Legislative Report By Sen John Reedy I am happy to report some good news from Pierre. This week the Senate passed a bill that would reduce, and eventually eliminate, the inheritance tax for most people in South Dakota. I realize that government needs a certain amount of tax revenue. But taxing the result of a lifetime of hard work is not right. Starting in July of next year, there will be a $40,000 tax exemption for property left to children and grandchildren. This exemption will increase every year until it reaches $100,000 by 2006. But don't start telling your kids about this yet. This bill still has to pass the House and be signed by the governor.
This week was especially important for agriculture. The Senate passed SB95 which requires that meatpackers report the prices they pay for all livestock purchases. As many of you know, I am a strong advocate of this legislation because it gives farmers and ranchers the market information they need to make better decisions and negotiate fair contracts. A group of senators tried to seriously weaken this bill. Fortunately, all the Democrats supported the stronger version. We defeated the attempted amendment by one vote.
The Senate also passed SB5 which directs $3 million dollars towards financing feasibility studies for proposed value-added agriculture projects. This bill is a good first step. The fact remains, however, that our agriculture sector paid 40 percent of the taxes that financed the state's economic development fund, but yet this fund has only used 15 percent of its money to strengthen the agricultural economy and to promote the construction of new ag-related facilities in our towns.
The legislature is also considering several bills that would change certain policies currently hurting working families. As is widely known, South Dakota has one of the lowest average wage rates for production workers in the country, about $10.19 per hour. We are blessed, however, with very low unemployment, 2.6 percent. Wage levels are a far more pressing problem than unemployment. But yet the corporations that we entice to come to South Dakota by offering them taxpayer-subsidized loans pay an average worker's wage of only $8.71. The lower wages paid by subsidized companies drive down all wages. Under current policy, taxpayers in South Dakota are actually paying companies to lower wages. I am going to be strongly supporting all efforts to reverse this situation.
I have also been working with my fellow legislators to make it easier for people to vote. I have been supportive of an excellent House bill, HB 1120. This bill would permit people to register to vote on election-day. With modern technology, a same-day registration system would be easy to implement. It would also increase voter turnout substantially. I regret to report that this bill was defeated in committee. The sad fact is that some people in Pierre are frightened by the prospect of an increase in the number of people who vote. A Senate proposal to shorten the time prior to election when someone can still register to vote was also defeated in committee. I will be fighting very hard next week to see that this proposal, despite the committee's decision, gets a hearing before the full Senate.
If you need more information or have any ideas on how we can work together to improve South Dakota, please contact me at (605) 773-4494.