- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The South Dakota Legislature on Monday approved a measure that would distribute a share of alcohol tax revenue to counties, where officials say they’re seeing rising costs for courts and jails.

House lawmakers voted unanimously to send the bill to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who has said he opposes the plan. The bill passed both chambers with margins that would suggest a veto could be overridden if it comes.

South Dakota counties get most of their revenue from property taxes, and state law limits yearly hikes. About 80 percent of county spending is required by law, which limits flexibility for local officials.

Supporters celebrated the bill’s passage.

“It’s a huge moment for us, and it’s something we can use to build into our budgets as we move forward,” said Duane Sutton, president of the South Dakota Association of County Commissioners.

Advocates say counties often deal with alcohol-related criminal costs, so they should get a quarter of the money the state brings in from its alcohol tax. That tax brought in about $14.4 million last fiscal year.

Republican Rep. Lana Greenfield, a supporter, said the measure is a “gesture” from the state. Rep. Elizabeth May, a Republican who also voted for the bill, said she hopes lawmakers will come back next year and further address issues affecting South Dakota’s counties.

Counties will still be looking in the future for alternative forms of revenue to help offset growing costs, Sutton said. A House committee earlier this session voted down a more substantial plan that would allow counties to impose sales taxes.

Opponents argue the alcohol tax plan would shift funding away from state priorities. The governor’s office also pointed to new road and bridge funding for local governments last session.

“The counties received a significant increase in their revenue for roads. They haven’t even fully finished the meal on that plate,” Daugaard said in February. “I really feel it’s inappropriate at this time to ask for more money.”

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