SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Both main-party gubernatorial candidates were in Sioux Falls Wednesday and both were focused on South Dakota’s food sales tax.

The day started with Jamie Smith, the Sioux Falls lawmaker and Democratic candidate, joining eight Republican lawmakers in calling for a special legislative session to be held before the Nov. 8 election to repeal the food sales tax.

Less than an hour after Smith met with reporters, Gov. Kristi Noem, the Republican incumbent, was at the Sunshine Foods in downtown Sioux Falls to talk with shoppers about high food prices. 

Tony Mangan, the spokesman for Noem’s governor’s office, told KELOLAND News the stop at Sunshine Foods was not a campaign event and said Noem has talked a lot about food prices. 

“Governor Noem suddenly reversed her opposition to repealing the state grocery tax,” Smith told reporters from his campaign office. “It’s an unethical tax for hardworking families because they all need food. Families in our state don’t have time for politics and flip flopping. They need relief.” 

Noem was first asked if she would call for a special session to cut food taxes on groceries. 

“I’m not convinced that we have enough votes to pass it right now,” Noem told reporters at Sunshine Foods. “I don’t want to put us in a situation where this bill fails. It’s too important for us to get relief to the families of South Dakota and I want to make sure the legislators are well educated so that they do vote for this.” 

Noem noted both the House and Senate would need a two-thirds majority to pass legislation that would cut or repeal taxes before legislative session. In the full Senate, that would be 24 of 35 and in the full House it would be 47 of 70. 

The state Constitution is silent on a repeal of a tax. The state Constitution does require a two-thirds majority of the Legislature, or an initiative by voters, to impose a new tax or increase an existing tax.

In the repeal of the bingo tax this past session, the House and Senate journals refer to the repeal having only “majority” support.

“I’m not convinced we have that support right now,” Noem said, adding she believes there will be enough support in a few more months when the new session starts. “Our businesses have expanded. We’ve recruited more businesses. The growth in incomes, as well, means there’s more money out there and continuing into the future, we have the ability to return this money back to the taxpayers and we should.” 

Smith said he was unsure about how many lawmakers would support repealing the food sales tax right now.

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Tracey Quint has told KELOLAND News she wants to see taxes as low as they can possibly be while still supporting members of South Dakota society.

Smith said the time to provide relief through the tax cuts is now. He said people are being told to “trust the government” and wait another year. 

“We shouldn’t waste any more time hoarding government surpluses. Instead, let’s return the money to the people of South Dakota,” Smith said. “Call a special session so we can provide immediate relief for South Dakotans hurting under the current record inflation.” 

Smith said he was unsure what the specific language of a food sales tax repeal bill would be, but said it would be similar to last year’s Senate Bill 117. Smith said he spoke with Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch (R-Glenham) but said Gov. Noem holds power to call a special session immediately rather than lawmakers gathering enough signatures to hold one.

“We should bring relief to families as soon as possible. There’s no indication that the legislature has the votes to do it,” Noem said. “My opponent Jamie Smith didn’t have the answer to any of those questions. He didn’t know if he had support. He didn’t know even what this would look like. A leader would have known all those answers before they call the press conference.”

Early voting is already underway in South Dakota. Voter registration ends Monday, Oct. 24 and Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Look for more from both candidates on this topic in this story later in the day.