Legislative Report By Sen. John Reedy On Wednesday, Democratic state senators and I met with Senators Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson. They were in town to talk about their plans to strengthen agriculture in South Dakota through federal legislation. Both senators were very impressed by our efforts this year in Pierre to pass mandatory price reporting in the livestock industry. Sen. Daschle strongly stated that if South Dakota moves forward and enacts price reporting at the state level that it will be much easier for him to convince his colleagues to enact similar legislation nationwide.
Just as Sen. Daschle was talking about the merits of our price reporting bill (Senate Bill 95), someone walked in to give us the news that the Republican majority on the Senate Appropriations committee had used a legislative trick, called a hoghouse, to try to kill any chances that SB 95 would ever be enacted. What these seven Republicans did was introduce legislation that would make SB 95 valid law only if Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, and Wyoming all enact similar legislation first. The fact is that SB 95 is an attempt to provide fair market conditions for our farmers and ranchers. The Republican proposal, by contrast, is an attempt to stall any implementation of price reporting. By threatening the integrity of our South Dakotan legislation, the Republican proposal will also threaten any chance for federal legislation as well.
Unfortunately, we have seen similar attempts to defeat good, pro-agriculture legislation time and again. Prior to session, a bipartisan committee had developed a proposal to use $28 million of the Revolving Economic Initiative Fund to establish a fund to develop value-added agriculture. Pretty soon, the people who live in Pierre year-round had seen to it that this three million would be administered by the REDI fund folks. These are the people who got 40 percent of their funding from the ag-sector, but who have only used 14.5 percent of their money to support loans to the ag-economy.
Other important news from Pierre concerns the debate on road and highway funding. As you know, I am a strong advocate for our counties, towns and townships. Our local governments currently face a $1.8 billion backlog in road repair. This backlog costs us money. According to one report, each driver in South Dakota pays an extra $228 per year in additional car expenses because our roads are so bad. Bad roads are also bad for economic development. They also cost more to fix if routine maintenance is delayed.
I am very concerned that local governments get their fair share of the proposed increases in federal and state highway funding. We just cannot continue with the recent trend towards sending more and more money to Pierre at the expense of local communities.
Fortunately, I think that Democrats and Republicans have hammered out an acceptable compromise between the interests of local communities and the interests of the people in Pierre. Under this compromise, the gas tax will increase by four cents. This will raise over $20 million for state roads and enable us to qualify for four dollars of federal money for every one dollar we put towards expanding some of our two-lane highways into four lanes. License plate fees will also go up $12. Even after this increase, we will still have the cheapest plates in the region. This money will fund local roads. More importantly, the revenue from the sale of commercial plates will now go to counties, as it should have all along. The counties will also receive $8 million in federal money. All in all, counties will be getting over $20 million for their much needed road repairs.