Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias While working at a South Dakota newspaper north of here, where the winters arrive earlier and can be much nastier, Gov. William Janklow came to town.

He spoke at a Saturday noon Veterans Day banquet, in the town's VFW Hall. He didn't stray from talking about war, veterans, patriotism and the importance of citizenship.

There were some other things I wanted to ask him before he left town. The former governor, now a member of Congress, isn't like your typical South Dakotan.

He can't stand out in the cold and chat. He's allergic � literally � to South Dakota's frigid winter temperatures.

So I slid into the front seat of his idling car, with the heater turned up full blast, and we talked about money.

South Dakota was suffering budget problems. One couldn't help but wonder if it was due, in part, to the recent death of Gov. George Mickelson and the sudden change to a state executive administration run by Walter Dale Miller.

At any rate, Janklow had just enacted a big round of big cuts in many of the state's services.

And it was having an effect on the community I was living in � big time. The town, I had learned, had gotten used to "feeding from the public trough" as they say.

It was home to a major state institution and its budget, made up primarily of monies delivered from Pierre, had insured the community's economic well-being for decades.

We talked about how those times were coming to an end. The governor � who had vowed to see a 30 percent reduction in state property taxes � wasn't about to go back on his word. Plus, he said, his personal analysis of the state budget indicated that the state was beginning to, in his opinion, waste tax dollars.

So he began cutting budgets. He eliminated some programs all together. Or he changed where they were located, and how they were managed.

We started talking about the economic impact being felt in the community after he made these changes.

Janklow noted the changes weren't pleasant, but they were necessary.

The only alternative, he said, was to raise taxes. And as he said that, he pointed to the door of the VFW Hall.

People were still exiting the building, walking gingerly on icy sidewalks towards their automobiles in the parking lot.

Nearly every person who attended the banquet sported a head of graying hair and a wrinkled countenance.

In other words, they were old. They were retired, living on fixed incomes.

"Do you think that man would support a tax increase?" Janklow asked me. "Or how about that woman? They probably wouldn't like to see the government take more of their money."

We finished our conversation, and as I walked to my car, I had to agree he was probably right.

Label it a South Dakota thing. We'll raise taxes from time to time, like last year when the Legislature increased what we pay for cigarettes and other items to help the state get through some fiscal problems.

But let's face it � most, if not all, of us, hate to part with our money.

It's in this atmosphere that the Vermillion School Board, faced with its own fiscal crisis, is asking citizens to begin paying more. School board members are hardly in an enviable position.

There no doubt will be some gray-haired retired people, and some parents, too, who won't believe school district officials when they say they have cut as much as they can without eliminating vital functions.

Remember, it's that South Dakota thing. We not only don't like to pay taxes. We also tend to suspect the worst of government in all its forms.

And some of you folks � we know you're out there � are just plain stingy.

It's in this less than ideal climate that the school board has decided to opt-out of the property tax freeze.

The public will vote to either affirm or give a thumbs down to that decision in late September.

In the meantime, school officials will be forming committees, holding public meetings, and sharing information to explain what eventually led them Monday to decide to opt-out.

It would be so easy to revert to our strong South Dakota tendencies at this point � to instantly say no to any request by local government to take more of our money.

Before people come to this instant conclusion, we hope they set their skepticism aside for awhile and simply listen.

Who knows? People may begin to share some of Janklow's philosophy.

Some things (such as a tax increase, in this case) aren't pleasant, but they are necessary.

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