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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

September 6, 2018

American News, Aberdeen, Sept. 6

Newsprint tariff ruling a win, and a warning

Last week, some good news came to an industry that really needed it.

The U.S. International Trade Commission Aug. 29 blocked tariffs on imported newsprint — the very paper your American News and Farm Forum are printed on.

The commission found that American newsprint producers (more on that in a minute) were not harmed by imports from Canadian paper mills.

This is certainly a win for newspapers of all sizes, but especially local papers. The smaller ones were threatened with closure because of the rising costs of newsprint in anticipation of the tariffs. In Aberdeen, seven jobs were lost at the American News and Farm Forum in layoffs associated with the tariffs and other costs.

South Dakota’s congressional delegation deserves our thanks, and the thanks of our communities.

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., this summer introduced the PRINT Act, which would have halted the implementation of newsprint tariffs for further study.

“All but one U.S.-based paper mill opposed the tariffs, and small-town South Dakota newspapers told me the costs were too much to bear, so I pushed back,” Noem wrote in her weekly column.

“I also joined Sens. Thune and Rounds in a letter to David Johanson, chairman of the International Trade Commission (ITC), urging him to reject the tariffs. In late August, the ITC agreed to our request and nullified the tariffs, delivering an important victory for hometown newspapers, for the small-town businesses who advertise in those papers, and for consumers in South Dakota.”

The rejection of the tariffs by the commission protects U.S. businesses that rely on Canada to produce the paper needed for newspapers, books, fliers, phone books and so much more.

The tariff issue was raised by one U.S. newsprint paper mill, NORPAC. Though based in Washington state, NORPAC is owned by a New York-based hedge fund.

It should frighten all Americans that a lone business — granted, one that has the ear of the right people — can get so close to destroying an entire industry. These tariffs would have been devastating to newspapers, sure, but also to businesses up and down the supply chain.

And NORPAC still wouldn’t be able to compete: The tariffs would not have leveled the playing field. The newsprint tariff would have canceled the game and paved over the field. Who would NORPAC sell newsprint to if printing was no longer economically feasible on that reduced scale? That paper mill would see its own costs skyrocket, which would then be passed on to its few customers.

This attempt by NORPAC’s owners should be a warning about the unintended (and intended) results from tariffs.

Newsprint is one of the two biggest costs associated with publishing a newspaper (employees being the other one). Canada has long been home to the types of mills that accommodate newsprint production in North America.

American companies do not need more hurdles to be able to do business in a cost-effective, efficient manner.

And U.S. trade policy should not be set by one business that is unable to compete in the global market.


Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Yankton, Sept. 4

A noble objective and a cigarette tax

Labor Day is over, which means the campaign season, which has been simmering on the back burners all summer, is about to heat up.

Besides the various state and federal races, South Dakotans will once again be dealing with ballot issues.

One is already hitting the accelerator.

The Associated Press reported that foes of Initiated Measure 25 (IM 25), which would raise South Dakota’s tax on a 20-pack of cigarettes by $1, are ramping up a big wall of resistance against the proposal.

The tax increase was proposed in order to boost funding for the state’s technical schools, which reportedly have some of the highest tuition rates in the country. The money generated by the tax would be utilized to lower those rates.

In terms of intent, this is a noble goal. The importance of technical education not only in training people for careers but also in building the state’s economy has become quite clear in recent years, due in part to the growing manpower shortage being felt in many sectors across the state. The fact that tuition for these schools is so expensive is a serious issue, and South Dakota’s lawmakers are correct in wanting a way to create a fund that could bring these costs down.

“We can’t attract and grow the workforce that we need if kids can go to Nebraska for half the price,” House speaker Mark Mickelson told the AP. “You look around, there’s a lot of ‘help wanted’ signs.”

Certainly, then, this is a serious question that demands a solution.

However, attaching the idea to the state’s cigarette tax may be a much stickier issue.

Several organizations oppose raising the state’s cigarette tax from $1.53 per pack to $2.53 per pack on the grounds that it will hurt small businesses that rely on cigarette sales as part of their income.

“It’s a $35 million tax increase on small businesses in our state, said Jason Glodt of South Dakotans Against Higher Taxes.

Opponents also claim that a significant chunk of the money raised would go into the state’s general fund, and there would be little oversight on how the money is used.

For the record, the South Dakota Legislative Research Council has estimated the tax would generate about $25 million in new revenue. The council also determined that about $5 million of that total would go to the general fund, with the rest going to the technical school fund.

One also is forced to wonder if it’s wise to address this education issue by taxing a vice that is seeing a declining market. Cigarette consumption has dropped dramatically across the country the past few decades, which means fewer packs of cigarettes sold and, thus, less revenue generated by any taxes on them. Hiking the South Dakota tax could produce a further drop in such sales, either by people deciding to forego smoking because it’s too expensive (which, we must admit, we would see as a good thing) or to instead purchase cigarettes from out of state.

This is the rhetorical debate that figures to be waged during the next two months. Opponents of IM 25 are already launching ads and mobilizing volunteers to spread their message. As for the advocates, Mickelson said, “We’ve got our work cut out for us” — citing the money that tobacco companies and others may inject into the campaign — “but this is a good public policy measure because it’s good for South Dakotans.”

Whether one part of the measure is popular enough to support the worthwhile whole will be determined by voters.


Madison Daily Leader, Madison, Sept. 5

Should all states look into clergy abuse?

We continue to be startled as to the prevalence of Catholic clergy sex abuse in the United States.

Recently, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania documented more than 300 “predator priests” abusing more than 1,000 child victims over seven decades.

While accusations, convictions and cover-ups have been occurring for most of the last century, much of the awareness in the United States was triggered by a critical story in the Boston Globe in 2002, later dramatized in the movie Spotlight.

In addition to the United States, abuse by priests has received broad attention in Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Belgium France, Germany and Australia.

We know now that what we once thought was an isolated problem goes across state lines and country borders. Other U.S. states are now initiating grand jury investigations like Pennsylvania. Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois and New York are all in some stage of this process.

We’re not aware of any call for grand jury investigation in South Dakota. But we’d be naive to think that it occurs in all other states but not ours.

No one seems to dispute that the Catholic church itself cannot resolve this problem on its own. In fact, the long history of covering up incidents and protecting priests proves it.

We’re saddened by the ever-expanding prevalence of the problem, and aren’t even sure what the best path is to fix it. But we know the issue is widespread and the solutions need to be widespread.

Whether that means all states must begin investigations, or if our federal government can play an effective role, we don’t know. But we must take bold action to stop this now.