Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias It's rather quirky in a way, but a statement made by a beloved character in a science fiction movie offers good advice for the South Dakota Legislature to follow.

His last words to Admiral James T. Kirk before his death in the Star Trek flick The Wrath of Khan were: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

The character was Spock, who single-handedly entered a compartment flooded with radiation to power up the engines of the Enterprise so it could warp away and foil an attempt to destroy it.

Thousands of lives were saved by Spock's unselfish act.

It's a lesson that can be applied in a more down to earth fashion in Pierre in the coming weeks.

Gov. William Janklow would like to keep a promise he made to South Dakota citizens during his last election campaign.

He pledged to cut property taxes 30 percent, and he has almost reached that goal. So far, he and the South Dakota Legislature have slashed the taxes on owner-occupied homes and agricultural land by 25 percent.

Janklow hopes to make that last 5 percent property tax cut.

But he recognizes that accomplishing that feat would be impossible if voters decide this November to repeal the state inheritance tax.

State government has the $20 million needed for the extra property tax cut, but it would disappear if the inheritance tax is scrapped, he said.

Senate Republican Leader Mike Rounds, of Pierre, said Janklow and many legislators promised in the 1994 election campaign that they eventually would cut property taxes by 30 percent. That promise should be kept, and the Legislature then could decide whether further tax cuts are possible, he said.

"The property tax relief should come first," Rounds said.

But Senate Democratic Leader Jim Hutmacher, of Chamberlain, said he would rather repeal the inheritance tax, which would help business owners.

While 68 percent of the Republicans support the property tax cut, 62 percent of the Democratic minority responding to an Associated Press survey said they favor repealing the inheritance tax.

And while Democrats solidly support giving business owners a break on property taxes similar to that provided to owner-occupied homes and agricultural land, Republicans are more skeptical of the plan.

Janklow's proposal will provide that the property tax cut be canceled if voters in November's election decide to repeal the inheritance tax.

House Republican Leader Steve Cutler, of Claremont, said he hopes the Legislature passes the property tax cut because the reduction is needed.

But House Democratic Leader Pat Haley, of Huron, said neither the property tax cut nor the inheritance tax repeal would solve the problems in South Dakota's tax system.

The Legislature instead should discuss comprehensive tax reform that would improve the fairness of the tax structure, Haley said. The system should include not only property taxes and sales taxes but also an income tax, he said.

"Our taxation system remains the most unfair in the nation," Haley said.

While low-income people have to spend a higher proportion of their earnings on taxes, wealthier people do not pay their fair share under South Dakota's tax system, Haley said.

This may be an example where Haley and Janklow, who have demonstrated this past summer that they certainly aren't fans of each other, are both maintaining philosophies about South Dakota's tax system that hold merit.

We aren't great fans of studies, however. South Dakota's tax system could, in the long run, be studied to death. Studies, in our view, many times only delay needed implementation of needed change.

We urge the Legislature to follow the lead of GOP lawmakers and slice another 5 percent from property taxes this year to benefit the majority of South Dakotans.

The inheritance tax could be repealed in a year or two if the state treasury can afford to lose the money.

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