Monday night, as I watched the Vermillion School Board struggle with the potential double-whammy of a slight decline in local enrollment next year on top of measly state aid funding due to head our way from Pierre, officials in our state capital – specifically South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley and his staff, were getting ready to surprise all of us.
On Tuesday, the ink couldn't yet have dried from President Barack Obama's signing of the long-debated health reform bill passed by Congress when South Dakota officials announced that we, along with a dozen other states, are suing the federal government.
Because we South Dakotans evidently don't believe it's right to require people to have health insurance.
Here's the exact wording from the part of the lawsuit that tends to get to the heart of things. What's referred to as "The Act" is the health reform bill:
"The Act represents an unprecedented encroachment on the liberty of individuals living in the Plaintiffs' respective states, by mandating that all citizens and legal residents of the United States have qualifying healthcare coverage or pay a tax penalty. The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying healthcare coverage. By imposing such a mandate, the Act exceeds the powers of the United States under Article I of the Constitution and violates the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.
In addition, the tax penalty required under the Act, which must be paid by uninsured citizens and residents, constitutes an unlawful capitation or direct tax, in violation of Article I, sections 2 and 9 of the Constitution of the United States.
The Act also represents an unprecedented encroachment on the sovereignty of the states."
It's sort of ironic in a way. I don't remember any South Dakota official asking us if we should become part of this lawsuit. And the timing just seems troublesome. We're joining in a lawsuit against the federal government at the same time we, as a state, are waiting (and hoping) that South Dakota will receive an additional $36 million in revenue from the federal government so we can balance our state budget.
I must admit my legal expertise is a bit lacking. I certainly don't know the law as well as our attorney general does.
I, too, can understand how state officials may be concerned with what just happened in Washington.
Gov. Mike Rounds railed against the bill on economic grounds when the Senate first passed it in December, saying the law would add as many as 48,000 South Dakotans to the state's Medicaid rolls and drain $53.7 million from state coffers in the next nine years.
We don't take Rounds' concerns lightly. But at a time when our state can barely keep its fiscal house in order, we wonder if it is wise to become involved in a multi-state lawsuit that likely has little chance of success.
We would have preferred that Rounds had taken a stance similar to Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire. Washington is part of the lawsuit against the federal government, a development that has received no support from Gregoire. She calls her state's actions an effort to gut the bill.
"There is no reason why we need to spend taxpayer money in the state of Washington to join this suit, when it's going to be litigated no matter what," she said.
It's hard to disagree with Gregoire. South Dakota, like Washington, really doesn't need to be a part of this lawsuit, and, in fact, after watching our school board do some collective head-scratching as it ponders the fiscal challenges our school district will face next year, I can't help but think we could find better ways to spend sparse state dollars.