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Friday, November 30, 2007

SouthDaCola Calls Yankton Recall Fracas Right

I'm pleased to link for the first time to one of Scott Ehrisman's visual commentaries at SouthDaCola. Today he takes a well-deserved poke at Yankton Mayor (for now) Curt Bernard, who doesn't think he and fellow councilman Dan Rupiper should not have to face a recall election duly and legally called by 1400+ Yankton. As Ehrisman notes, most South Dakotans labor under our "right-to-work" laws, which work more like "right-to-fire" laws. Readers, enjoy! Scott, well put.

MDL Mix-up Costs City $7000

Local Blog Offers Services to Avoid Future Mishaps

Ouch! There goes another chunk of your taxes. The city was to sell bonds for the new pool yesterday. However, that sale can't happen until the city has published notices for two consecutive weeks. Alas, the city's paper of record, the mighty Madison Daily Leader, didn't publish those notices according to the proper timeline. KJAM reports that MDL posted a notice on the 12th, but somehow missed the notice that should have appeared on the 19th.

The city thus will not be able to deposit the proceeds from the bond sale until December 11. The loss in interest over those two weeks: $7000.

In the spirit of civic duty, the Madville Times gladly offers its services to the City of Madison and any other governmental entity that wish to avoid such problems in the future. The Madville Times would be happy to serve as the publication of record for your legal notice needs. We'd probably have to check statute to make sure blogs can legally perform that function, but if there's any legal hang-up, I'm sure we can get our friend Representative Olson to introduce some enabling legislation come January.

Give me a call, Mr. Heinemeyer! I'll bet we could arrange a fee schedule that would help the city make that $7000 back in publication cost savings in no time! Satisfaction guaranteed!

TransCanada Wants Eminent Domain Testimony Stifled

Evidently what's "Good for America, Good for South Dakota" doesn't include open dialogue about the full impact of TransCanada's Keystone pipeline on South Dakota. That Sioux Falls paper reports that TransCanada's well-paid lawyer, Mr. Brett Koenecke of Pierre, has filed a motion to strike and exclude "all testimony... related to or offered for the purposes of describing Keystone’s specific landowner relations, land transactions, land acquisition efforts, condemnation lawsuits and use of eminent domain" [Peter Harriman, "TransCanada: Don't Mention Land Condemnation," that Sioux Falls paper, 2007.11.30].

You can read the full "Motion in Limine" at the PUC website. TransCanada argues that "no evidence related to these areas is relevant to the proceedings at hand. No statutory grant of authority has been made to the Public Utilities Commission for the airing, consideration or determination of any issues relative thereto."

I was hoping to find statute that would lay out exactly what the PUC is authorized to hear and not hear, but oddly, nothing in SDCL Title 49 jumped out as such a scope statement. I'm not convinced the PUC is even authorized to censor testimony in that fashion. Commission Dusty Johnson himself characterizes the coming PUC hearings as "an ad hoc quasi-judicial proceeding" [e-mail to Peggy Cooper, filed 2007.11.30 in the Public Comments and Responses portion of Commission Docket on the TransCanada pipeline], so such strict legalisms may not apply. Unless TransCanada can cite some specific statute, this amateur defender of law and freedom would suggest that our public utilities commissioners are free to listen to whatever testimony our citizens care to bring forward the next couple weeks pertaining to the merits of doing business with TransCanada.

TransCanada is trying to divide and conquer. Limit what each governing body can listen to, limit how often opponents can seek a fair hearing for their views, limit the opportunities landowners have to win their argument.

At the same time, TransCanada is trying to keep other non-energy-related issues on the record. In testimony filed 2007.09.21, TrasnCanada VP Robert Jones touts the property tax boosts and other economic benefits of the pipeline for South Dakota. If increased school funding and machinery rentals are relevant to the PUC hearing, then why not eminent domain?

The PUC is as entitled and obligated as the rest of us to look at the overall picture of what this pipeline will do to South Dakota. The commissioners have an obligation to protect the general welfare of the state, not just the expansion of public utilities, but the protection of constitutional rights. The PUC thus has every right to weigh all foreseeable advantages and disadvantages of the pipeline for South Dakota. That includes the tax benefits. That includes the temporary boost in jobs and construction-related business. And that includes the constitutional impact of letting a foreign corporation steal land from our citizens for private economic gain.

Poets in Huron! State Interp Begins Today

The South Dakota State Oral Interpretation Festival runs today and tomorrow in Huron. A few hundred students from eighty-some schools will get together for a fun weekend of reading and listening to poems and plays and showing off their talents in front of some of South Dakota's smartest professors and other speech experts. You can see full speaking schedules and rosters for Class B, Class A, and Class AA at the SDHSAA Speech website. SDPB will also post results throughout the contest.

Of all our state high school tournaments and events, I think only All-State Chorus brings together a wider range of schools and actively participating students. There's some stiff competition (and I've voiced the minority opinion that the event could benefit from even more competition), but there's also just as much camaraderie. Kids and coaches come Bison and Kyle, Mobridge and Montrose, and mingle with and sincerely applaud their counterparts from Brookings, Pierre, and Rapid City. And I will dare to suggest that among this big group of kids willing to devote entire weekends to performing and enjoying literature, you will find a significantly high concentration of South Dakota's future National Merit Scholars, Ivy Leaguers, teachers, and leaders.

Special love this morning to the Madville Times's favorite interpers, his old vets Corinne, Lauren and Dathan -- remember, kids: "Concentrate, Energize, Enunciate, and Believe!" And good wishes to all the kids and coaches for a fun contest and a safe trip home... or maybe even a nice extra Saturday night in the motel as you wait out the snow with stories and jokes and long, raucous card games.

Lake County Demographic of the Day: Lots of Vets!

This interesting statistic just happened to pop out of MDL yesterday: 1600 military veterans (including my dad and my good neighbor Gerry Lange) live in Lake County. Out of a total county population of 11,170, that's over 14% of the people here. Statewide, 72,000 vets make up 9.5% of our 754K population. Nationwide, 23.5 million vets make up just 7.8% of the United States' current 302 million population.

Obviously Lake County has a surprisingly strong military tradition. I can't guarantee we have the highest per capita concentration of veterans in the country -- interestingly, a simple Google search of "veterans per capita" turns up eight states in just the first 50 results claiming to have the highest percentage of vets in their populations (Alaska and West Virginia appear to lead the citations race; NM, NJ, MT, SC, NH, and OK also get mentions).

Funny -- Google "poets per capita," and you only get a smattering of results (among US states, only Iowa pops up with a suggestion that it might have the most poets per capita; the only other places making such a claim are the farther-flung locales of Canada, Nicaragua, and Hungary).

Readers are welcome to draw their own musings and conclusions from this data on vets in Lake County. Heck, with this weekend's big snowstorm coming, maybe you too can hunker down and Google some interesting statistical arcana about our your own county!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

South Dakota -- Happier Than Hawaii!

...so what's with all the suicides and binge-drinking?

Yes, yes, the Madville Times spends a lot of time complaining. Given the focus these pages give to South Dakota's problems, you might get the impression that the Sunshine State is a pretty depressing place to live.

Ah, those deceptive appearances. For all the complaints I post here, I swear, I'm a really happy guy. I wake up to a beautiful theologian, a ticklish baby. And a new study by Mental Health America and Thomson Healthcare (reported by KELO) says the whole darn state of South Dakota shares my overflowing happiness. Evidently South Dakota has the lowest rate of depression in the country. We are happier than Hawaii (77 degrees today, but raining straight through the weekend -- I'll take that snowstorm over rain any day!). Utah is the most depressed state in the nation (as good neighbors, we should probably elect Romney, so those Utah folks cheer up).

This research makes Mrs. Madville Times and me scratch our blogging heads this morning. (Madville Times Jr. is too busy coloring to ponder such issues.) We've mused previously that with all the binge-drinking and drug abuse that goes on, among young and old alike, that folks around here must be depressed about something. This very study also notes that South Dakota has the 11th highest suicide rate in the nation, with 14.85 suicides per 100,000 people. The places with the least suicide: DC, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. The big city can drive a person crazy, but if you look at the suicide rankings for South Dakota and some of the places with worse rates -- Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, and the suicide leader, Alaska -- it appears that it's those wide open spaces that can push a person over the edge.

For me, South Dakota is the happiest in the world. I have never felt happier or more fulfilled anywhere else. And I want to believe that depression is just an aberration, a big-city malady easily cured by healthy South Dakota living.

But maybe that's the problem. Maybe what I believe is like what a lot of us believe, and we fail to recognize and deal with depression when it happens. Maybe (I checked the study methodology and can't be sure) South Dakota's low depression rate is just an artifact of South Dakotans not 'fessing up in the surveys. Depression doesn't fit with our ethos, so we don't talk about it. We bottle it up, or try to solve it with a bottle. And when that doesn't work....

Could isolation be the problem? Remember those wide open spaces I mentioned -- they may be as much psychological as geographical. Maybe that's one more reason to talk more, to be more open with each other, to say what we're thinking instead of keeping it to ourselves. It make us even happier... and it might help our friends realize they aren't alone and choose to stick it out for another day, and another, and another....

Sanitary District Screws Up, But Keeps the Money

Less Teapot Dome, more teapot tempest...

Once again, I find myself representing the minority view. Going into last night's Lake Herman Sanitary District meeting, I thought our board faced a big problem with two decades' worth of unauthorized tax collection on property not formally annexed into the district. Apparently, such fiscal sloppiness just isn't that big of a deal. After coverage here and in the real press, the meeting drew only three citizens, none of them from the disputed territory on the map. The other members of the board, Charlie Stoneback and Lawrence Dirks, did not want to open a can of worms. District counsel Jerome Lammers advised us that statute imposes no obligation on the district to act on its own to refund taxes imposed incorrectly or even to proactively seek out affected landowners and inform them of the mistake.

The board's final decision: leave it in the hands of the taxpayers. If anyone's upset, they can call the district. If they want their money back, they've got to speak up.

In the meantime, now that we're aware of the problem, the district does have an obligation to clean up the map. The board will take the tax roll to the county assessor in the next week and cross off the properties that aren't on the official map. So some landowners will see the LHSD assessment disappear from their tax bill in 2008. However, that won't last long. The sanitary district board plans a special meeting on Thursday, December 13 (6:30 p.m., Charlie Stoneback's house -- call for directions!) to begin the process of formally annexing the properties we thought we had and, quite likely, adding more properties. One likely area for annexation: the new houses west of the golf course.

I remain a little bent out of shape over twenty years of unauthorized taxation, and I'm not particularly fond of the idea that state law doesn't require a taxing entity to outright rectify such a screw-up. But then maybe I get too uptight about the jots and tittles of the law. And here majority does rule, and as last night's meeting made clear, the majority -- board members and citizens alike -- aren't too worried about the situation.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Oh, So Pipelines Do Leak... and Burst into Flame

The same night I get hold of TransCanada's glossy propaganda insert in my local paper (see? they're already polluting... my garbage can!), KELO brings me this headline: MN Crude Oil Pipeline Explosion Kills Two [AP, KELOLand.com, 2007.11.28]. Workers were fixing a leak (what, pipelines leak?) on an Enbridge Energy pipeline near Clearwater, Minnesota, when fumes escaped and ignited, killing two workers.

he StarTribune says the pipeline didn't actually explode, so KELO's headline may overstate the event (and prove they aren't party to any propaganda scheme). Still, that's not the oil boom TransCanada talked about in their little brochure.

The StarTrib also notes that Enbridge Energy, TransCanada's archrival and next-door neighbor in Calgary, has reported one other leak on its Minnesota pipeline, a 6000-barrel spill near Cohasset on July 4, 2002 [Joy Powell, "Clearbrook Pipeline Fire Kills 2," Minneapolis StarTribune, 2007.11.28].

Two leaks in six years? That sounds a little worse than TransCanada's predicted one leak in 41 years.

So, pipelines can kill workers. Of course, workers can fall off wind turbines, too. But TransCanada still hasn't sold me... and let's hope they don't sell the PUC, either.

Janklow 2010 -- Which Wishful Voices Whispered That?

Maybe no one actually spiked Miss Puerto Rico's makeup with pepper spray, but some prankster may be spiking SD Watch's political tea leaves with some of Bob Newland's favorite herb.

I exaggerate because I love (Epp, not the herb).

Actually, Mr. Epp tonight offers a not unreasonable assemblage of evidence suggesting that Bill Janklow is positioning himself for a run for governor in 2010. Involvement in high-profile legal cases, passion for office and spotlight, still rhetorically fired up for the cameras, history of doing what hasn't been done before, displeased with the direction the Rounds administration has taken... pretty good recipe for someone going less than gently into that good night.

But come now: such drama is just too good to hope for, isn't it? Maybe some Republicans could salivate over the prospect. So could Dems. Of all people, Mr. Lauck* reminds us of how an erstwhile Janklow drama set the stage for the ascent of a great Democratic Senate Majority Leader:

On top of Senator Abdnor's existing weaknesses, he faced a stiff primary challenge from the sitting governor, the charismatic populist Bill Janklow, who openly said that he thought Abdnor would lose to Daschle: "I can hold that seat for the Republican Party. Jim Abdnor can't hold that seat." From the sidelines McGovern called the 1986 Republican primary a "bloodbath" and the Wall Street Journal called it a "blood feud." William Farber, the long-time head of the USD political science department, said Republicans were on the "verge of destroying themselves."

Abdnor survived the primary challenge, but ran out of cash. Daschle, however, spent half a million dollars on ads during the first three months of 1986, more than double the combined amount Abdnor and Janklow used bashing each other. By the end of July, Daschle had three times as much cash as Abdnor. An Associated Press headline that month: "Daschle's campaign war-chest runneth over." At the end of July, Daschle was ahead by 15 points [Jon Lauck, "Daschle's Dakota Past," National Review Online, 2004.04.02].

Imagine this possibility: Janklow declares in 2010, Daugaard drains two years' worth of fundraising fighting the primary, and the governor's office gets to recycle a nameplate... the Herseth nameplate. (They'll have to squeeze the "-Sandlin" on there somehow.)

Too much to wish for, I know. With Christmas coming, I'll save my wishes for chocolate, a little snow, universal health care... and then a Giuliani nomination that makes Jim Dobson and Bob Ellis put their money where their mouths are, form their own Taliban Party of America, and pave the way for a good 3-4 terms of Dems in the White House.

*I hereby acknowledge that I sacrifice all progressive credibility by citing Mr. Lauck. Lowell will probably kick me off Badlands Blue for this. ;-)

Scott v Argus and Beck -- The Text in Question

Mr. Schwartz at SD Moderate does us the service of archiving the parody published by Randall Beck and the Argus Leader this summer that provoked a million-dollar libel lawsuit from Dan Scott. As you listen to the arguments (and you will be able to listen, as the lawyers, Bill Janklow for Scott and Steve Sanford for Beck et al., are arguing this case as hard before the cameras as in the courtroom), be sure to read the original text.

I have great appreciation for the art of parody. I also have great appreciation for the potential of parody to backfire. After an incident of homecoming week vandalism on my property, I wrote a satirical response to some rumors floating around about what had actually happened. I made a conscious effort to portray my response to the vandals in such extreme language (instead of my actual response of yelling at the kids and calling the cops, my satirical account spoke of ninja skills, cracking engine blocks, and single-handedly hurling vehicles into Lake Herman). I shared this writing with my fellow teachers and had a good laugh. But just a few months later, I learned one teacher had complained to the boss, saying my words frightened him.

The idea of a beefy football coach being frightened by a few words from a skinny debate coach gives me another good laugh. The incident inspires me with the reminder that words really do have power. But there's the point Janklow is making: words have power. Those of us who presume to use them in the public arena (especially the members of the media that make their living with them) have to be careful.

The perhaps more practical point made by both my fellow teacher and by Janklow is that we have to be careful with our words not just avoid doing harm, but to avoid giving folks with axes to grind words to use against us.

But maybe there's a little incautious wordsmithery and axe-grinding on both sides. Dan Scott made a speech to legislators in which he said they should get excited about Sioux Falls's development or at least "get out of the way." The Argus razzed him hard for that comment, expressing a feeling that it wasn't hard for us small-towners to glean from Scott's own words. Some board members of Scott's own Sioux Falls Development Foundation felt that comment warranted a letter of apology. Did the Argus actually harm Dan Scott with its subsequent parody of Scott's apology? Is there anyone who still thinks the parody letter was Scott's actual writing? And was the faux sentiment in that letter really that much different from the sentiment Dan Scott himself expressed?

Stay tuned for more lawyerly fireworks -- attorneys Janklow and Sanford promise a really good show.

Wind Power: Transmission Schmansmission -- Use It Here!

Talk wind power in South Dakota, and someone -- usually someone looking to make money -- will say, "Yeah, but, without transmission lines...." Evidently the big reason we don't have windmills popping up in every cornfield is that we could produce a heck of a lot more power than this state could ever use, and the big money folks are only interested in exporting power to the big markets. Without more transmission lines, that can't happen. The PUC's Gary Hanson will say so at a wind energy conference -- "Wind Energy & Transmission: The South Dakota Landscape" -- at the Sioux Falls Convention Center Thursday and Friday.

But why bother thinking of wind-generated electricity as an export product when we aren't anywhere close to producing our in-state needs? Maybe someday we'll be at that blessed point where we are producing more electricity than we know what to do with. For now, though, let's just work like crazy to get to that point. Forget powering Minneapolis; how about powering Madison, and Miner County? With wholesale power rates from the WAPA going up 25%, now is the perfect time to hook into some alternative energy sources.

Some SDSU engineering students are getting the idea. Working with officials from Charles Mix County, these students plan to spend next semester designing a 14-turbine, 21-megawatt wind farm that could cut the county's electric bill by 65% [AP, "Charles Mix Wind Project Has Interest," KELOLand.com, 2007.11.26]. I love it when homework turns into real public service!

The South Dakota Corn Growers are also looking at putting wind power to work here. They are meeting Monday with a Minnesota researcher to talk about harnessing wind power to produce cheaper anhydrous ammonia for fertilizer. "The thing that sticks out the most about this process," says Dr. Michael Reese of the University of Minnesota-Morris North Central Research and Outreach Center, "is we can produce a product locally to keep money within local economies" [Peter Harriman, "Wind Power Meetings Roll into Region," that Sioux Falls paper, 2007.11.28].

Local economies -- there's the magic word! Remember self-reliance, pioneer spirit, all that jazz? Let's get back to it! Those SDSU students and the corn growers can see that we don't need to wire all our wind power off to the big cities. We can put up wind turbines right next to our own towns and feedlots and factories and power our own operations for a lot cheaper than anyone else will sell us the power.

If we invest heavily now in wind power, we can become experts in the field. We can hook up every municipal power plant and ethanol plant, every city office and new housing development to a wind turbine, develop a skilled workforce that knows all about building and maintaining wind turbines in the toughest conditions, and save some money and pollution to boot. Then when South Dakota is humming along on 90% wind power (o.k., the wind won't blow every day), other states will look at us and say, "Oooo, can we have some?" Other states and big power companies will come a-calling with their transmission lines, and South Dakota will be in the perfect position to provide not just the juice but the expertise to make it flow.

As you lean into those 45-mile-per-hour gusts this afternoon, just think to yourself, Transmission schmansmission! Use the power here. Plug those turbines into the nearest town, cut South Dakota's electric bill in half, and lay the foundation for South Dakota to be the world leader in wind power production and engineering know-how.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Whose Money Is It? LHSD Meets Tomorrow Night to Find Answers

MDL gives press to that unloved black sheep governmental entity, the Lake Herman Sanitary District. The LHSD board (of which I am one of three members) meets tomorrow (Wednesday) night at 6:30 at the Madison Public Library to straighten out its boundaries and taxing authority. As MDL explains tonight (and as this blog laid out earlier), the LHSD has been taxing folks outside its boundaries and, as an added surprise that I just learned at the courthouse last week, not taxing a couple properties within its boundaries. Uff da!

It should be an informative meeting. Come on down, join the fun... and stay tuned for updates!

Tax Increment District -- Why the Strip Mall?

A question for my loyal readers: Why did the Madison City Commission include the Schaefer Plaza in the tax increment district it created last week? A glance at the map (agenda packet, p. 64) and the legal description appears to indicate that the "blighted" area includes the very well-established strip mall and Second Street Diner. Don't those properties have all the infrastructure they need? Isn't all the development planned for the mostly vacant lots out back, where new houses and duplexes will soon spring like rose blossoms?

Surely the city has a good reason for including commercial properties in a TID intended for residential development. Anyone with answers is welcome to comment here.

Tax Increment Districts -- Smart Development, or Welfare for Wealthy?

Also online at KELOLand.com!

I've been giving Madison's new Tax Increment District #1 a lot of thought this past week. On the surface, the TID feels like the sort of rich-guy welfare that I ought to lower the boom on. The city helps a private developer shave over $200K off his costs -- or, looked at alternatively, add over $200K to his profits. The new tax dollars from the housing development cover the loan and are rendered unavailable to city, county, and school district budgets for at least a decade.

Yet there are some reasonable arguments for this TID. The LAIC, our economic development office, has warned previously that Madison is short on affordable housing. Bringing jobs to town doesn't do as much good if the workers can't find places to live here and thus commute, taking most of their spending, tax dollars, and cultural commitment with them.

The TID also isn't exactly free money. It isn't a tax break: the developer, Randy Schaefer, will stay pay the full property taxes on whatever portion of the district he retains ownership of, including his strip mall. Through their taxes, the new homeowners who build on the lots east of the Schaefer Plaza will pay for the water, sewer, and street from which they directly benefit.

One question keeps nagging at me, though: Could Schaefer have gone ahead with this housing development without the TID? Plenty of other developers are able to put houses without assistance from the city; what makes this project different?

The city is designating tax dollars to cover a debt that is usually borne by the developer. Why would the city absorb the infrastructure costs for this development but not for any other private builder who wants to put up a house in a previously undeveloped area of the city? If the city has a compelling interest in expanding housing, shouldn't the city be willing to cover the costs for any builder who wants to put up a house?

Perhaps the difference is the "blight" designation. SDCL 11-9-8 requires a blight designation to permit the establishment of a TID. In Resolution 2657 authorizing TID #1, the city justifies the blight designation for this area:

The area described above consists primarily of bare unimproved land with one existing single family residence and commercial structures. Most of the area is open, undeveloped and because of inadequate site improvements and infrastructure, it remains undeveloped and substantially impairs the sound growth of the City of Madison and is therefore a blighted are as defined by South Dakota Law [City Commission agenda packet, 2007.11.19, p. 54].

By that definition, couldn't any bare patch of ground qualify for similar public assistance? My wife and I built a house two years ago on open land with no street or lot layout, no public road access, inadequate water and sewer infrastructure, and not even a nice restaurant, video rental store, or insurance agency next door. Our development has certainly improved the value of the land; should we not get to apply a portion of our property tax bill toward our mortgage?

One more thing we should watch for: one of the selling points of the TID was that this development will provide "housing for low to moderate income individuals or families" ["City of Madison Tax Increment District 1: Tax Increment Plan," agenda packet, p. 60, point IV]. The plan projects tax revenue from each single-family residence at just under $2300. That's $500 more than the tax revenue generated by our $100K house. Just how low-income will those low-income houses be? Will a typical teacher be able to afford a house in TID #1? It will be interesting to see just how true to its promise of "affordable" housing TID #1 will remain.

Madison can use more housing and better housing. But does a TID serve that purpose more than simply cutting costs for a private developer? Your comments, clarifications, and complaints are welcome.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tax Increment District -- How It Works

At last week's meeting, the Madison City Commission approved a Tax Increment District (TID -- also known as a Tax Increment Finance District) to support the development of 12 housing units -- 5 houses, 2 duplexes, and 1 triplex -- on land owned by local developer Randy Schaefer.

The Madville Times has offered its opinion on the design of the development (culs-de-sac are so 1970), and further opinion is forthcoming. But first, let's take a moment to describe just how this tax increment finance district works (Quit your groaning in the back row, there! And take out your notebooks...).

Right now, the land in TID #1 is mostly undeveloped (see 2007.11.19 City Commission agenda packet, p. 64 for grainy map, p. 65 for proposed development). The district does appear include the current Schaefer Plaza, a strip mall with Schaefer's insurance office and some other businesses, plus the Second Street Diner. There is one house on the property as well.

Here's the plan: the city takes out a loan for $203,485. The city uses the money to acquire and demolish the one house in the designated area (that lot provides access to Grant Avenue); build water, sewer, and street with curb and gutter; and cover fees for the contractors, engineers, and lawyer, as well as capitalized interest. Then Schaefer sells lots so other folks can build and own their own little piece of Madison heaven.

Here's the TID twist: Randy Schaefer doesn't have to pay off the loan. As the land is developed, its value will go up. Schaefer projects that, once all the planned structures are up, the TID will generate $29,150 in property tax (Exhibit C, agenda packet, p. 66). The numbers are a little unclear, but let's assume that the current house and bare land in the district are producing $1000 in property tax. That $1000 will still go to the city, county, and school district. The "increment" in revenue generated by the development, that additional $28,150, goes toward paying off the loan the city took out to get the development started. After the loan is fully paid off, the total tax value then starts going to the regular taxing entities.

Now Schaefer could still get stuck with the bill. The TID has a maximum of 15 years to pay off the debt (see SDCL 11-9-25). If Schaefer's development doesn't take off -- if there are delays or people say, "A cul-de-sac? Why would I live in a cul-de-sac?" and don't buy -- and the TID does not produce a sufficient increment in the property tax revenue to pay off the loan in 15 years, Schaefer has to cover the difference.

We should note that this residential development exists at the edge of the legally acceptable uses of TIDs. SDCL 11-9-42 declares, "Tax increments not to be used for residential development. No tax increments shall be used for the construction of residential structures." TIDs are generally used for business development (like the TID Flandreau created to attract the new Alco store). Schaefer's housing development still qualifies for TID status since the actual TID funds are being used for the utility infrastructure, not the dwellings themselves.

There are the nuts and bolts of this TID project. Stay tuned for commentary... after I get some supper!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Teacher Pool Dwindling: More Evidence

Madville Times commenters shouldn't worry about teachers "whining" about low pay. The real trouble comes when the teachers stop whining and look for work elsewhere, leaving the schools unstaffed and the kids untaught (unless everyone plans to homeschool).

Dr. Schaff at SD Politics directs our attention to this Aberdeen American News article on the dwindling candidate pool for teaching positions in the Aberdeen area. This summer Ellendale High School in ND got three applicants for an English position. Webster Superintendent Jim Block sees a 30% decrease in the elementary teaching applicant pool. Block cites even worse numbers at the secondary level:

Although Webster hasn't had a lot of openings lately, they've still been affected, Block said. One of his most recent hires was for a social studies position.

"You used to get 50 applicants," Block said. "I think I had seven. I interviewed the top four. There's not the pool there was before." [Emily Arthur-Richardt, "Wanted: Educators," Aberdeen American News, 2007.11.25].

If you don't think the decline in applicants constitutes a crisis yet, well, bully for you and your low blood pressure. But here's our choice, parents and taxpayers: we can solve the problem before it's a crisis, or we can let our schools go through a few years of having the football coach also teach 100-student sections of algebra and chemistry before taking action. Either way, we need to find the money to make it worth a young graduate's while to enter the profession.

Forget Foreign Oil: Use Pallet Power

While Poet-Broin still has me cranky for co-opting the name of a noble profession to euphemize a big industrial operation, the ethanol company is making a good move toward local energy self-sufficiency. That Sioux Falls paper tells us that the Poet-Broin has struck a deal with Mueller Pallets of Tea to provide waste wood to power its ethanol plant in Chancellor. By next summer, Mueller Pallets will be hauling up to 350 tons of waste wood a day to the Chancellor ethanol plant. Poet-Broin will burn the pallets in a new solid waste fuel boiler that will produce more than half of the plant's power [Jennifer Jungwirth, "Poet Pact with Tea Firm Turns Waste Wood into Asset," that Sioux Falls paper, 2007.11.25].

The pluses to Poet-Broin's pallet power plan:
  1. Poet-Broin burns less fossil fuel to produce ethanol.
  2. Mueller creates a new slice of ethanol profit pie.
  3. Ethanol gets cheaper: Mueller gets the wood for free!
  4. Burning the wood keeps it out of landfills (20% decrease in incoming landfill volume).
  5. A solid waste fuel boiler can burn more than wood: Northwest Missouri State University heats and cools its campus with a boiler that can burn wood chips, campus trash, and even hog and cow manure (now there's a resource South Dakota has plenty of!).
  6. The ethanol industry becomes that much more locally self-sufficient: Iran and Saudi Arabia could shut off the oil spigot, and the folks in Chancellor could keep burning wood and pumping fuel and money into the South Dakota economy.
Now burning wood and other biomass produces a lot of particulate matter, and that can produce more health problems than chemical toxins. Poet-Broin will need good scrubbers on the smokestacks.

Burning pallets for power may lead Poet-Broin to realize it's in the wrong business. JCWinnie at After Gutenberg offers links to studies that show that turning biomass into electricity is "more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally sound" than converting biomass into liquid fuels (e.g., ethanol and biodiesel). As we get moving on plug-in hybrids and other electric cars, as we build our transmission infrastructure for wind power, Poet-Broin may realize that the real return on its investment, in dollars and energy, will lie not in distilling corn into ethanol, but burning corn, corncobs, pallets, poop, and whatever other biomass it can get its hands on to produce electricity. Instead of the slightly Rube-Goldbergian process of burning biomass to make elctricity which then powers the plant that makes ethanol, maybe Poet-Broin will simplify and market the biomass-generated electricity itself as an end-user fuel.

Fight Crime: Pass State Income Tax

Here's another reason to create a South Dakota state income tax: without one, we draw the criminal element. Keith Dean Johnson and his wife Shirley Mae Johnson are charged with evading Minnesota state income taxes on over a million dollars in income from 2001 to 2006. They claimed Brandon, SD, as their residence, even though records show they've lived in Shoreview, MN, since 1992 [staff reports, "Police: Couple Said S.D. Was home to Avoid Paying Taxes," that smutty Sioux Falls paper, 2007.11.24].

As far as we know, the Johnsons may never even have set foot in our fair state. Nonetheless, the 2008 Legislature should pass a state income tax to stop tax-dodging felons from sullying our state's good name... not to mention to replace the regressive and unfair sales tax, property tax, and video lottery.

Fight crime and reform the tax system -- it's a two-for-one deal!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Madison Loves Books and Politics!

Madison native son Jon Lauck informs the Madville Times that his book signing at Books and More was a smash hit. Lauck enjoyed a total sell-out: all 30 copies of Daschle v. Thune gone in an hour! Lauck not only knows his politics but also marketing, catching the Christmas consumer wave. With sales like that filling a war chest, we expect an announcement from Lauck that he'll be joining the race for US House any day now. ;-)

Seriously, the Madville Times congratulates Lauck on a successful signing, thanks him for kicking in a few bucks in city sales tax, and expresses great pleasure to see at least thirty Madison shoppers sticking around town instead of going to the mall today!

Buy Less, Give More

While shoppers crowded the malls (and they always do, so why is it news?), Prairie Roots and I strolled about downtown Lincoln, Nebraska. We bought a couple burritos, sat at Starbucks knitting (Prairie Roots) and doing homework (me), and bought some scarves and necklaces for Madville Times Jr. to play with.

Then we went to a movie: What Would Jesus Buy? This documentary, produced by Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame, follows the "Reverend" Billy Talen and his Church of Stop Shopping Choir around America during the 2006 Christmas shopping season. Their mission (an important word!): to save Christmas by exposing the mindless, destructive consumerism that corporations and the media foists upon us and our children for their own profit.

Reverend Billy's tactics are funny, if a bit hokey. His exorcisms of credit cards and lapses into speaking in tongues are as much a send-up of the excesses of fundagelical preachers as the excesses of our Christmas shopping mania. The Reverend Billy himself questions the value of his exploits after a protest outside Wal-Mart headquarters that garners little positive attention.

Yet as we gaze in puzzlement and disgust at the bags and boxes of cheap junk from China that we accumulated yesterday, as we get ready for a second day of turning 41st and Louise into the tenth circle of Dante's Inferno, we can perhaps see that the Church of Stop Shopping's performance art has a point. Think about how much time and effort you put into shopping yesterday. Compare that with the time and effort you spent actually playing with your kids, chatting with your spouse, and helping your neighbors. As you searched for the perfect gift, how often did you look on your fellow citizen and think happy Christmas thoughts, and how often did you think, "Don't you take my parking spot!"

As each of us prepares to spend an average of $859 on Christmas gifts, imagine what would happen if we acted on Reverend Billy' message to "buy less and give more." It wouldn't be easy, as shown more than metaphorically by Reverend Billy's own adventures. Throughout the film, whenever the Church of Stop Shopping shows up in public places, malls, and even Disneyland to sing, and whenever the Reverend Billy raises his megaphone to shout "Stop Shopping!" cops and "corporate police" (a most ominous euphemism for private thugs) all too often show up to protect their employers from Constitutionally protected free speech. Our society sends a message that if you're not shopping, you're doing something wrong.

But don't let that stop you from changing your shopping habits. $859 is a lot of money, especially if we multiply that by a few hundred thousand South Dakota shoppers. Suppose we buy only half that much this year. Spend $400 on presents. Save the other $400. Pay down your credit card debt. Put it toward college. Give some to the Banquet, the women's shelter, your local school. $400 from every person in Madison this season would pay for more than half of the new pool.

You decide how to spend your money. But if you think more spending will make Christmas special, think about what one woman in What Would Jesus Buy? says about what her father did for Christmas during the Depression. Fighting back tears, this gentle old lady recalls how her father always made Christmas special by making sure there were apples and oranges, and maybe a pair of boots.

Apples, oranges, maybe a pair of boots. Christmas doesn't have to be any more complicated than that.

Friday, November 23, 2007

TransCanada and KELO Begin Propaganda Blitz

Yes, also posted on KELOLand.com.

KELO has begun running propaganda for land-thieving foreign corporation TransCanada. The non-renewable-energy corporation is paying for ads to tell South Dakotans how wonderful it will be to give up their land rights so Transcanada can pump $40 million worth of tar sands crude across our prairie every day.

This ad campaign comes after KELO paid for a five-day Canada road trip for reporter Ben Dunsmoor and photojournalist Brian Cooper to go be dazzled by the bright lights of Calgary and produce a series of reports, mostly favorable, on TransCanada's operations. (See below for links to all nine reports and judge for yourself whether they contain any pro-oil, pro-corporate bias.) I don't know my ad rates, but I'm curious: just how much of Ben and Brian's excellent adventure will TransCanada's ad revenue pay for?

The TransCanada propaganda offers some pretty thin justification of its South Dakota land grab:

  1. "...good for America, good for South Dakota." Always funny to hear foreign millionaires tell us what's good for our country. I know Canadians, and I know what they think of American hyperpatriotism. The TransCanada marketing people were sitting in their office brainstorming the ad over Tim Horton donuts when someone said, "I know! Put 'good for America' first! Tell 'em it's their patriotic duty, and Americans will do anything for oil."
  2. "Rural counties and schools will receive nearly seven million dollars a year in property tax revenue." Rural, they emphasize, although cities get that money, too. Schools, they mention specifically, although sanitary districts and other governmental entities get their cut. Propagandists (I mean, marketers) choose the words that create the nicest pictures. But does the mere prospect of $7 million a year (actually $6.5 million, say the governor's people) justify violating property rights? If increased tax revenue could justify eminent domain, Lake County would kick my folks and me out of our cheap $100,000 houses and big empty lots on Lake Herman and sell the land to a developer who could subdivide the current Heidelberger estates into a good 8-10 lots that each could hold a $500,000 Lake-Madison style McMansion. (Don't even think it, Ron, Shirlee, Craig, Bert, and Kent.) Oh yeah, and $40 million dollars of $100-a-barrel oil each day is $14.6 billion of revenue a year; $6.5 million is 0.045% of that yearly revenue. Wish I could get a tax rate like that on my property, purchases, and income.
  3. "...over 250,000 rural electric customers will see their co-ops strengthened as they supply around the clock power to pumping stations." Now TransCanada's reaching. Every new business uses electricity, but they don't get to cite increased electricity sales for co-ops as justification for eminent domain. If increased consumption is how we strengthen our co-ops, we could just leave our TVs on all night. And how happy will we be when the pumping stations are using electricity and we hit peak demand during a blizzard? Will East River put load management on the pipeline the way they can on our washers and water heaters to make sure there's enough electricity to keep people's houses warm? Maybe instead of consuming more electricity, we should get excited about producing more, build wind turbines instead of a pipeline, and get electricity we could use and profit from directly.

A bald appeal to patriotism, a 0.045% tax, and a little more electricity consumption? That's the best TransCanada can offer? You need to do better than that to justify stealing land from South Dakotans.

But then again, why believe the Madville Times? This critique of TransCanada's marketing campaign is propaganda itself. Of course, the Madville Times's propaganda comes from a source that doesn't have a marketing department, won't make any money on the pipeline (or on stopping the pipeline), and whose land is safely 20+ mile away from the watershed any leak from the pipeline would contaminate. This propaganda also won't endear the Madville Times to KELO, which deigns to permit this commentary on its hallowed pages.

The Madville Times welcomes your own conclusions, commentary, and propaganda.

Dunsmoor/Cooper KELO series on TransCanada:
11/19/2007 -
Why The Pipeline Route Runs Through SD
11/13/2007 -
Canadian Crude: Owning Land On A Pipeline
11/13/2007 -
Canadian Crude: Experience With Oil
11/13/2007 -
Canadian Crude: Owning Land On A Pipeline
11/13/2007 -
Canadian Crude: TransCanada's Background
11/12/2007 -
Canadian Crude: Impact Felt 1,200 Miles Away
11/12/2007 -
Canadian Crude: Growth Of An Oil Boomtown
11/12/2007 -
Canadian Crude: Impact Felt 1,200 Miles Away
11/12/2007 -
Canadian Crude: A Different Kind Of Oil

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What Washington Was Thankful For

President George Washignton, 1795 [emphasis mine]:

When we review the calamities which afflict so many other nations, the present condition of the United States affords much matter of consolation and satisfaction. Our exemption hitherto from foreign war, an increasing prospect of the continuance of that exception, the great degree of internal tranquillity we have enjoyed, the recent confirmation of that tranquillity by the suppression of an insurrection which so wantonly threatened it, the happy course of our public affairs in general, the unexampled propserity of all classes of our citizens, are circumstances which peculiarly mark our situation with indications of the Divine beneficence toward us.

[reprinted from Opinion Page, "Presidents Proclaim Reasons for Thanksgiving," Lincoln (NE) Journal Star, 2007.11.22, p. 9B.]

Thanksgiving -- Do Your Own Sports Extravaganza

Good holiday morning to you all! On this fine November morning when we Americans persevere through high gas prices and this aburpt turn back to normal November temperatures, many are settling in a Grandma and Grandpa's house (or some other fine refuge of family and food) for a day of turkey, pinochle, and football. The sports-industrial complex offers us not two but three dollops of NFL mayhem today: Packers vs Lions for lunch, Jets vs Cowboys for afternoon tea, and Colts vs. Falcons after supper (as if anyone with be able to stay awake for the end of the third game -- but mythbuster of the day: it's all the carbs, not the turkey's tryptophan!).

Now hey, it's chilly out, we've all been working hard; there's nothing wrong with just taking it easy on the couch and relaxing today. But remember, fun as it is to watch millionaires knock the snot out of each other (I'm referring to NFL football, though I suppose the same is true of the presidential debates), it's even more fun to get in the game yourself. The Madville Times thus humbly encourages you all, gentle readers, to take a little time, in the midst of basting, burping, and bracing for tomorrow's shopping, to put on your cap and mittens, go outside, and do some sports yourselves. Go play some ball with the cousins and the neighbors. Get a gang together and take the bicycles for one more ride around the neighborhood. Go for a run before the turkey hits the table (the Madville Times put in four miles this morning, redeemable for at least a couple extra dollops of mashed potatoes!). After turkey, bundle up and take the family for a walk in the park... and maybe a swing on the monkey bars.

Sports, like most everything else, is more fun when you do it yourself. Work up a sweat, make room for that extra drumstick, and enjoy the games... your own games, with your own healthy arms and legs, and with the people you love.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

NewYankton.info Posts Bernard-Rupiper Claim

But don't take this layperson's opinion: read Mayor Bernard and Councilman Rupiper's legal filing for yourself, courtesy of NewYankton.info, see if it passes your own legal smell test.

Yankton Officials Grasp at Legalisms to Stop Election

Yankton Mayor Curt Bernard and City Councilman Dan Rupiper are asking the First Circuit Court to stop the recall election called against them by 1400 Yankton citizens. They base their legal challenge on SDCL 9-13-30, which lays out the rules for municipal recall elections. SDCL 9-13-30 requires that the recall petition "contain a specific statement of the grounds on which removal is sought." Bernard and Rupiper argue the petition circulated in Yankton fails to meet that criterion.

The rambling and annoyingly anonymous* folks at NewYankton.info provide a scan of the petition text. "Gross partiality, oppression and/or misconduct... forcing the resignation of City Manager Jeff Weldon... conduct resulting in multiple City of Yankton employees resigning or quitting...." The mayor and his friends at NewYankton.info point toward a lengthier recall petition from Hot Springs that goes into much more detail on the reasons for recalling then mayor Carl Oberlitner.**

Bernard and Rupiper justify their court challenge in a media release:

In a media release issued by Bernard and Rupiper Tuesday afternoon, they wrote that "this is not about this one recall. It is about setting precedence. With the new tools of e-mail, blogs and Internet attacks, anyone may be able to just blitz the public hard enough to get the signatures without time for full truth or real grounds.

"If this stands, recalls will be more common and no commissioner will ever feel they can stand for what is right for the whole community against any bullying self-interest group," they wrote. "Commissioners would then just dumb down and stay safely within the herd" [Nathan Johnson, "Bernard, Rupiper Challenge Recall," Yankton Press and Dakotan, 2007.11.21].

Elected officials must be terrified, just terrified of the possibility that new technology might actually empower citizens to challenge authority and exercise their democratic rights. Welcome to the 21st century, Curt and Dan. The only special interest group you have to fear is the general public itself. 1400+ people signed the petitions; a few thousand more need to show up to vote you out. That's not bullying or subverting the will of the people. That's democracy.

As for the claim that the petition is vague, Bernard and Rupiper are grasping at straws. SDCL 9-13-30 doesn't impose a minimum-word count on the petition (this isn't my English classroom); it just says "a specific statement." The petition clearly stems from the commission's firing of the city manager. Good enough. Let Yankton vote.

Hot Springs mayor Oberlitner also resorted to the courts to try blocking his recall. Public officials understandably will do anything they can to protect their reputations (Rupiper himself says he's trying to protect "the credibility of our own names and reputations here" [Johnson 2007.11.21]). The judge rejected Oberlitner's claim, but Oberlitner didn't need to raise a legal ruckus; he survived the recall. Instead of tying up the courts with a thin legal argument, Bernard and Rupiper should simply let their records stand for themselves and make their case in the court of public opinion. They have NewYankton.info to argue their case for them; all those new-fangled Internet tools can work for them just as well as against them.

*A WHOIS search shows the "writers" at NewYankton.info have taken great care to hide their identity. No names, no physical address, even disguised e-mail addresses. Just a P.O. Box in Vancouver, Washington. The only name available on the site is in the e-mail address linked to rsbailey@newyankton.info. Even if rsbailey is a real person, the site speaks as "we." The original New Yankton group that successfully organized the recall put their names to their effort; who else is NewYankton.info? Emotions are high in Yankton, but it's a shame when neighbors can't just talk to each other.

**Puzzlingly, the NewYankton.info folks go to the trouble of whiting out Mayor Oberlitner's name on this public document, though not that of land developer Steve Simunek.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lake County Deputy Resigns

Not much news, certainly not good news, but to follow up, the Lake County Commission today accepted the resignation of Emily Bruns from her position as a Lake County sheriff's deupty. Bruns received her second DUI citation back in October [see Elisa Sand, "Deputy Resigns," Madison Daily Leader, 2007.11.20].

I hesitated to pull the trigger on judgment when the story of Bruns's arrest broke last month. She's still not guilty in the eyes of the law (at least not from what little MDL says about her first court appearance last week), but by resigning... well, I won't reach for explanations tonight. Unless anyone cares to argue otherwise, in handing over her badge, Bruns has acknowledged violating the public trust.

It's a shame to see a career end so early. But you drink too much, you put lives at risk by driving drunk... society can't just let that slide. Partying is fine. A beer or two is fine. But all of us, especially those sworn to protect and defend, have an obligation to stay in control and be mindful of others.

Want the Arts? Keep the College Grads....

Want to boost the arts? See this tasty article from The Daily Yonder (courtesy the voraciously reading and darned good-looking Prairie Roots). Quote of the day:

"The single characteristic most strongly associated with rural arts magnets in 1990 and 2000 was the ability to retain college-educated workers." [Timothy R. Wojan, Dayton M. Lambert, and David A. McGranahan, “The Emergence of Rural Artistic Havens: A First Look,” Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, 36:1, April 2007. Quoted in Julie Ardery, "Country Creatives: When Artists Go Rural," The Daily Yonder, 2007.11.20.]

Boosting the economy and keeping our post-baby-boom population from sinking are reason enough to give our college grads reasons to stay here. But keeping our most highly educated citizens will also enhance our ability to draw artists and arts lovers, who are key to building a truly thriving, attractive community.

Madville Times Gets Personal... on Finance

As my financially wise friend Matt Paulson says, "Finance Is Personal." A snarky commenter questions the personal finances of my wife and me. Usually, I ignore folks who call me "moron." But today, by casting aspersions on me and my wife (no headship here: we decide our finances together), Anonymous wins and gets my goat and a response:

Thanks for the suggestion, neighbor, but I'd rather stay here in South Dakota and fight to be make things better for my friends and neighbors, even you.

If you really want to know what we spend out money on, come on over for a visit. Here's a sample of our spending habits:

  1. Newest car: 2001 Ford Focus, paid for in cash, 113,000 miles, to be driven until it dies.
  2. Other car: 1993 Jeep, fully paid for, 120,000 miles to be driven forever (Jeeps never die)
  3. Per trip savings that motivate me to ride my bike to town (you've seen me!) instead of driving: $2.
  4. Wedding rings: 2 gold bands, $250 each. No diamonds. Ever.
  5. Current debts: $524/month for mortgage, $300/month to pay off $12K medical bill for daughter's delivery and medical expenses
  6. Credit card debt: zero (paid off monthly)
  7. Health insurance: $225/month premium for policy with $7500 family deductible
  8. Utilities: Electricity, land line phone, rural water, Internet service from Sioux Valley ($45/month -- spendy, but no one else provides; used so we can telecommute and try making money with our blogs, online art, etc.). No cable/satellite TV; one Tracfone instead of expensive cell phone plan
  9. House: Built for $100K, 1232 sq ft, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, no garage, unfinished basement (but still heaven!)
  10. Previous house: 480 square foot cabin, do-it-yourself renovation, lived together in for four years to save money for house and graduate school (part of our plan to improve our own incomes by our own wits and work)
  11. Home entertainment equipment (TVs, stereos, etc.) purchased since we got married in 2002: one rummage sale radio/CD player for baby's room.
  12. Number of big concerts, plays, movies, etc. for which we've bought tickets this year: three -- MHS Spring play (good work, Doc!), one movie this summer; Prairie Village Threshing Jamboree.
  13. Amount of alcohol purchased in last 12 months: two bottles of SD wine as gifts, three bottles of cooking wine, two beers while dining out.
  14. Amount spent on tobacco, lottery tickets, casino gambling: zero.
  15. Number of times I bought school lunch at Montrose during the 2006-2007 school year: two (maybe three)
  16. Number of times I brownbagged it in 2006-2007 school year: 175 (approx).
  17. Amount I saved each year by not joining the teacher's union: $468 (this year's SDEA-NEA dues)
I could go on with this little belly-bumping contest, but I will await Anon's posting of a similar budget as proof of her/his fiscal and moral superiority. Actually, I'd prefer a nice face-to-face visit at the kitchen table about issues that really matter. Seriously, Anon. Give me a call (256-4737). Tell me your name. We'll work through our calendars, find a date, and have you over. We might even indulge in some extravagant homemade brownies for our visit.

When you come over, Anon, maybe we can have an honest discussion about the very clear choice my wife and I made to stay in South Dakota and live on a tight budget. We are where we are because we want to be here. We want to live simply. We accept the financial hit of having one parent stay home to raise the child well (oh yeah, and that saves on daycare expenses). \

But we also recognize that not a lot of young graduates with student loans to pay off and desires for maybe slightly larger houses will be able to afford to make the same choices we have. Fewer and fewer grads are willing to make the sacrifices we demand of teachers. As Professor Schaff points out, rather than make those sacrifices, they'll go elsewhere. That might make Anon happy, but it will also leave us with no one to teach our kids. That's why we advocate things like higher teacher pay. It's not for us: it's for the good of the state.

Instead of getting all snippy and calling names, South Dakota is a lot more fun when we treat each other like neighbors. We can talk about just what we spend our pennies on, we can try to label people as "morons" and "whiners" and make them feel unwelcome, or we can actually face each other as fellow citizens and work together to find solutions.

Sorry to Sibby out on you all, but sometimes, some comments are just too unneighborly, too un-South Dakotan, to let stand without a reply. For those of you who'd like to talk who spends how much on what, fire away with your comments. For those of you who want to have honest discussions about real solutions, well, just keep reading, keep writing, and enjoy!

New Ballot Measure Petition Circulating for "Open and Clean Government"

O.K., o.k., don't even start with the wisecracks about oxymorons.

Some civic-minded souls have added a second ballot measure to the list of petitions circulating for next year's election. According to the SD Secretary of State's website, an "Initiated Measure to place a ban on tax-funded lobbying, partisan activity, and government contractor electioneering (South Dakota Open and Clean Government Act)" received Secretary Chris Nelson's stamp of approval yesterday.

My impression had been that the 2007 Legislature had covered this problem in HB 1048, specifically SDCL 10-27-20. Evidently some folks still see potential for misappropriations of public resources and want to add this provision to SDCL 12-27-21:

No public body public officer. person in the employ of the state or any of its political subdivisions, or candidate for public office may, directly or indirectly direct permit, receive require, or facilitate the use of tax revenues or any other public resources for campaign. lobbying, or partisan purposes, including payment of dues or membership fees of any kind to any person, league, or association which directly or indirectly engages in lobbying, campaiqns or partisan activity.

Fair enough. Let's just hope some clever lawyer doesn't define the Internet as a "public resource."

Higher Teacher Pay: Justified by the Market and Morals

also online at KELOLand.com!

The good Professor Schaff does well in offering the following reminder yesterday on SD Politics to those of us who advocate higher teacher pay:

Further, Mr. Heidelberger's quick leap from "more funding for education" to "higher pay for teachers" is suspicious. Let me suggest alternative rhetoric. The purpose of high spending on education is to better that education, not to increase teacher pay. Teacher pay is merely a means to an end. Readers should recall that I am in favor of increased pay for teachers. But Mr. Heidelberger would aid his cause by discussing how increased teacher pay is good for education, rather than speaking of increased pay as an end in itself. Further, Mr. Heidelberger calls for "adequate" pay for teachers. "Adequate" is an ambiguous term open to much interpretation by both friend and foe. Let me suggest that rather than advocating for "adequate pay" we should aim at something more concrete, namely pay that is equitable to our neighboring states. I blogged about that here, and here is a report that gives us more data with comparisons for cost of living (go to page 62 of the pdf, which is page 54 of the document) [Jon Schaff, "'Money Is a Good Soldier, Sir, and Will On,'" South Dakota Politics, 2007.11.19].

Always trust a professor for good rhetorical advice along with good evidence.

Professor Schaff does a good job of making "adequate" more concrete in his own argument deflating the myth that South Dakota's cost of living makes up for our lowest-in-the-nation teacher salaries. He also cites teacher ed undergrads who tell him higher pay options in Sioux Falls or out of state will pull them away from rural South Dakota. "Adequate" pay means enough to outbid Minnesota for teacher candidates. The $34K South Dakota pays each of its teachers doesn't meet that criterion.

But let's not stop there. My own experience (nine years in SD HS classrooms, far from a "quick leap") suggests that "adequate" should mean enough for a college graduate to make a living for himself and his family. Call me greedy, but I would think "adequate" compensation for college education and hard work would provide a young teacher with enough money to cover family health insurance, a modest mortgage (how does $542 per month sound?), groceries and gas. I found $31K a year (remember, young teachers, the ones we need to recruit and retain, earn significantly less than the average) wasn't adequate to those demands, at least not as a long-term financial plan.

Of course, our financial plan is open to one obvious criticism: "You've got a wife -- can't she work?" As Amelia Tyagi notes in this Mother Jones interview,

More and more families today are sending both parents into the workforce -- it's become the norm, it's what we now expect. The overwhelming majority of us do it because we think it will make our families more secure. But that's not how things have worked out. By the end of this decade, one in seven families with children will go bankrupt. Having a child is now the single best predictor of bankruptcy, and this holds true even for families with two incomes [interview by Bradford Plumer, "The Two-Income Trap," Mother Jones, 2004.11.08].

Society increasingly expects both parents to work outside the home for pay (and even that extra income doesn't appear to buying us any extra financial security). Maybe our crazy notion of having just one college-educated parent working full-time while the other stays home to raise the child properly is just a foolish artifact of a naïve, irretrievable age. But I might humbly suggest that "adequate" should also mean enough to facilitate a family-values lifestyle choice. The $34K South Dakota pays each of its teachers doesn't meet that criterion.

Dr. Schaff mentions that a good argument for teacher pay should demonstrate "how increased teacher pay is good for education, rather than speaking of increased pay as an end in itself." Perhaps our legislators will only be convinced by such practical arguments, but I humbly suggest we would do well to put deontology over utilitarianism. (Wow -- there are our five-dollar words of the day!) Do we not have a duty to recognize the inherent worth of something? If our teachers are providing the best education in the country, do we not have an obligation to pay them the best wages in the country?

I'm certainly curious about what research might say about the connection between teacher pay and performance, whatever way we might quantify bang for the ed buck. But even if someone could present evidence that our teachers would bust their chops just as hard (and no harder! they'd explode!) for $40K or $50K as they do now for $34K, the moral obligation to pay people what they are worth would remain.

I know talk of "duty" and "moral obligation" isn't very concrete, and I know that folks who believe in market über alles will say the market determines worth. If the market has the final word, then South Dakota's wages suggest that deep down, maybe we don't value education as much as we like to say we do. But maybe the South Dakota market needs a little information not just from Minnesota but also from our morals. It's called putting out money where our mouth is.

"Adequate" teacher pay? I'm still not sure what it is... but the market and morality tell me the status quo isn't it.

Dead-End District: Madison Approves Tax Increment District for Cul-de-Sac

The City Commission approved at last night's meeting the creation of a tax increment district to fund a housing development in the southeast part of town. The agenda packet shows a map of the affected area (p. 64). Basically, it's a stretch of mostly undeveloped land out back of the Schaefer Plaza on Washington Avenue, angling east to include a lot on Grant Avenue.

The development plan (agenda packet, page 65) appears to propose creating a cul-de-sac. That's a French euphemism for dead end street. Today's urban planning note: cul-de-sacs are bad design, cutting off neighborhoods and making it hard to get around. That's why Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Portland, Oregon; and Northfield, Minnesota have pretty much banned them. Maybe developer Randy Schaefer can take a look at this New York Times article [Carla Baranauckas, "Why Some Towns Place Roadblocks on Cul-de-Sacs," New York Times, 2006.08.27] and consider some modifications to the building plan.

More to come on the principle of Tax Increment Districts to fund a private development for middle-income housing ($110K-$150K, reports one source)... but first, I've got to read up on TIDs and figure out just how they work!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hospitals and Non-Profit Status: Dr. Myers Uncut

Dakota Today does some legwork and gets full commentary from USD law professor Michael Myers on whether our big corporate hospitals still deserve their tax-exempt non-profit status. As his comments make clear, the discussion is not about whether helping the universities and other causes is right; the question is whether our health care dollars are being used most efficiently if Avera and Sanford have millions left over for charitable giving.

Hmm... when the talk finally returns to the Zaniya Project proposals, will any of our legislators look for cost savings in this area? How much tax revenue could we get from taxing the profits of the big corporate hospitals? Or, in the other direction, how much could Avera and Sanford lower costs if they didn't bankroll enough to make large donations in the first place?

But consider the other side: If these hospitals couldn't make these large donations, might the cause of research and recruitment into health-related professions be harmed? Oof -- I had class tonight, so my brain's too tired to even attempt that actuarial assessment. Better minds are invited to offer their best guesses!

This isn't the most black-and-white issue... all the more reason to read Dr. Myers's comments, then glance at your last health insurance premium and see what you think.

Donations from Hospitals: Awfully Generous of Us

***Update and Correction: When I ran this article over breakfast, I was working from the brief article posted at KJAM. An alert reader brought to my attention the fact that the exact text of the article ran first on WNAX.com and included audio from Professor Myers explaining his positions. KJAM offered no attribution on its article indicating WNAX or the press wire services as the source. I apologize for the misattribution. The text below has been revised to reflect WNAX as the source. [CAH, 2007.11.19 11:13]

WNAX pokes a stick in the eyes of our generous and philanthropic health care providers this morning. According to WNAX, USD law professor Mike Myers says donations like Avera Health's $15-million gift to SDSU to renovate Shepard Hall "raise some questions" ["Health System Donations," WNAXRadio.com, 2007.11.19].

...[I]s it appropriate for tax-exempt hospital charities to give basically patient money to the government? ...[I]s it not really an indirect tax on patients? [Myers, audio clip]

With winter coming, let's hope Professor Myers doesn't slip on the ice and end up in the emergency room with a broken leg. Who knows what extra patient tax the Avera folks might slip into his bill!

Seriously, Prof. Myers raises a good point. All those donations are really coming from us, the working folks paying ever higher insurance premiums and hospital bills that seem to be bankrolling a lot more than bandages, crash carts, and nurses' salaries. We may think that these big corporate health donations ease the burden on taxpayers and tuition-payers, but really the costs are just being shifted. When taxes pay for fixing a building at SDSU, the cost falls on taxpayers in general, with maybe a little extra coming from the users of the building, the students who pay tuition and fees. When the health care industry pays for it, the costs still come from the general public, in the form of our health insurance premiums, with a disproportionate amount coming from people who get sick. (Ah, but that fits right in with our sales tax, our video lottery, our property tax, all the ways our state likes to put a greater tax burden on low-income folks.)

Professor Myers suggests that the legislature should "debate the continued non profit status of the large health care systems" [WNAX]. Looking in the mouth of that gift horse may not be terribly polite or wise... but if the money's coming out of our pockets either way, maybe the legislature should consider that money flow. If SDSU needs $15 million to fix Shepard Hall (actually, it needs $48M for the renovation of Shepard and the construction of a new health sciences facility), what's the better way to get that money:
  1. take the money out of our pockets as taxes and tuition and hand it straight to SDSU, or
  2. take the money out of our pockets as insurance premiums, give the insurer a cut, transfer the money to billing at Avera, watch them make three billing errors that require months to fix (oh, sorry -- that's how Sioux Valley/Sanford worked for us), give the hospital executive directors their cut, then hand the money to SDSU at a big ceremony that promotes the Avera brand?
Remember, this writer is a proud SDSU grad who is thrilled that old Shepard will finally get fixed. WNAX and Prof. Myers raise a valid question: are private donations from big hospitals the most efficient way to fund our public institutions?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fighting Eminent Domain? Call Thune! He'll Help!

South Dakota landowners who have been slapped with condemnation notices by land-grabbing foreign oil corporation TransCanada should enlist Senator John Thune in their battle to protect their property rights. Back in 2005, following the controversial 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London, Thune issued a statement passionately defending property rights against eminent domain:

In the past, private land could be taken only for an important public use. As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, land can now be seized for “economic development.” Many Americans are concerned that local, state, and federal governments could now seize valuable private property and disregard the rights of homeowners. The Constitution states that “private property” shall not be “taken for public use without just compensation.” Nowhere does the Constitution say that private property can be taken “for private economic development"...

This issue is especially important for South Dakotans. Protection of small businesses and property is essential to a state such as ours, which supports thousands of small-scale enterprises. Private land ownership is also critical for our farmers and ranchers, whose basic livelihood is at risk if their property rights are not protected. [Senator John Thune, "My Land Is NOT Your Land," 2007.07.25]

Our elected officials remain disturbingly silent on TransCanada's efforts to steal our land for its own profit. Given Senator Thune's opposition to the Kelo decision, I hope the good senator will help defend the rights of South Dakotans against a similar violation of property rights.

dikestra luvs amerika

I should have caught this one sooner (I guess I need to be a better Dem and read Badlands Blue more often). Lowell Feld brings us this gem from a Joel Dykstra fundraising letter. As Lowell says, it's not earth-shattering, but boy, coming from the same crowd that wants to amend the Constitution to protect the republic from flag desecration, Dykstra should view misspelling the republic's glorious name as similar high blasphemy.

Giuliani and Robertson: With Friends Like These...

This quiet Sunday, I'm reminded by PBS of the Reverend Pat Robertson's message to the city of Dover, Pennsylvania, two years ago when that community replaced eight school board members who favored teaching intelligent design in public school science classrooms with citizens who respect the separation of church and state:

"If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected him from your city," Robertson said. "And don't wonder why he hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for his help because he might not be there." [reported by Christina Kauffman, "Robertson: 'Don't Turn to God,'" The York Dispatch, York, PA, 2005.11.11]

I don't even need to check with my resident theologian Prairie Roots to know there is something deeply, deeply unProtestant, unScriptural, and unChristian in that statement.

And Giuliani thinks it's a good thing to win Robertson's support? Yeesh. I might take Huckabee's Christianity over that of Giuliani's new pal:

Real faith makes us humble and mindful, not of the faults of others, but of our own. It makes us less judgmental, as we see others with the same frailties we have. Faith gives us strength in the face of injustice and motivates us to do our best for "the least of us." ["Faith and Politics," Mike Huckabee for President website, downloaded 2007.11.18]

The Kucinich banner is staying right where it is*. But if I had to pick a Republican, I'd have to lean toward one who understands that Christian living, like politics, is about being inclusive, not exclusive.

*With Badlands Blue continuing to work for the Clinton campaign, some SD Dem has to provide equal time for the smartest candidate in the race.

TransCanada, Pipeline Leaks, and Chernobyl


DNV estimated the chance of a leak from the Keystone Pipeline to be no more than once every seven to 11 years over the ENTIRE length of the pipeline in the U.S., depending on product and throughput. Using the most frequent seven year interval, this equates to a spill no more than once every 41 years at any location along the 220 miles of pipeline in South Dakota. [Heidi Tillquist, environmental consultant, PUC testimony, 2007.09.21, p. 5.]


The odds of a meltdown are one in 10,000 years. [Vitali Skylarov, Minister of Power and Electrification in the Ukraine, two months before the Chernobyl accident.

The Vision Thing: Seeing What We Can Be...

...and What We Can Afford to Be

Terry Woster tells us this morning about some early reactions from our legislators to the Board of Regents proposal for spending $75 million to build and upgrade research labs on all public campuses (that includes the Sioux Falls University Center, which is a center, not a university, really, honest, no fooling, the Regents promise).

As Woster aptly puts it, "$75 million is going to be a conversation stopper -- and starter" [Terry Woster, "Lawmakers Question Need, Cost," that Sioux Falls paper, 2007.11.18]. In the category of conversation he might hacve wished he'd stopped before it started, my fellow Democrat Senator Ryan Maher from Isabel offers the following less-than-visionary assessment:

"I just don't think we're a research state," he said. "They're making a huge push on research. I don't think I'm buying into it" [Woster].

With all due respect to the good senator, it doesn't look good when a South Dakota Democrat sounds like he's further behind on the learning curve than a South Dakota Republican:

This time, the state itself is being asked to pay off the loan. The argument is that all of South Dakota will benefit, and for decades to come.That resonates with Sen. Ed Olson, R-Mitchell.

"My belief is this is the time, and we absolutely must make a state investment in all of education, from pre-K to K-12 to higher education and on into research," Olson said. "The investment pays off so many ways. There are so many degrees that are custom-made for industry. The goal has to be to sell this now" [Woster].

Political leadership is not about where we are, but where we want to be. That's the vision thing. Imagine if Janklow and the Legislature had looked at Citibank in 1980 and said, "I just don't think we're a financial services state." (Reminder: banking is now South Dakota's largest industry.)

But let's Senator Maher some slack. Maybe he's still picking his jaw up off the floor in the face of the 75-million-dollar price tag. According to Woster, the Rounds Administration has already directed a quarter of the total growth in state spending "and two-thirds of the increase in authorized employee positions" toward higher education. This request probably has some other public entities wondering when they get their cut of this pie. As Senator Gil Koetzle (D-Sioux Falls) says, "Don't you just bet K-12 would jump at the chance for $70 million?" [Woster]

There's where things get hairy. If the Regents want their $75 million, or even a fraction of that, they may have to share, or even offer something in return. The long-term benefits of increased research, increased infusions of research grant money, and increased recruitment of high-skill knowledge workers and high-tech industries may not be enough for legislators who live in the here and now of balancing an election-year budget.

$75 million isn't going to materialize out of nowhere and leave the rest of the budget untouched. And even if it did, there are a lot of other priorities that would compete for those dollars. Handed $75 million, even yours truly -- a DSU doctoral candidate, graduate assistant, and thus employee of the Board of Regents -- might have to recognize that paying K-12 teachers what they are worth is a higher priority than upgrading the Habeger Science Center. Even if we took this whole as-yet imaginary $75 million and poured it all into teacher salaries, South Dakota's average teacher pay would still be $3,300 below the national average (and that's including the cost of living adjustment).*

And if we don't have $75 million in new revenue coming in (50-cent-per-barrel tax on the Keystone pipeline?), then we'll need to make some cuts. And legislators are already pointing at one possible area that would hit the Regents where it hurts: the number of campuses:

Sen. Gil Koetzle, D-Sioux Falls, will be a hard sell.

"That guy can spend more money than a kid in a candy store," Koetzle said of Perry. "How about instead of trying to spend, we try to save? If we want to have all these research facilities, maybe we should think about not offering college courses in seven different locations. I'm serious. I don't know how we'd do it, but do we need more labs at every campus?" [Woster]
Yeesh. The debate on the Regents' proposal may get ugly fast.

The Madville Times loves research. World-class scientific research can drive our economy and even our population growth, as good labs and good faculty can draw a whole sector of workers and businesses that South Dakota hasn't previously placed at the center of its development strategy. Vision in this area demands seeing not just the cost of action, but the cost of inaction (see Dr. Kurtenbach, bottom of post).

But we also have to be realistic: can the vision of what research can do for South Dakota justify a serious investment, maybe even some debt at this point? What are we willing to spend to realize this vision, and what, if necessary, are we willing to sacrifice?

I don't have the answer this morning, but expect some really big conversations right through the 2008 session.

(At least one thing is clear: With big questions like this before the Legislature, we definitely don't have time to monkey around with an abortion ban.)

*This morning's back-of-the-envelope math:
  1. $75M/approx 10K teachers = $7,500 per teacher.
  2. Average SD teacher salary: $34,040 (2004-05)
  3. Average US teacher salary: $47,674 (2004-05 -- comparing apples to apples)
  4. Average SD teacher salary post-plan: $41,540.
  5. Amount still below national average: $6,134
  6. SD cost of living index: 93.7% of national average (Q2 2007 -- yes, now we're doing apples and oranges)
  7. Average COLAdjusted SD teacher salary post plan = $41,540/0.937 = $44,333
  8. Amount still below national average even after factoring in South Dakota's 35th in the nation Cost of Living: $3,341