SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — David Owen of Sioux Falls and Jim Holbeck of Renner are suing the South Dakota Secretary of State, and the Minnehaha County Auditor. The reason behind their suit: Amendment C, a ballot initiative that, simply put, seeks to increase the voting thresholds for the approval of tax increases and appropriations to 60% each.
Owen and Holbeck believe this amendment violates the single-subject rule of the state constitution, as taxes and appropriations are two separate subjects. KELOLAND News spoke to Owen Wednesday afternoon, who described the lawsuit in his own words.
“This lawsuit stems from the Supreme Court ruling on Amendment A, which ruled that that was unconstitutional because it contained more than one subject,” said Owen. “Both our original constitution and an amendment passed in 2018 say that ballot measures have to have a single subject voted on separately.”
Owen says that he and Holbeck think that the ruling by the Supreme Court, that measures must contain a single subject, needs further clarification to understand exactly what “single subject” means. “Amendment C provided a perfect opportunity to take the next step,” said Owen.
“Taxes are in one part of the constitution — appropriations are in another,” explained Owen, outlining the reasoning with which the suit was brought forward.
“You could like the idea that the ballot measures that propose taxes should be 60% [voter approval needed], but not like the idea that programs that require more appropriation than $10 million should need 60%,” said Owen. “Amendment C doesn’t give you that opportunity.”
While taxes and appropriations will likely affect the lives of every South Dakotan in some way, Owen acknowledges that this isn’t the most glamorous topic, especially when compared to Amendment A before it, which dealt with marijuana legalization. Despite this, the two have a lot in common according to Owen.
“I think marijuana is just inherently more interesting than the esoteric nature of tax increases and spending,” he quipped, “but — the Amendment A ruling perfectly set the stage for what we have filed with Amendment C.”
Owen says the Amendment C lawsuit is the logical next step following the court’s invalidation of Amendment A.
In the interview, Owen revealed what appear to be duel goals within the lawsuit; to have Amendment C removed from the ballot, and to have the parameters of the single subject rule further clarified.
In addressing this duality, Owen wanted to make one thing very clear. “We’ve not expressed any comments about support or opposition to either of the ideas of Amendment C,” he said. “I think Amendment C creates all kinds of challenges, but the lawsuit itself and our criticism of Amendment C isn’t based on how either one of us feels about either one of the subjects. We’re just looking at this and coming to the conclusion that it is two subjects — that the constitution doesn’t allow that — the courts have had one clear ruling on that. This gives us an opportunity to ask the courts to further clarify what this means.”
Ultimately, Owen and Hansen aren’t looking to prevent people from voting on the measures themselves, they simply want them placed on the ballot as two separate subjects, rather than one, allowing people to vote yes or no on each individually.
KELOLAND News also reached out via email to South Dakota Rep. Jon Hansen (R), the primary sponsor of the resolution that created Amendment C. He has not responded.
Owen says the timing of the lawsuit is rather tight. “The primary election is in June, but the Secretary of State has to print those ballots sometime in April.” Due to this, he sees two potential options for how this suit progresses. “It will either prohibit C from being on the ballot or perhaps as in the case of Amendment A, be declared unconstitutional if it comes after the election.”
If the matter is resolved prior to April, Owen says the measures could still appear on the ballot as separate issues, allowing voters to decide on them this year. “That would be an acceptable conclusion,” he said. “We’re just asking as voters that we have a chance to vote on a 60% threshold for tax increases distinct and separate from the idea of a 60% vote for programs that appropriate more than $10 million.”