Tuesday update: The Senate rejected the repeal 22-9 and didn’t appoint a conference committee, killing it.

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Democrats in South Dakota’s Legislature have found some Republican allies in their decades-long push to remove the state sales tax from food.

The state House voted 47-22 Monday to lift the 4.5% tax on food purchases. The legislation now heads back to the Senate, where a Democrat proposal was rejected earlier this year.

Representative Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, said the repeal would be an $82 million savings. “The money is there. We can do this,” he said. “It is prudent. It is responsible.”

It wouldn’t affect the optional 2% municipal sales tax that Hansen said could still be levied.

Representative Scott Odenbach, R-Spearfish, was one of the many Republicans who spoke for removing the state tax. “If not now, when? If not us, who?” he asked.

“I hope we can all unite and do something tangible for our constituents,” Representative Bethany Soye, R-Sioux Falls, said.

House Democrat leader Jamie Smith of Sioux Falls said his caucus has sought the repeal for all six years he’s served in the Legislature. Smith said taxing food was the most regressive form of sales tax and removing it would put money back in everyone’s pockets.

The no votes came from Republicans who warned that South Dakota’s economy, pumped up by billions of COVID-19 federal aid, wasn’t as strong as it now seems. “I don’t know if this is sustainable,” Representative Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, said.

Representative Nancy York, R-Watertown, was cautious too. “We don’t know about the other years,” she said.

Representative Chris Karr, R-Sioux Falls, however, said growth looks solid for years to come. The House Appropriations chairman pointed to the latest month’s 12.3% growth in state sales-tax revenue and said contractor-excise tax also was coming in higher than expected.

“These things are going to continue to do well,” Karr said.

There have been bills to repeal or reduce the state sales-tax on food dating back to the 1990s. The question also was on the 2004 statewide ballot, when it was rejected 255,855-123,210. 

Senator Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, sponsored the repeal this year that the Senate committee killed. He tweeted Monday night, “This amended bill will of course need to go to a conference committee. I think this is the first time a food tax cut bill has made it out of either chamber. But I’ve only been following this since I testified on a similar bill in 2004.”