Session 2 Week 4

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Teachers, Taxes and Hemp

 

Education reform will likely take up the most debate from now until the end of session.   Three bills were filed this past week that detail the Governor’s plan. The commitment to do something for teachers is unquestionably the undercurrent of this session, how to pay for it is the question that remains to be answered.

 

The Governor’s education proposal is laid out in the following three bills:   HB 1182 would increase the sales tax by a half penny and dedicate $40 million for property tax relief;   SB 131 establishes a new funding formula and requires that 90% of new funding go specifically to teacher pay.   This bill also imposes new caps on school general reserve funds and on the growth of capital outlay levies;   SB 133 includes a number of proposals to recruit and retain more teachers and to create new opportunities for school efficiency.

 

You can tell what a person values most by looking at where they spend their money. Currently South Dakota’s largest single budget item is k-12 education at $426,808,380 followed closely by Medicaid at $382,079,787. All educational (k-12, Higher Ed and Tech schools) spending consumes 45 cents of every dollar the state takes in. I applaud the governor’s goals of raising teacher pay and addressing some of the inefficiencies of our education funding system, yet I think both of these can happen without a tax increase. If we refocus our priorities, and make state government live within its means we will show respect for both our teachers and for the citizens of South Dakota.

 

In Ag and on the floor we had HB 1054 which authorized the production and sale of industrial hemp. The US currently imports all the industrial hemp we use which amounts to a roughly $890 million dollar industry. Hemp is used for many things such as rope, twine, lotions, and the seed can be used to make diesel fuel. There seems to be many misconceptions about this product and I will say that I do not think that this product is a gateway to the legalization of marijuana and I will always oppose the recreational use of any hallucinogenic. If this bill receives the Governor’s signature the farmer who would like to grow industrial hemp will face many federal hurdles including getting a permit from the US Drug Enforcement Administration. North Dakota has had this available to farmers for several years and this will be the first growing season where eleven farms have received all the necessary permissions to do trial fields. I should point out that it is not feasible to hide marijuana inside a field of hemp as the marijuana does not look like hemp at its maturity and the hemp and marijuana would cross pollinate and drastically decrease the amount of THC (the part that gets you high) in the marijuana thereby greatly decreasing its street value. There are concerns that drug dogs would not be able to tell the difference if someone is pulled over and the dog hits on the car. But I think those fears can rest because no one would have bales of industrial hemp in their car and if the dog does still hit on it the person would have to be able to produce the DEA permit. The pioneer growers of this plant will face so much law enforcement and media scrutiny that it would be virtually impossible to produce marijuana anywhere near where industrial hemp would be grown. I could go about the benefits of this product but if you wish to know more I would encourage you to read a great article from Forbes online if you just search “industrial hemp”.