state’s 4.5% sales tax on groceries and to support many more state government incentives for adoption, foster care, pregnancies and family leave.
“Now is the time. Let’s get this done,” the Republican governor said about the grocery-tax repeal.
Republican legislators, who hold super-majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, responded to the Republican governor’s 37-minute message with both favor and caution.
Senator Herman Otten, a Lennox Republican, said he supports her on the sales-tax repeal, preferring that to an interim legislative committee’s proposal to reduce property taxes on owner-occupied homes by eliminating the first $100,000 of taxable value. The senator said property taxes would continue to rise and eat up the estimated $340 savings in a few years, but repealing the sales tax on groceries would help every time a person goes to the store.
Representative Ernie Otten, a Tea Republican, voted for the grocery-tax repeal last year but agreed Tuesday with his first cousin’s perspective that property taxes will keep going up. The representative is a member of the Joint Committee on Appropriations that sets state government’s annual budgets. He wondered whether South Dakota can afford to repeal any tax at this time, because so much federal COVID-19 aid continues to wash through the state’s economy.
Freshman Representative Tyler Tordsen, a Sioux Falls Republican, said he heard from families in his legislative district as he campaigned last year that adoption should be easier in South Dakota. Likewise for taking in foster children, he said. Expanding state government employees’ family leave to 100% of pay and 12 weeks, and expanding the reasons they can take it, as the governor proposed Tuesday, struck him as positive, too.
Tordsen, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, praised the state Department of Tourism’s plans to bring more visitors to South Dakota’s tribal reservation areas that Noem described in the speech. “I’m really looking forward to seeing where we can find some partnerships between the state and tribes,” he said.
Representative Roger Chase, a Huron Republican, said the governor’s focus on adoption incentives was “great.” South Dakota became one of the places where nearly all abortions were outlawed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that the issue should be up to states to decide.
“If abortion is going to be outlawed, if we’re going to really truly look at trying to eliminate abortion statewide, we have to look at all aspects of family life, whether its adoption, whether it is foster care,” Chase said.
Senate Republican leader Casey Crabtree of Madison said the Legislature faces “a full plate” to get everything accomplished in the 38-day session. He mentioned some significant topics — prison funding, support for rural healthcare and long-term care for seniors — that face lawmakers that she didn’t mention in her speech.
“I’m confident the Republican majorities can come together with the governor for the best path forward for South Dakota,” Crabtree said in a statement.
Senate Democrat leader Reynold Nesiba of Sioux Falls pointed out another topic that Noem didn’t cover. “If SD (South Dakota) wants high quality, affordable childcare, that pays a living wage, then we will need to subsidize that with state general funds. I’m disappointed that the Governor did not sufficiently address this key pro-family, workforce development challenge in her speech today,” Nesiba said in a statement on Twitter.
House Democrat leader Oren Lesmeister of Parade said in a statement, “With so many open jobs across the state, where does our workforce come from and how do we provide the housing those folks will require?” He commended the governor on her proposal on paid family leave, “but we need a plan to replace those folks in the workforce, too.”