How much do South Dakota taxpayers spend on economic development? Nobody knows, and we’re not about to find out anytime soon because Republicans on the House State Affairs Committee killed HB 1108 this morning on a party-line vote.
“Killing the bill is a travesty,” said Ben Nesselhuf, the state chairman of the Democratic Party. “Given how much this administration talks about accountability, I thought they would looking be looking for opportunities to lead the way. Taxpayers have a right to know how we spend their money. Either Republicans don’t want to know how much we spend or they don’t think taxpayers deserve to the right to know how we spend taxpayer dollars.”
The bill would require that state government maintain a database of all business loans, grants, tax credits and rebates given to entities, and include the dollars spent, the total project cost and the number of jobs created.
“We know to the dime what we spend on education and health care” said Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, the bill’s prime sponsor. “But nobody can venture a guess as to how much the various departments of state government spend on economic development. It’s an important part of what government does, and we need more accountability and sunshine on the process so we can make good decisions.”
Hunhoff offered a similar bill last year, and at the outset of today’s hearing he praised Pat Costello, the new director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, for adding more information on loans and grants to the GOED web site. “We’ve come a long way in the last year, but we can do more,” he said. “And it should be state law that this information be made public because the current web page could go dark even faster than it went up.”
Hunhoff also noted that corporate assistance is provided in departments other than GOED, including the departments of agriculture, tourism, labor, transportation and education. “We need a central database established in statute. We think it should also include wage information so we can focus more on not just quantity of jobs but quality.”
Republican leaders argued that the bill’s intent is already being accomplished, and that it could be so broad that it might require disclosure of student loans.
“If that’s the argument,” said Nesselhuf, “then I guess we need to debate and define the difference between a corporation and a person. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to have that Tea Party debate here in South Dakota. Corporations aren’t people. Most of us know the difference.”