SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — What is Amendment C?
That simple question brings in vastly different answers according to proponents and opponents of the constitutional amendment that voters will decide in the 2022 primary election set for Tuesday, June 7.
The amendment would change the threshold needed for any future initiated measures or constitutional amendments that impose taxes or fees or obligates more than $10 million. Instead of a simple majority of 51%, it would require a three-fifths vote of 60%.
Rep. Jon Hansen, a Republican lawmaker from Dell Rapids, called Amendment C a “taxpayer protection measure,” while Brendan Johnson, a former U.S. Attorney and member of South Dakotans for Fair Elections, called Amendment C “a power grab.”
Both Hansen and Johnson spoke with KELOLAND’s Bridget Bennett for 10 minutes about why each supports or opposes Amendment C. You can watch the full discussion in the latest Inside KELOLAND.
Johnson, the son of former U.S. Senator Tim Johnson, pointed to the state’s motto “Under God, the people rule.” He said future ballot measures over sports betting or other issues wouldn’t be decided by citizen votes.
“The idea was that you, me, people watching this show that we’re actually the ones that have the power,” Johnson said. “What we do with representatives is we elect them and we lend them their power. It’s our power, not theirs. What Amendment C would do is take that power away from the citizens.”
Hansen, the House Speaker Pro Tempore, said it should be harder to raise taxes and spend money.
Asked specifically about how Amendment C would protect from getting higher taxes, Hansen pointed out lawmakers in the legislature have a higher threshold (2/3rds majority) for any law raising taxes or creating new spending.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how beneficial that has been to taxpayers in keeping taxes low,” Hansen said. “This would be a similar thing when it comes to the ballot measure process.”
Johnson asked when did South Dakota voters impose taxes on themselves.
“The answer is never,” Johnson said. “So what’s really going on here? Why do we all of sudden want to change this and make it 60-percent instead of 50-percent? They’ll say it’s because of taxes and fiscal responsibility. News flash, people in South Dakota are already fiscally responsible.”
Johnson said people in South Dakota don’t need the legislature holding them to a higher standard because the process in place has worked.
Hansen called Amendment C “a filibuster for your wallet” comparing the measure to the procedure rule used in the U.S. Senate to delay a vote on a bill unless 60 of 100 Senators can stop the debate. He said Amendment C would be one type of answer to government spending.
“If higher taxes and bigger government spending were the answer, then Washington D.C. would be the fiscal model for America,” Hansen said. “Clearly, that’s not the case. That’s not working. We’re in trillions of dollars of debt. In South Dakota, I think it’s incumbent upon us to maintain our leadership role as being fiscal responsibility for the rest of the country.”
Johnson said Amendment C is not about taxes, but rather spending. He said any new industry like medical marijuana or sports betting would be decided and handled solely by lawmakers.
“There’s a lot of people that don’t believe we’re smart enough or educated enough to be making these decisions,” Johnson said. “I’ll put our record up against the politicians in Pierre any time. I think the citizens have done just fine up to this point.”
Who decides what would be considered $10 million in spending?
When asked who decides when a ballot measure would reach $10 million in new spending, Hansen said the Legislative Research Council prepares fiscal notes for each ballot measure and that same process could be used.
“If the legislature thought differently, they could pass a law and change that,” Hansen said.
Johnson said Amendment C’s language is not clear enough on that and other questions like when would the $10 million limit decisions be made.
“Is it the Legislature? Is it the Legislative Research Council? Is it the Supreme Court? Is it the Secretary of State? They tell us to just trust them and they’ll figure it out,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about amending the Constitution, you need to have answers to those questions before you bring it to the people of South Dakota.”
Why on the June primary ballot?
Both Hansen and Johnson were asked about why the measure was placed on the June primary when voter turnouts have been historically lower.
Johnson called the decision “crazy.”
“I understand people want to win. But we’re talking about amending the Constitution,” Johnson said. “I think it would be wise to have the biggest turnout we possibly can to make sure people’s voices are heard.”
Johnson said part of his job working with South Dakotans for Fair Elections is to keep people informed on what’s going on. He said regardless if you are a Republican, Democrat or Independent in South Dakota, you usually don’t like politicians taking power away.
“You’re going to hear more from Chambers of Commerce,” Johnson said. “The opposition to Amendment C is bipartisan.”
Hansen said it’s not the first time and won’t likely be the last time a ballot issue is placed on the primary ballot.
“If you look at the economic situation that we find ourselves into today, there’s probably no time like the present,” Hansen said. “If you look at inflation, which looks like it is out of control, costs are rising and you can’t even buy baby formula. That’s going to lead to rising prices as well. The last thing families need at this point is more strain on their budgets through higher taxes and more government spending. I think having it sooner than later is better for the people of South Dakota.”
Asked about low voter turnout associated with the primary election, Hansen encouraged people to vote.
“Perhaps it’ll raise the turnout because more people will have reason to go out and vote,” Hansen said. “I think that’s just fine.”