Legislator of the Week: South Dakota State Representative Taffy Howard

This week, ALEC and FreedomWorks introduce South Dakota State Representative Taffy Howard. Representative Howard is a proud veteran, mother, and community leader. She comes from a military family, moving around the country for her mother’s active duty career in the U.S. Army, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Airforce after graduating college. Representative Howard is part of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force at ALEC and believes that the hard-working people of South Dakota deserve to keep more of their hard-earned money. Rep. Howard and her husband have two sons and have been business partners in several local ventures.

Why did you run for office?

In 2015 and 2016, our state passed the two largest tax increases in the history of the state. Taxpayers were struggling and frustrated with the lack of control over spending at the state level, so I decided it was time to run. We need more conservatives, in every sense of the word, so I ran with the slogan, (which is a quote from Ronald Reagan) “Man is not free, unless government is limited.” That resonated with the voters and here I am two years later, running for re-election.

How has being a veteran impacted you as a legislator?

I believe being a veteran has given me a broader perspective on issues overall. We all appreciate the sacrifice our service members make and we want to ensure our veterans are taken care of once they leave the service. Veterans can have very unique issues that ordinary citizens simply do not understand. Being one of only two veterans on the Joint Committee on Appropriations allows me to be a voice for them and share some of those issues with my fellow committee members.

 In your view, what is the biggest issue facing your state?

The out-of-control increase in property taxes is one of the biggest issues our citizens are personally facing. As a state though, I would say our biggest issue may simply be finding the willpower to curb government’s natural appetite for growth. We already had several legislators this past session talk about needing to find “an additional revenue stream” in order to fund what they believe needs to be funded. That would not be what the average citizen would say though, so as a state, we need to listen to the people and understand what their concerns are and act accordingly.

If you could “wave your magic wand,” what would you like to see immediately implemented in your state?

Property tax relief would definitely be top of the list. We have so many people, especially senior citizens, that are struggling to stay in their homes due to the rapidly and ever-increasing property taxes.  People’s incomes cannot keep up, especially once you are on a fixed income as most of our seniors are.  Why have we allowed a system to develop where you never truly “own” your home?  If you do not keep paying the taxes, you will lose your home, so in essence, you rent your home from the government in perpetuity.  I would like to see property ownership truly become ownership.  All the things that are paid for with property taxes could easily become user fees paid for by ALL the citizens who use them, or if they are not necessary, they are eliminated.

Do you serve on any committees, if so which committees and why?

I serve on the House Committee on Appropriations as well as the Joint Committee on Appropriations.  I requested those committee assignments because I wanted to learn everything I could about our budget and the budget process in order to find efficiencies and eliminate wasteful spending.  This goes back to the freedom Reagan referred to that can only be had through limiting our government and I figured one of the best ways to try and limit our state government was through the appropriations process.

How do you feel you have impacted them?I know that I brought a fresh perspective to the committees.  I have the feeling it has been awhile since a conservative has been appointed to those committees.  The tendency is to simply go along with what has been done in the past and to do things the same way over and over.  I have forced conversations about change.  Currently, I am working to have the JCA implement, in a very limited way, some zero-based budgeting, but sadly the pushback is tremendous.  I had one fellow appropriator share with me her concern about agencies not having enough of a “cushion” if we had them zero-base their budget.  Others see zero-based budgeting as a “threat” to be used with agencies to supposedly get them to be judicious in their spending…but if we never actually force them to zero-base their budgets, where is the threat?   Appropriations committees historically want everyone to be unanimous and to be a united front in defending the budget and the spending and programs that are in the budget.  I have been the voice of the average taxpayer that is not afraid to voice opposition to the spending and programs that some see as automatic, but really should not be.

What project or law are you most proud of?

I brought several bills/joint resolutions this past session in an attempt to reign in our spending as well as to provide property tax relief.  One made it out of committee to the Senate floor only to be sent to a different committee specifically to kill it.  I am still very proud of that legislation and intend to keep fighting for both issues.  Our state’s spending grew by more than 35% between 2008-2017, yet inflation was just around 17%.  Our government was the second-fastest growing segment of our economy in 2017.  Again, our citizens are struggling to keep up with the growth of our government and instead of looking for more “revenue streams” we simply need to reign in our spending.

How has ALEC helped you as a legislator?

ALEC was a tremendous help with Senate Joint Resolution 5, which was the legislation I brought to tie our increases in spending to the growth in population in the state.  They provided resources and research as well as expert testimony during the committee hearing.  ALEC also helped provide outside experts to help work out the details through the process.

Can you share a fun fact about yourself that’s not in your official bio?

I’m actually Airborne-qualified, having attended the US Army Airborne Course at Ft. Benning, GA and earned my jump wings…but am absolutely terrified of heights!  The first time they tell you to stand up and hook up…and then you shuffle to the door…you know you’re going out that door, that’s the only way down at that point…and it’s terrifying.  But, five jumps later you have your wings and it was all worth it!