You can’t accuse John Koskan of thinking small.
Koskan, a former Republican legislator from Wood, outlined a plan Wednesday to use money from the state cement plant sale and a temporary sales tax increase to build three power lines across South Dakota.
The transmission lines would help South Dakota position itself as a leader in production and export of wind energy, Koskan told the Senate State Affairs Committee.
Big vision, little support.
The panel killed each of three bills that carried pieces of the Koskan proposal. A fourth piece, a resolution proposing a constitutional amendment to allow the cement plant proceeds to be used, is still alive, only perhaps because it hadn’t gotten as far as a public hearing by Wednesday.
Some lawmakers said the vision impressed them.
Officials with Gov. Mike Rounds’ administration complained about the possible loss of sales tax revenue to the treasury if the sales tax were raised and money earmarked for energy development.
Koskan said the state must become more aggressive in courting wind energy projects. In fact, the state ought to be developing its own, he said.
“Wind energy is going to be bigger than before,” he said. “South Dakota is a big player in ethanol energy, but we also have the potential to be a big player in wind energy.”
He said the cement plant fund, about $255 million, would pay for one transmission line, and the sales tax increase would finance two more.
“It can’t be removed from our state. Wind is going to be here,” Koskan said. “If we build the infrastructure, it’s not going to be not used.”
Sen. Jerry Apa, R-Lead, sponsored the bills, since Koskan is no longer a member.
Apa told the committee, “I think it’s important that South Dakota step in front, get out ahead of the curve and look at production, all types of production. We can’t do it without some authority.”
Jim Terwilliger of the state Bureau of Finance and Management opposed the proposal to raise the sales tax. He said BFM projections suggest it could raise more than $800 million during a four-year existence but would reduce the amount going to the general fund by about $7.5 million a year.
The increased tax actually would lower a consumer’s purchasing power, he said.
“Based on those projections, I don’t know if we have a solid enough plan in place,” Terwilliger said. “We don’t have customers lined up, things like that, to be taxing South Dakotans another $800 million.”
Koskan said all states around South Dakota have built many more wind turbines than South Dakota’s 44.
“Why is Minnesota building so many turbines? Why is Iowa building so many turbines and South Dakota is not?” he asked.
Senate Democrat Leader Scott Heidepriem of Sioux Falls told Koskan, “You’re right. We’re behind, again.”
He also said some lawmakers from his party are sponsoring bills to encourage wind energy development. Heidepriem suggested the Koskan package and Democrats’ ideas be considered together.
Sen. Gene Abdallah, R-Sioux Falls, said he agrees with Koskan that there is a need to develop wind energy.
The time isn’t right, he said.
“We still haven’t spent a nickel funding education,” Abdallah said, “but you want to take the taxpayers’ $800 million for wind energy over the next four years. I think we have our priorities wrong.”
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