I can see where supporters are coming from. Republican Speaker of the South Dakota House Mark Mickelson, who proposed the initiative, last June told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that many South Dakotans in search of technical educations are migrating out of state to better educational opportunities elsewhere: "You talk to anyone in Yankton or out in western South Dakota and those folks end up going to Norfolk, Nebraska, or Gillette, Wyoming. We can't compete. Workforce development is a critical issue and I think we have a responsibility to act." Indeed we do, and the aims of IM 25 are worthy and straightforward, with the dual approach of lowering tuition and providing money for the schools. As an employer in this state, I'm acutely aware of our labor shortage and the need for developing a workforce from within. Losing young people to better educational opportunities elsewhere is something that needs to be addressed, and pronto.
Im-25 just doesn't happen to be the right way to do it. South Dakota has been imposing a tobacco excise tax above the standard sales taxes since 1923, a system that now dings tobacco users in all 50 states. I haven't researched the philosophical bases for these taxes, but they have been in place for so long that they're now an embedded part of state budgets here and probably in every other state. I suppose there were so many smokers way back when that squeezing a few cents a pack out of them and putting the money into the general revenue fund seemed like a fair way to tax a broad pool of residents for widespread government operations. As recently as 1965, 43% of Americans were smokers. Now that number is 17%. Back then the burden was distributed much more broadly. Now it targets fewer than 1 in 5 of us. It isn't right to squeeze that small minority for money to support a program that benefits everybody in the state, either directly by providing good technical educations or indirectly by the improvement that a good labor force brings to the economy. We need to unify and address workforce development, not hand the burden to a small minority of our residents.
This initiative is for the birds. IM-25 needs to be rejected.