'A desperate political stunt': Lawmakers slam Gov. Kristi Noem's proposed grocery tax cut

Lawmakers across the aisle are slamming Gov. Kristi Noem's proposed cut on the state's sales tax of food items, saying there had been broad support months ago to provide relief to South Dakotan families hit by the tax at the supermarket during a rise in prices with ongoing inflation.

"My first reaction is that this is a desperate political stunt on the part of a political campaign who sees it's about ready to lose what many thought was a slam dunk race," Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) said.

Nesiba had authored legislation in January to repeal the sales tax on food and has been a consistent advocate for the tax cut. That legislation did not pass.

Noem's Wednesday announcement at Dakota Butcher in Rapid City comes less than six weeks before South Dakotans head to the polls to vote for a number of races, including whether Noem should return for a second term. Noem faces Democratic challenger Jamie Smith, who has served six years in the state House of Representatives.

More:Gov. Kristi Noem proposes permanent tax cut on groceries

Smith has supported the repeal of the sales tax on food for the entire time he's been in the legislature, he said over the phone Wednesday.

"We were able to work in the house in a bipartisan fashion to get this passed, but it was killed promptly upon its receipt in the Senate," Smith said. "Our governor has not supported this nor did she support tax cuts in general throughout the last session.

"I think our governor's afraid of losing an election, and she's going to do anything she can to ensure that election," Smith added.

The governor's proposal would fully repeal that tax for people at the grocery store, but any taxes levied by the city or municipality would not be part of the plan, said Ian Fury, a campaign spokesperson for the governor.

The current state sales tax is 4.5%, according to the South Dakota Department of Revenue.

If passed, the tax cut would be worth over $100 million, Noem said.

More:Gov. Noem hesitant to back bipartisan push for sales tax reduction in South Dakota

Nesiba said Noem had four years to work on the policy, but "she has not been reaching across the aisle to work on this."

"The only thing that the governor has accomplished in terms of taxes is she repealed the trivial tax on bingo games," he said.

Rep. Chris Karr (R-Sioux Falls) said that if the proposal passes, it "would be a great relief for South Dakotans."

Karr had introduced a bill in January to decrease the state sales tax from 4.5% to 4%, without the exception for food. The bill made it through the House before it failed in the Senate. But, he wished the tax cut could've happened during the winter.

"It's really frustrating that this could have happened sooner. It's frustrating when we faced opposition during session with folks that are Republicans saying that it was irresponsible to provide that tax relief," Karr said.

Other Republicans are split. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown), the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, wrote in a text message he didn't support the tax cut.

"When you consider the responsibilities the state has under the Constitution to fund K-12, a state workforce, and nursing homes and Medicaid, plus a new women's and men's prison, cutting state revenue would be irresponsible," he wrote.

On the other hand, Rep. Mary Fitzgerald (R-Spearfish), who was present at Noem's announcement, said she was excited for South Dakotan families who will benefit from the tax cut.

Rep. Mary Fitzgerald, R-Spearfish, gives a floor speech in support of impeaching Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, for his conduct related to a fatal crash in 2020.
Rep. Mary Fitzgerald, R-Spearfish, gives a floor speech in support of impeaching Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, for his conduct related to a fatal crash in 2020.

"I think families are struggling right now to put food on the table when you have a lot of children," she said Wednesday. "It can cost quite a lot of money to feed those kids so I'm very, very much in agreement of it. I can't wait for us to head back to Pierre in January and go to work on that."

Any tax cut on groceries will have to be introduced and passed by the state legislatures for individuals to see relief on their supermarket receipts.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Gov. Kristi Noem's proposed food tax cuts slammed by SD lawmakers