The ballot measures provided a mixed bag of results on Tuesday night for Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
South Dakota voters rejected the governor’s education reform plan and his plan to give incentive grants to large construction projects but approved his balanced-budget amendment to the state Constitution.
Voters also rejected Initiated Measure 15, which would have raised the state’s sales tax by one cent for education and Medicaid.
Referred Law 16, which was put on the ballot by the South Dakota Education Association, was a challenge to the governor’s plan that was approved by the Legislature. It would have given bonuses to top teachers, phased out tenure and recruited candidates for critical teaching jobs.
Sue Niegisch, 54, is a paraprofessional at North Middle School in Rapid City who said she voted against Referred Law 16 because she felt that the systems of competition it would create would be bad for the collegiality that boosts a school and school district.
She said the measure could also make South Dakota less desirable as it tries to attract the best and brightest teachers.
“We just need to get good people in here and keep them,” Niegisch said. Right now, “South Dakota is a pit-stop state for teachers.”
Daugaard argued the measure would have improved student achievement. But opponents contended it would hurt the quality of education because teachers might stop collaborating to help students as they competed for bonus money.
The plan would have given annual $5,000 bonuses to the top 20 percent of teachers in each school district, and provided scholarships and bonuses to recruit teachers in critical fields.
South Dakota voters also rejected Daugaard's plan to give incentive grants to large construction projects.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill last year at the governor's urging to provide grants to companies to get them to expand or move to South Dakota.
The state Democratic Party, however, said the estimated $16 million a year in grants would be better used to help fund schools. It gathered enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot for a public vote.
The grants would have been paid for with 22 percent of the receipts from the contractor's excise tax.
Voters did approve Daugaard’s balanced-budget proposal. The governor said previously that current language implies the budget must be balanced but doesn't require it.
Two provisions limit state debt and provide for an emergency tax to wipe out any deficit.
The amendment Daugaard proposed says the governor must propose — and the Legislature must pass — a budget in which spending does not exceed anticipated revenue.
Opponents say the amendment is not needed and could encourage overly optimistic revenue estimates that lead to deficits.
In what could be seen as another victory for the governor, voters rejected a proposal to raise the state sales tax to provide more money for schools and the Medicaid program that provides health care to low-income people.
A teachers union and a health care organization collected signatures to put the proposal on the ballot after Daugaard and the Legislature cut state funding last year for school districts and medical facilities that serve Medicaid patients.
The measure would have raised the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent and was expected to raise an estimated $180 million a year. Half would have gone to school districts and half to Medicaid.
Opponents say such funding decisions should be left to the governor and the Legislature.
Andy Wiese, campaign manager for Moving South Dakota Forward, said Initiated Measure 15 brought an important discussion to the public’s attention.
“It is also important to point out that many of the opponents agreed that our state needs to better fund these two programs,” he said. “However, we disagreed on the funding mechanism. We look forward to working with them this legislative session to increase funding for our schools and providers. The state continues to face a long-term revenue shortfall and we must work together to fix the problem."
Retiree Robert Kimbro, 65, of Rapid City said he backed Initiated Measure 15, which would add a 1-cent sales tax for both education and Medicaid. “I think it’s just the better way to go,” he said. “I don’t need Medicaid or anything, but there’s a lot of people who do.”
Voters also rejected Constitutional Amendment N, which would have raised the mileage reimbursement from five cents to 37 cents per mile for their first and last trips to the legislative session. The lawmakers get reimbursed 37 cents per mile for all other trips to Pierre during the legislative session.