Previously, Attorney General Marty Jackley gave a conditional approval to reporter Bob Mercer’s request to review Richard Benda’s death file. Mercer and another reporter could do so, Jackley, said, after they got approval from a member of Jackley’s family.
Well, apparently, that approval isn’t coming, and that means no examination of the file. Jackley writes to Mercer:
I disagree with the assertion that there is a legal impossibility by conditioning any release of the Richard L. Benda’s Death Investigation File upon your obtaining consent from an immediate family member. This assertion was only made after the custodial parent, on behalf of the child, refused to provide consent as did the personnel representative of the Richard L. Benda Estate.
While the Attorney General is not concerned that the investigation evidence will not support the independent findings of the pathologist, the coroner’s death certificate or state, federal, and local law enforcement death scene investigation, the Attorney General is concerned it may well affect the innocent members of a family or a minor child. Therefore, your amended and supplemental public records requests are denied until such time as the three conditions are fulfilled.
Here’s Jackley’s full letter:
A column today in Roll Call by David Hawkings looks at the dominance of former staffers to South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle in President Barack Obama’s White House. It’s worth a read. (Unmentioned is that another former Daschle aide, Rick Weiland, is running an underdog bid to be a U.S. Senator.)
A word cloud of Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s Dec. 2013 budget address: What words did Gov. Dennis Daugaard come back to most in his budget speech last week? The governor’s office released the speech transcript today (after having to type it up manually, because the speech is partially extemporaneous), and I ran it through a word cloud generator to create the image above.
Compare to the same thing for last year’s budget address.
In fact, of the top 10 words in last year’s speech and this year’s, nine of them are the same. The difference is that this year Daugaard used the word “increase” more often and “budget” less.
This year’s speech was 5,704 words long, shorter than last year’s. Its Gunning-Fog index, which measures the number of years of formal education required to easily understand a text, was 7.3. The average sentence was 12.9 words long, and the longest sentence 49 words.
Here’s the SDPB video of the governor’s speech:
South Dakota Democrats and labor unions easily turned in enough signatures to put a minimum wage hike on the ballot next year.
Their measure, raising the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $8.50, along with a comparable rise in the tip wage, and indexing both to inflation, will be 2014’s Initiated Measure 18.
Secretary of State Jason Gant made the announcement this afternoon after examining a sample of the 25,658 signatures turned in by supporters. They validated 1,044 out of 1,283 in the random sample, which — if extrapolated to the full set of signatures — would mean around 20,878 valid signatures.
That’s far more than the 15,855 needed to make the ballot.
Previously, the “Any Willing Provider” initiated measure was certified with a projected 22,895 signatures as Initiated Measure 17. (Though for some reason I didn’t get an email announcement of that.)
A joke I saw this morning that some South Dakota policy observers may enjoy:
Bostonians still tell the story of the respectable society matron who was crossing the Common one day and ran into an old college chum she hadn’t seen for years. The matron was dismayed to see that her friend was obviously engaged in the world’s oldest profession. “My dear,” she said, “whatever has happened to you?” “Well,” said her friend, “it was either this or dip into capital.”
Felix Salmon, who flagged the joke, tells it as a parable of the “the deeply Scottish/Presbyterian idea that saving is something you do in perpetuity — an idea which lies at the heart of the thousands of endowments which dominate the non-profit sector in the US.”
Dennis Daugaard, for the record, is a Scandinavian Lutheran.
This afternoon, California investment bank White Oak Global Advisors was tentatively approved to purchase bankrupt beef plant Northern Beef Packers for $44.3 million.
That’s a lot more than the $12.75 million minimum bid. But White Oak wasn’t actually writing a $44 million check.
Instead, the cash portion of their bid was just $4.8 million, all to satisfy liens on the plant.
The rest of their money was an offer to write-down $39.5 million in debt White Oak claims Northern Beef owes them.
I wrote about this saga several weeks ago. Some of the other creditors are challenging how much money White Oak is actually owed.
Now, depending on what actually happened to White Oak’s money, their capital outflow that gave them ownership of Northern Beef could still end up significant. It’s hard to tell, given the complex financial mechanisms at work.
It’s entirely possible that White Oak’s loan was intended from the very beginning to be a stealth purchase of Northern Beef. We don’t know, because the company has refused to comment. Northern Beef attorney Rory King told the Aberdeen American News that White Oak “might open and market (the beef) plant.”
The purchase is the latest twist in Northern Beef’s debt. Earlier, the company took out a $30 million loan — and then negated the loan by buying the lender. Then Northern Beef borrowed $35 million from White Oak — and had that loan erased when the lender bought it.
In yesterday’s budget speech, Gov. Dennis Daugaard emphasized how the state’s sales tax revenue, while growing, isn’t growing fast enough to fuel big spending increases on its own.
That number, revealed before the budget, raised some eyebrows in the newsroom. After all, sales tax numbers in Sioux Falls — the state’s largest city and economic engine — are booming:
Bolstered by new business openings and a record level of construction work, Sioux Falls’ sales tax revenue is on pace to generate an extra $1.2 million this year.
Through October, Sioux Falls had collected $42.9 million in city sales taxes, almost 8 percent more than last year’s take in that time frame and up from the 5 percent increase city offiicials had budgeted this year.
Read that here.
Statewide, sales tax growth year-to-year was 3.6 percent in July, 7.6 percent in August, 6.4 percent in September and 7.2 percent in October.
The 8 percent Sioux Falls is up by obviously exceeds all those numbers. So other parts of the state must be doing worse, right?
Generally speaking, yes. Here’s a map showing the October 2013 sales tax growth by county, compared to October 2012:
There’s 20 counties with declining sales tax overall, for a net decline of -$14.9 million in taxable sales. The other 47 counties are up by a total of $136 million.
That masks more variation at the city level (which lumps each county’s activity outside of cities and towns into an “other” category). There’s 131 city-areas with declining sales tax revenue, for a total of -$27.9 million. (That includes the parts of Sioux Falls in Lincoln County, which is down $1.2 million, while the parts of Sioux Falls in Minnehaha County have seen sales tax growth of $29.5 million.) Another 218 cities saw increases in sales tax, for a total of $88.2 million.
Among more prominent cities to shrink were Aberdeen, North Sioux City and Britton. Key growing cities include Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Belle Fourche and Brandon.
You can look at the data yourself, here.
But it’s important not to miss how dominant just a few large urban areas are in South Dakota’s economy. Here’s a cartogram of the state, with each county weighted not by actual land area, but by gross sales:
(Colors are added for clarity and don’t signify anything.)
The bigger the county on this cartogram, the bigger its economy, and vice versa. (Compare that to the actual county map.)
Generally speaking, this is simply a matter of population. Last year, I made a similar cartogram, weighting South Dakota’s legislative districts by population.
In Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s Wednesday budget address, he repeatedly talked about instances where he was recommending extra money for maintenance and repair of state buildings — $1.6 million for Board of Regents buildings and $3.4 million for general maintenance. There was also reference of shooting for a target of “2 percent.”
What was that about?
I wrote about this back in July:
As the man overseeing maintenance of South Dakota state buildings, Paul Kinsman is in a good-news, bad-news situation.
On the one hand, he’s got a maintenance and repair backlog of around $50 million — and only $4.7 million in annual funding to take care of it.
But that $4.7 million is a big improvement from years when the state’s maintenance and repair budget might be $1 million or $2 million a year. And state legislators recently decided to gradually increase that amount to $11.5 million a year, in line with national upkeep standards.
“It’s always been kind of a struggle to get those dollars for maintenance and repair,” said Kinsman, commissioner of the state Bureau of Administration. “As a general rule, I think it’s been underfunded.”
Kinsman said the industry standard is to spend 2 percent of the total value of all buildings on maintenance and repair. In practice, South Dakota usually has spent much less than half that.
“It’s hard for me to complain because I’ve never had $4.7 (million) before,” Kinsman said.
Read the rest of the story here.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s budget speech underway proposes 3 percent increases in K-12 education, Medicaid provider rates and state employee salary.
This is surprising because Daugaard’s public statements had strongly suggested South Dakota only had money to pay a 1.6 percent inflationary increase to these areas, though he mentioned he’d offer options to do somewhat better than that.
The extra money comes from Daugaard proposing to use one-time money to free up ongoing money, by pre-paying and paying off future expenses. It’s a budget maneuver or gimmick to get around Daugaard’s line in the sand about not using one-time revenue for ongoing expenses.
Daugaard is proposing spending $90 million in one-time expenses to free up $25 million in ongoing money.
More to come.
Joe Lowe, the former wildfire chief now running for South Dakota governor, is a “solid Democrat” who wants to help increase teacher pay and worker wages.
But he wasn’t always a Democrat. In fact, his partisan affiliation has shifted several times over the years, reflecting both his evolving values and the changing political landscape.
Lowe was born into a “solid Democratic family” in Joplin, Missouri. But as he grew up, he drifted to the right, ultimately becoming a Republican sometime around 1991 (though Lowe said he was hazy on the dates).
That’s about the time Lowe entered politics in Orange County, California — a conservative stronghold in a liberal state. When he ran for the Mission Viejo city council in 1992, he espoused a generally center-right platform: “ensure that the city doesn’t overspend… more business growth within the city… (study) an increase in the police force to address major crimes such as homicide and rape.”
But by the middle of the 1990s, as the Newt Gingrich Republicans gained power in Washington, D.C. and clashed repeatedly with President Bill Clinton, Lowe saw the Republican Party “getting to extremes” and became an independent.
He stayed an independent for around a decade, during which time he accepted Gov. Bill Janklow’s offer to come to South Dakota and lead the state’s anti-wildfire efforts. But in the first part of the 2000s, Lowe shifted back to the Republican Party. He remained in the GOP for a number of years before in 2008, having a similar reaction as he did in 1995.
"I felt the (Republican) Party left me and it wasn’t what I wanted to be," Lowe said.
That’s when he became a Democrat. At the time, he was still working for Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, and stayed on working for Rounds’ GOP successor Dennis Daugaard, all as a Democrat.
In addition to believing the Republican Party had drifted to the right, Lowe said he was also partially inspired by meeting and working with prominent South Dakota Democrats through his anti-wildfire work.
"I admired Stephanie Herseth. I admired Tom Daschle, when he’d come to the fires and he’d really try to help," Lowe said. "I admired some of the other folks, like Tim Johnson. I found myself, at that point, starting to move into the Democratic camp."
Now Lowe is trying to become a Democratic standard-bearer like Herseth, Daschle and Johnson. The state Democratic Party was measured in its support for Lowe, with executive director Zach Crago praising him as a “good, well-qualified candidate” but also arguing that Daugaard’s record might inspire other Democrats to run, too.
Lowe had stronger support from some West River Democrats. Among the people who urged him to run was former Rapid City Mayor Don Barnett, he said.