Do you want your tax dollars to support higher perks, out of state travel, and membership dues for state legislators to a conservative organization funded by corporate special interests?

Sitting on the Senate appropriations committee, I was surprised to see this happen now in South Dakota under the leadership of Republican legislators. Here’s what happened:

On the last day of the legislative session, the Republican-controlled legislature hiked its own budget $5,000 per lawmaker and this month they began to spend the money by voting for more out-of-state travel, including trips to the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conventions where conservative lawmakers are handed model legislation written by corporate special interests.

Democrats tried to strike the money for the trips on the final day of the legislative session, arguing that the money could be better spent on schools and health care, and I tried again when the legislature’s executive committee expanded the travel policy, but Republicans prevailed at the expense of working taxpayers and students.

Why is this important for taxpayers like you to know? Every dollar Republicans allocated for these ALEC trips, higher salaries, and membership dues is a dollar we took away from taxpayers, students, and veterans.

Just look at an apples to apples comparison: Republican legislators gave each lawmaker $5,000 more per year for staff, travel, and membership dues. They gave South Dakota students less than $200 more per year. The Republican-controlled Legislature found $500,000 for themselves but couldn’t find $25,000 to help fund a van to transport war veterans to medical appointments.  

The increase in legislative perks and benefits is even harder to understand when you find out your tax dollars are going to ALEC. A conservative group funded by corporate special interests, ALEC writes legislation to reduce public services our communities depend on and increase taxpayer funded giveaways to special interests. So, for every dollar Republicans spend on ALEC, we are taking away not just one dollar from taxpayers, students, and veterans today but inviting model ALEC bills that reduce investments in our kids, seniors, and veterans for generations to come.

Republican legislators should know better. South Dakotans actually had a chance to weigh in at the ballot box on two ALEC-inspired ideas last year with the Republican Legislature’s teacher reform bill and Gov. Daugaard’s corporate giveaways. Voters rejected both handily.

I am joining all Democratic legislators in rejecting your tax dollars for ALEC dues and any and all opportunities to travel to ALEC conventions. When we can’t afford to invest in our students and our property taxes are increasing, we can hardly afford to turn legislators into frequent fliers for ALEC conventions on the taxpayer dime.

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