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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Madville Times Voters Guide: The Amendments!

Jon Hunter beats me to the punch, posting his recommendations on the constitutional amendments on our ballot before I do. Nuts!

One little quirk before we get to business: the Madison Daily Leader publisher writes that there are three constitutional amendments on the November 4 ballot.

What? I flip through my voters guide: Amendments G, H, I, J: that's four! Ah, Jon Hunter must be using Firefox: I discovered a glitch the other day on the Secretary of State's website that causes a Amendments I and J (as well as IM9) not to display. This glitch only happens in Firefox, not IE. (Don't worry—Chris Nelson's people are working on it!)

But anyway, our man Hunter weighs in on Amendments G and H, characterizing them as "housekeeping" amendments that we should pass.

On Amendment G, the measure to increase the mileage reimbursement for legislators, Hunter and I agree. A quirk of our Constitution limits the reimbursement for a legislator's trip out to Pierre at the beginning of the session and a legislator's trip home at the end to five cents a mile. Legislators get the state rate (32 cents per mile, says Hunter) for every other trip. We're not talking a massive expenditure here: 105 legislators × $0.28 more per mile × 400 miles (one trip out, one trip back) = $11,340 a year. Heck, we could fund that by cutting the Governor's press secretary's pay 10%.

Legislators are state employees; they deserve a fair rate of reimbursement for all of their travel expenses, just like every other state employee. Vote yes on G.

Hunter and I disagree on Amendment H (and thank goodness—what fun would it be if we agreed on everything?). Where Hunter sees housekeeping, I see more power for corporations. Perhaps some business types can better explain to me the practical ramifications of South Dakota's apparently old-fashioned and more restrictive rules on corporations, but in my ignorance, I'm adhering to principle (have fun with that one, commenters!). Corporations have too much power already. We recognize them as persons, for Pete's sake! Amendment H would limit shareholder power and make it easier for corporations to incur debt (mortgage meltdown, anyone?). Vote No on H.

Hunter does not address Amendments I or J in yesterday's editorial. Amendment I gives the Legislature the option to extend even-year sessions from the current 35 days to 40 days, the same length as odd-year sessions. I can sympathize with Senator Jerry Apa's argument on the ballot question pamphlet that a longer session just gives legislators more time to procrastinate. (I can also laugh at Apa's argument that a longer session means cities, counties, and schools will have to pay lobbyists overtime to stay in Pierre another week "defending these groups from proposed legislation"...an amusing reflection of Apa's apparent view that legislation is always a monster coming to gobble us up.) Still, Mitch Fargen has told me that one problem in the even-year sessions is that revenue estimates don't come out until later in February, leaving legislators scrambling to craft a working budget. Five more days isn't much, but in the crucible of late February, it could do a lot of good. And the legislation doesn't mandate 40 days; it simply gives the legislators the option if they feel they need it. I'm a choice guy, so that helps me lean just slightly in favor of the proposal. Neither I nor the Republic will be crushed if Amendment I fails, but I'll mark Yes on I.

Finally, Amendment J: repealing term limits. This one's easy: you betcha! We've got term limits: they're called elections. If you like your legislator, keep her (or him). If your legislator is a meathead, you get a chance to oust her every two years. Again, as a choice guy, I'm all about this one. Don't just vote yes—vote Heck Yes! on Amendment J.

Coming up, the Madville Times Voters Guide gets personal and recommends candidates... stay tuned!

Update 2008.10.29 17:25: Our man Hunter comes out against Amendment I. Still waiting for Amendment J....

Update 2008.10.31 06:55: There it is! Hunter editorializes in favor of Amendment J. Hunter confuses the State Legislature with the U.S. Senate, saying that "one-third of the legislature could change in a single election," when in fact the entire Legislature could change in one year (consider District 8 itself: we will have new people in all three of our seats). But Hunter gets the big point: "The South Dakota legislature has plenty of turnover even without term limits, and we lose valuable experience when we force out legislators unnecessarily." Let the voters rule: Vote Yes on J!


  1. "Coming up, the Madville Times Voters Guide gets personal and recommends candidates... stay tuned!"

    How long do we have to wait? I'm anxious....

  2. I voted against the mileage reimbursement thing on principle because it leads one to think that the legislators only get paid 5 cents per mile for all their trips, says nothing about their higher pay for the other trips, and is therefore misleading.

    When I called to Pierre and asked about this, I was told they don't get paid for their other trips, only one trip out and one trip back, the others on on their own dime, which I guess is not true, so even the people in Pierre don't know what's going on.

    I voted against longer sessions too. They don't seem to get much done the first part of the session anyway, it's all left to the last few days, so why give them longer to do nothing?!

    And I voted to keep term limits. Actually I wish they would lengthen the term limits to maybe four terms, but no musical chairs back and forth between Senate and House. They would have to sit out at least one term between running for the other (House or Senate) when they were term limited out. In essence now we don't have term limits, they just keep switching back and forth.

  3. If the only reason to vote for an extended legislative session is so legislators can get accurate predictions on revenues, then start the shorter session a week later. The extension of five days, is a pretty significant expense to incurr -- if I recall it's $115,000. Maybe not a significant expense for the state budget but it's equal to the salary of probably a couple people.

    And, as for term limits -- why should voters approve removing term limits JUST for the legislators. Term limits were put in place for legislators and other state elected officials, but this only removes term limits for the legislators. If we're going to be asked to get rid of them, why aren't they asking to get rid of all of them? Seems to me some legislators want term limits removed that the people originally put in place. They should be thankful South Dakotas term limits aren't like some states where legislators serve X years and they are done ... for life.

  4. Elisa -- you're right, starting later would address that revenue info issue just as well as running longer. Unfortunately, that might take a different constitutional amendment, as SD Const. 3-7 specifies the second Tuesday of January as the start date. Then again, maybe not: The Legislature could start on that second Tuesday, work for 20 days, then come home for a week or two of crackerbarrels, then go back to finish the job. The Constitution doesn't appear to prohibit that... does it?

  5. Oh, and term limits -- sure, get rid of 'em all. If folks want a third term of Governor Rounds, they should have that option.

  6. Term limits are necessary, I wish they were applied to all levels including the Federal level.

    Too often our politicians become career politicians and become out of touch with the average person.

    It is extremely difficult to beat an incumbent that knows how to work the system, term limits give others a fair chance of representing the people.

    I still hold dear to "government of the people, by the people." - Lincoln
    Not government by career politicians for the lobbyist.


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