Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"SD A Leader In Uninsured" My Column In Today's Rapid City Journal

Rapid City sure has a long way to go when it comes to matching up with the rest of the country in health insurance coverage. Fact is, we are downright awful when it comes to
uninsured rates, a fact that I hope works its way into the electoral conversations among the aspirants
for office in West River precincts during the coming weeks.
Yours Truly
Using data from the excellent financial and statistical work put out by Wallethub, you can see that Rapid City — and most likely the surrounding metropolitan statistical area — fares badly (abysmally might be a better word) when it comes to the extent of our uninsured dilemma.
I hope that our legislators will consider the enormity of the problem as they mull expanding Medicaid coverage to a sizable pool of South Dakotans, about 50,000, who fall into a "coverage gap" based on making too much to qualify for conventional Medicaid, but not enough to afford coverage in plans created by the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
We need this coverage if Rapid City is to have a chance at improving on its unfavorable status as a health-insurance desert in a country full of cities that measure up far better than we do.
Wallethub notes that in a country where the overall uninsured rate is 8.6 percent, Rapid City ranks 444th in a pool of 548 American cities at just under 14 percent. And where most of those cities saw their uninsured rates go down, we watched ours increase by a percentage point, placing us in 541st place. Our children's uninsured rate (15 percent) ranks us at 537th. Among small cities, we come in at 198th. As a whole, South Dakota ranks 18th highest with its uninsured rate at 10 percent.
For a state that is constantly scrambling to maintain a labor force that can keep up with any hope of economic growth, so much so that last year Gov. Daugaard dedicated a statewide effort to address and fix the problem, one of the issues seems pretty self-evident to me.
We have a low-wage state where a lot of working people can't make enough to afford health insurance. Given a situation like that, why would we expect younger workers, many of them merging into the labor force at entry-level wages, to remain in or relocate to South Dakota? As acute as the labor shortage is here, you'd think our elected officials would make every effort to bring health insurance opportunities into the state.
Yet, the collective recalcitrance over expanding Medicaid into South Dakota remains. I think the people who are fighting this thing are so consumed by their hatred of everything Obama that they simply will not consider bringing one of his health-care program's opportunities into our state despite its obvious appeal.
For crying out loud, Mike Pence brought Medicaid expansion into Indiana when he was governor. I doubt that there's a more dyed-in-the wool conservative than Pence, who was willing to set aside political obtuseness in favor of fiscal common sense.
Our Gov. Daugaard has had a similar epiphany. I hope a corresponding enlightenment descends on our Legislature at next year's session.
John Tsitrian is a Rapid City businessman and freelance writer. You can read more of his commentary on his To see the study,

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Here's Paula Hawks' Statement On Trump and Kristi Noem. I Hope Noem Responds:

U.S. House candidate Paula Hawks released the following statement regarding Representative Kristi Noem's support for Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.

"We have called upon Representative Noem to disavow Donald Trump several times this campaign. She has refused. Nothing has changed about Donald Trump's behavior. The only thing that's changed
Paula Sounds Off
now are the poll numbers. Frankly, even if Noem were to repudiate Trump, it would show Noem's true colors. It has never been about electing the best nominee to lead the country. Her choice has been dictated by party loyalty above all else. Party loyalty might get you a seat on fancy committees in Washington D.C., but it also risks electing a racist 
misogynistic scumbag who literally endangers the fabric of democracy. This is a question about judgement. For me, it was enough to reject Trump when he called women dogs, when he called women pigs, when he told women they looked better on their knees. Is there really anything different about Trump's recent statements other than the disgusting
What Say You, Kristi?
nature in which he brags about sexually assaulting women? These aren't South Dakota values. As I said earlier this year, excusing Trump's behavior by pointing to something you are against isn't leadership. I'd appreciate hearing what about Secretary Clinton's agenda is more offensive or disappointing than electing a racist to the Presidency of the United States. People can have reasonable disagreements about tax policy. Those disagreements shouldn't be equated with using fame to sexually assault women. I urge Kristi Noem to reject Donald Trump and explain in great detail what she actually supported about Trump in the first place.  We deserve an answer."

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

My Column On South Dakota's Tax Unfairness In Today's Rapid City Journal

Considering all the hoopla over tax policy that has dominated the national political conversation in recent days, I'm surprised that none of that talk has filtered down to the
Yours Truly
South Dakota level yet.
Our primeval tax system, one of the most regressive in the United States, is overdue for some analysis and political discussion. As far as I know, none of the Democrats running for office in this state has made tax reform much — if any — of an issue, probably because they're terrified of having to utter the two most reviled words in South Dakota's political vocabulary: "income tax."
Yet, any discussion about fairness in taxation in this state has to conclude with an unavoidable reality. Our outsized reliance on sales taxes as South Dakota's principal revenue stream needs to go. Eighty one percent of our state's tax revenues come from sales taxes. Compare that to Minnesota's 42 percent, Nebraska's 47 percent and North Dakota's 30 percent.
Structural differences among the states can account for the disparities, but it doesn't change this fact: South Dakota depends on a much larger share of the earnings of lower- and middle-income residents than it does on the money made by those in the higher-income brackets.
The non-partisan, non-profit Institute On Taxation And Economic Policy says that in 2015, South Dakota had the fourth most regressive tax system in the United States. Poor and middle-income residents paid, respectively, 12 percent and 8 percent of their earnings to state and local authorities, while the wealthiest paid less than 2 percent.
The unfairness is self-evident, yet the "official" South Dakota position seems to be that the status quo, meaning no income tax, is one of our state's most compelling assets.
Last spring in his pro forma message to graduating high school seniors, Gov. Daugaard added a pitch to remain in South Dakota, telling them that "without an income tax ... you can keep more of the money you earn," not mentioning that they'd be paying a higher share of their incomes in sales tax than their prospective employers would.
USA Today took note of the fact that no income taxes are irrelevant to South Dakota's status as a place to work last year when it wrote that we're the 8th-worst state in America to make a living, adding that we're the second lowest average-income state in the country.
Looking at it as an employer of many years standing, I haven't seen much enthusiasm for our no-income tax status among people who want to stay or relocate here to make a living. Our state's chronic labor shortage is acute. Using our “income tax” pitch as a siren song for workers is delusional. It hasn't worked.
Meantime, the inequity lingers on. We need to air this situation out, and this election cycle is a great time to do so. I hope challengers will start raising this issue during the next few weeks and use it as a prod against incumbency and the status quo, which has failed to do the job of insuring fairness among our taxpayers.
John Tsitrian is a Rapid City business

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

My Column Opposing The "Marsy's Law" Initiative In South Dakota, Followed By A Response From Jason Glodt, Who Heads Up The Campaign Supporting it.

Voting against Amendment S ("Marsy's Law") on November's ballot isn't a vote against crime victims' rights so much as it is a vote against a giant can of worms. This thing is
Yours Truly
loaded with unintended consequences, so much so that the South Dakota Bar Association unequivocally said "no" to it at its business meeting last June.
Officially called "An Amendment To The SD Constitution To Expand Rights For Crime Victims," the proposal would expand, codify and place those rights into our state Constitution. Identical measures, all of them bankrolled by California software billionaire Harry T. Nicholas, whose sister was murdered in 1983, will appear on Montana and North Dakota ballots this year.
Nicholas has had some success with this endeavor, Marsy's Law having been adopted by voters in California and Illinois. A 19-item list of the rights proposed by the amendment here in S.D. can be viewed by visiting the Secretary of State's website.
In general, the list guarantees that crime victims can be more involved in the criminal-justice process applied to their alleged assailants. On the surface that seems like a good thing to me, but the details make for complications that I don't think we need here in South Dakota.
I've asked Jason Glodt, the Pierre lawyer who heads up the amendment's campaign, to provide me with some specifics on how existing victims' rights protections have fallen short in our state, but I haven't heard back from him as I write this. When he replies, I'll make note in my blog and provide RCJ editors with the information.
Meantime, former S.D. Attorney General Mark Meierhenry has said that "this is truly an idea chasing a problem that we don't have here in our state." Minnehaha State's Attorney Aaron McGowan adds that Marsy's Law would require state's attorneys and victims' advocates to "spend more time with victims of petty crimes" at the expense of "those affected by more serious crimes."
North Dakota attorney Chad Nodland calls attention to one of the potential fiascos created by the law's  requirement that the victim be present (or given the opportunity to be present) at all proceedings involving the accused's disposition after the alleged crime.
Considering that a property crime can be committed while the victim is away, that means the accused has to wait in jail for the victim to be identified, located and physically brought to the proceeding that will release the accused.
Short of specifics, I can't say whether victims' rights in South Dakota need shoring up, but I'm doubtful. The S.D. Bar Association's opposition to this notes that existing statutes already cover victims' rights. Given the phalanx of professionals who oppose this amendment along with my general reluctance to embed our Constitution with a law that has as wide a net as this one, I'm dubious about Marsy's Law and will vote against Amendment S.
Below is a response from Jason Glodt, who heads up the Marsy's Law campaign in South Dakota:
Hello John, every year thousands of South Dakotan crime victims are denied basic victim rights because they are not recognized as “victims” under the legal definition in current codified law.  For example, all victims of vehicular homicide, burglary (2nd and 3rd degree, arson, grand theft, misdemeanor sexual assault, hate crimes and forms of human trafficking are not recognized as “victims” and have no rights under current law other than limited rights to restitution.  These victims won’t even get access to the State’s new Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification (SAVIN) system that would at least give them notification for when hearings are scheduled or when offenders are released from custody.  It is remarkable that our state doesn’t offer this basic service.  We are one of the last five states in the nation if implement such an automated notification system and now that we finally have it coming online, it won’t even be available to most victims of crime. 

A local story you may have heard about is the case of Jaqoine Ramos…who killed his pregnant girlfriend, Debbie Jo Martinez, in front of her kids in Rapid City.  He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole, however, his sentence was commuted by Governor Rounds to life in prison with chance of parole.  Through the entire process, no family members were given notification about appeals or hearings.  The current system failed them at multiple levels.  Even through current statutory law required notification and multiple times, the law was ignored multiple times.  Ramos had several Supreme Court appeals and UJS never notified any of the family members.  When the parole board held a hearing to consider his commutation application, DOC never notified any of the family members (which is very significant, because if the family knew he was trying to get a commutation, they would have attended the hearing to oppose…but since they didn’t know about it and didn’t show up, the parole board logically assumed there was no objection…and thus they recommended a commutation to the Governor).  Thereafter, Governor Rounds issued a sentence commutation and nobody in his administration notified the family.  The family learned about it in the news after the fact and the Governor couldn’t retract his commutation.  Now, Ramos is eligible for parole every 8 months and family members from multiple states drive to Springfield to testify in opposition.  They lost their closure and now have to relive the horror of the crimes Ramos committed.  One of Debbie Jo’s sisters live in Rapid City.  His ex-wife and kids also live in Rapid City.  Much of the family lives in Denver. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

SD Ballot's Constitutional Amendment U? It's A Scam

     Talk about an insult to the collective intelligence of South Dakota voters, Constitutional Amendment U on November's ballot is beyond belief in the scope of its contempt for people's
A Constitutional Issue?

ability to think.
 The Amendment ostensibly limits the ability of lenders to exceed an interest rate of 18% unless both lenders and borrowers agree to a higher rate.   I don't know who came up with this doozy of misrepresentation, but I imagine the payday lending industry is hoping this effort at pulling a fast one on our state's electorate passes muster come November.
    I suppose the effort has come as an electoral "counter-offer" to South Dakota voters who will also be voting on another payday lending issue--Initiated Measure 21--that will absolutely cap payday lending rates at 36% if passed.  Muddy as the waters have gotten on this thing, informed voters really need to concentrate on the issue in order to understand what's happening.  IM 21 is an assault on the payday lending industry, probably crippling it for good because the business can't make a go of it by loaning money at 36%.  Even though I oppose IM 21 on free-market, libertarian grounds, I respect the supporters of it because they want to curb what they consider to be abusive lending practices that snare a lot of financially hurting South Dakotans into an endless cycle of rolling over payday loans.
     Those "rollovers" compound debt upon debt, often driving up real interests rates into triple-digit amounts.  The payday lenders make their money by perpetuating that cycle, which would be ended if IM 21 passes.  I think IM 21 has a real chance at succeeding, and I'm sure the industry it targets feels the same way.  No doubt this has been the driver for supporters of Constitutional Amendment U, which headlines itself as a constitutionally fixed limitation on all lending at 18%.  On that score it seems even harsher than IM 21's limitation of 36%, but Amendment U's 18% limit is nullified if lenders and borrowers agree to higher rates.
     First off, I don't get how any voters would want something like this in South Dakota's Constitution, which is a place where fundamental principles about governance reside.  The idea
Sort It Out, We Must
that lending rates should hold a place in a body of law that is virtually immutable seems absurd to me, considering that interest rates are best left to the laws of supply and demand, not the law of Constitutional authority.  That said, what really makes this a ludicrous proposal is that the law effectively cancels itself out by letting parties agree to any interest rate they want.  If that's the case, why set a "limit" on interest rates that can be routinely ignored?
     Backers of Constitutional Amendment U must think that voters are dumb enough to believe they're setting a limit on interest rates by passing this laughably transparent device intended to keep the payday lending industry afloat in perpetuity.  I can live with the idea of payday lending, but I'm no less disgusted by the crassness and cynicism of this measure.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

My Column In Today's Rapid City Journal: "Food Stamps Boost SD Economy"

I don't get the Republican rush to take the SNAP program (Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, aka "food stamps") away from the Farm Bill and its overseeing agency the USDA.
Yours Truly
The GOP platform this year vows "to correct a mistake made when the Food Stamp program was first created in 1964 by separating the administration of SNAP from the Department of Agriculture."
The platform notes that 70 percent of all Farm Bill spending is consumed by SNAP and that during the Obama administration "nearly all the work requirements for able-bodied adults" instituted by the landmark welfare reform of 1996 "have been removed."
By pulling the program away from the USDA/Farm Bill's embrace, the GOP will, of course, make it a stand-alone item in Congressional budget negotiations, where it will become the political football that the party apparently wants it to be. That bit about "able-bodied adults" is a clear enough signal that it's all about politics.
As residents of a state that is economically all-in when it comes to policies affecting the agriculture sector of the American economy, we South Dakotans need to keep a wary eye on efforts to politicize a program that is used to help feed about 45 million Americans. We raise much of that food those folks are consuming.
Dissing food stamps and the "able-bodied adults" that are using them makes for nice sound bytes in some political circles, but seriously cutting back on that program would be a monumental disaster for states like ours.
First off, in context, the program represents an infinitesimal portion of our country's wealth. Consuming $75 billion out of a federal budget of nearly $4 trillion, SNAP spending peaked at a half-of-1 percent of GDP in 2012. It has since fallen to .4 percent and is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to return to its 1995 level of .3 percent within a decade.
At his nominating convention last July, Donald Trump correctly noted that 43 million Americans are using food stamps, but ignored the fact that the number has declined from its recession peak of 48 million during the past few years.
He also failed to cite what I believe is the most relevant aspect of SNAP to South Dakotans and other farm-belt residents: the program is a powerful economic engine for food production in this country. The USDA's Economic Research Service calculates that for every five dollars spent on SNAP benefits, nine dollars of economic activity is created. When the subject of splitting SNAP away from the Farm Bill came up in 2012, more than 500 farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, opposed the idea.
They were joined by Forbes Magazine contributor Beth Hoffman, who at the time wrote that it is "critical to continue support of the program." Eighty percent of its recipients are children, disabled adults and elderly. The remainder are those "able-bodied" adults described by Republicans, all right, but they get limited benefits unless they can prove they're working 20 hours a week.
Why Trump and his GOP cohorts believe SNAP needs to be singled out for political pinata status is their business. What it might do South Dakota's economy is ours.

John Tsitrian is a Rapid City businessman and freelance writer. You can read more of his commentary on his

Friday, September 9, 2016

Rick Weiland's Guest Piece Supporting SD's Initiated Measure 22.

Note:  I've opposed IM 22 here and will speak against it at a forum in Rapid City on September 15. Rick summarizes the pro-22 position for us in this guest editorial he just provided to me:                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

This November, South Dakota has an opportunity to lead the nation by passing three ballots measures that will dramatically reform our politics and send a message to Washington and the rest of the country.
In 1898, South Dakota became the first state in the Union to allow the voters to petition their government by using ballot measures to shape public policy.  Now, 24 states have some form of an initiated measure process where the citizens can legislate when they feel their elected officials will not.
After years of inaction, both in Washington and in Pierre, the people of South Dakota overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure to raise the minimum wage $1.25, from $7.25 to $8.50, with a cost of living allowance – end-running a state legislature too beholden to special interests and their lobbyists.  Contrary to the propaganda at the time, the sky didn’t fall, unemployment didn’t escalate and businesses didn’t close their doors.  Unemployment in South Dakota remains among the lowest in the nation.
When our state consistently ranks in the top five of states most at risk of corruption; when scandals like EB-5 and Gear-Up destroy confidence in our elected leaders and government by squandering hundreds of millions of dollars; when sweetheart government contracts, suicides, murders, lawsuits and felony charges dominate our daily news and coffee talk, then it is time for reform.
Recently, in a New York Times article entitled, “Can the States Save Democracy?” South Dakota was singled out as the “hotbed of political reform” citing three ballot measure efforts on “gerrymander reform, clean money and a proposed nonpartisan primary.”  Like 1898, South Dakota in 2016 can show the rest of the nation the way forward by passing a “trifecta of reform” and starting a political reform movement to take our country back from the ‘big money” special interests and the hyper-partisanship that is destroying it.
South Dakota’s chance to lead and save our democracy starts by voting yes and passing Amendments T - V – and Initiated Measure 22.
Amendment T establishes an independent redistricting commission where the legislative districts will be drawn by honest brokers, not partisan politicians.  The voters should get to choose their office holders, not the other way around.  The gerrymandering that has occurred as a result of partisan politics has contributed to the government dysfunction and gridlock we are experiencing today – and it is threatening our democracy.
Amendment V establishes nonpartisan elections for all offices, with the exception of President, where the voters get to vote for the person, not the party.  Just like we do for mayor, city council and school board elections, the election becomes more of a contest of ideas then a meaningless debate of political party propaganda.  Registered Independents make up 40% of the registered voters in the country, more then either the Democrats or Republicans, and yet they can’t vote in most primary elections.  We have 113,000 registered Independents, 21% of the registered voters who can’t fully participate in the South Dakota June Primary.  No one should have to pledge allegiance to a political party to exercise their right to vote – period!
Initiated Measure 22 fights government corruption, restores accountability and reforms campaign finance laws; it shines a bright light on the special interests and their lobbyists; it establishes an ethics commission with subpoena powers and authority to investigate, and it creates a voluntary incentive for voters to contribute up to $100 of their own tax dollars to qualifying candidates.  That amounts to about .1% of the annual state budget.  Let’s be honest – there are no checks and balances in our state government.  One party rule has lead to government corruption, lost taxpayer money, tragedy and a loss of confidence.   
Don’t let the special interests win another election by convincing you the sky is falling and the end of the world is at hand.  It is time to join a growing coalition of Republicans, Democrats and Independents dedicated to reforming our politics and taking our country back! The November election presents a real opportunity to tell Pierre, Washington and the rest of the country that we have had enough of partisan gridlock and special interest government.  Vote yes on T – V – 22! 

Rick Weiland
Sioux Falls, SD 

Rick Weiland is a small business owner, former United States Senate candidate and co-founder of TakeItBack.Org, a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on reforming our political system.