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Electrical company pushes South Dakota tobacco tax hike

November 1, 2018

MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) — A Mitchell-based electrical contracting company is leading a drive to lower the cost of attending South Dakota technical schools though a tobacco tax increase, donating more than $80,000 to the ballot measure.

Muth Electric and other supporters of Initiated Measure 25 are facing off against large tobacco companies, which have contributed to the roughly $6.5 million that has been raised to fight the measure, which would increase the state tobacco tax by $1 per 20-cigarette pack and $1.25 per 25-cigarette pack, the Daily Republic reported.

The added revenue would go toward lowering tuition for technical institutes and workforce training. South Dakota has four technical institutes that are located in Watertown, Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Mitchell.

Muth Electric CEO Dick Muth said that tobacco companies’ funding poses the biggest hurdle to the passage of Initiated Measure 25.

“Who else has spent $6 million on a ballot initiative in state history?” Muth said. “It’s unheard of, but they have the money to do it. They don’t have South Dakota’s people in their best interests. They’re only about selling cigarettes.”

Most of the opposition funding came from Altria Client Services, the parent company of Marlboro cigarettes maker Philip Morris USA.

Muth said that South Dakota’s funding for technical education hasn’t kept pace with four-year public colleges. He added that tuition and fees have gotten out of hand.

“We’ve funded upgrades on technical campuses, but we’re not competitive in keeping tuition down and keeping South Dakota kids at home,” he said.

Opponents have argued that the measure would hurt small businesses and eliminate jobs.

Muth Electric has 425 employees with locations in Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. The majority of the company’s employees work in South Dakota, said Terry Sabers, Muth Electric co-president.

“This summer, we could have used 100 more people,” Sabers said. “In today’s world, there’s a ton of jobs that you need to have fairly sharp skills, health care, welding, agriculture, HVAC ... We need people with good technical skills.”

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Information from: The Daily Republic, http://www.mitchellrepublic.com

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