The Obama and Trump travel records

Judicial Watch seems like it leans to the side of protecting taxpayers. Amid the controversies in recent months about spending excesses by some members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet, there came this recent report by Judicial Watch about the previous resident of the White House, President Barack Obama, and the current one, President Trump. Neither one seems to be frugal.

Here’s the Weekly Update excerpt from Dec. 1, 2017:

Obama Vacations, Campaigning Cost Taxpayers New Total Over $114 Million

If you had the impression that President Obama enjoyed Air Force One a bit too much, you were absolutely right. It has taken a while to get the details, but we have them. And, make no mistake, we’re watching President Trump as well.

We have obtained records from the U.S. Department of the Air Force and the Secret Service in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and two FOIA lawsuits for travel expenses by the families of former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump.

The total for Obama travel is $9,028,346.90 for this production of documents. Added to the previously released costs, the known total for travel expenses for the Obamas is now a staggering $114,691,322.17.

The total for President Trump’s travels in these documents is $2,821,367.34. Added to the previously released costs, the known travel costs are now $10,381,792.35

We obtained the new Obama travel records from the Secret Service as the result of a May 2017 FOIA lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security (No. 1:17-cv-01007)). Our lawsuit produced the following travel records showing a total of $9,028,346.90 for Obama travel:

A pair of Obama family vacations the weekend of February 14, 2014, cost the Secret Service $272,192.91:

• Michelle Obama’s annual trip to Aspen with her daughters – where she shut down the airport for an hour – cost $6,970 in air/rail, $5,614.99 in car rentals and $76,078.30 in hotels for a total of $88,663.29

• President Obama’s annual golfing trip to Palm Springs included a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and cost $10,951 in air/rail, $10,166.79 in car rentals and $162,411.80 in hotels for a total of $183,529.62

• Michelle Obama made two North Carolina trips in 2016 to campaign for Hillary Clinton. Air Force expenses total $40,902.40. In both trips, she took a C-40C military jet operating at $5,312 per hour.

• Michelle Obama flew to Charlottesville then to Raleigh on October 4 for 2.1 hours at a total of $11,155.20

• Michelle Obama flew round trip to Belville and then Salem on October 26 and 27 for a total of 5.6 hours at $29,747.20.

In July 2017, we filed a separate FOIA lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for the Air Force and Secret Service travel expenditures for the Trump family during April 2017 and Obama family between January 2009 and January 2017 (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Dept. of Defense and Dept. of Homeland Security (No. 1:17-cv-01341)).

Air Force and Secret Service records show President Obama’s annual trips to his former hometown of Chicago cost $7,444,780.78.

• During fiscal year 2015, Obama flew 9 hours at an operating cost of $206,337 per hour for a total of $1,857,033

• During fiscal year 2016, Obama flew 5 hours at an operating cost of $180,118 per hour for a total of $900,590

• During fiscal year 2017, Obama flew 6.2 hours at an operating cost of $142,380 per hour for a total of $882,756

• Secret Service records show a total of $3,804,401.78 in costs between 2011 and 2016 for the Chicago trips. The Secret Service spent $3,372,399.07 in hotels, $423,428.28 in car rentals and $8,574.50 in miscellaneous expenses.

• Secret Service showed expenses for Obama’s post-presidency travels of $1,913,702.21 including: $936,742.56 in hotels; $159,393.40 in air/rail; $2,684.11 in car rentals; $819.70 in overtime; and $814,062.44 in miscellaneous expenses. The destinations of these trips were withheld under “privacy” and “law enforcement” exemptions.

Air Force documents showed two of President Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago cost $1,124,802:

• President Trump flew to Mar-a-Lago to meet with China’s President Ji Jinping between April 6-9 for 4.1 hours at an operating cost of $142,380 per hour for a total of $583,758

• President Trump flew to Mar-a-Lago to celebrate Easter between April 14-16 for 3.8 hours at an operating cost of $142,380 per hour for a total $541,044

• Judicial Watch obtained Air Force records through a FOIA request showing that President Trump’s visits to his Bedminster, NJ, golf resort and a Pennsylvania rally cost $603,107.40: President Trump flew to a rally in Harrisburg, PA on April 29 to celebrate his 100th day in office. He flew 1.1 hours at an operating cost of $142,380 for a total of $156,618;

• President Trump flew to the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ between May 5-8, where he tweeted that he was saving money by not going to New York and causing a disruption. He flew 1.5 hours at an operating cost of $142,380 and .7 hours on a C-32A military jet at $15,994 for a total of $224,765.80;

• President Trump flew to Bedminster between June 9-11 for 1.4 hours at an operating cost of $142,380 per hour for a total of $199,332 and;

• Melania Trump flew to Bedminster July 14–16 in a military C-32A jet for 1.4 hours at an operating cost of $15,994 for a total of $22,391.60.

We elect a president, not a king with a royal right to travel at taxpayers’ expense. He should travel efficiently and safely, but not unduly. And it shouldn’t require federal lawsuits to prod the Secret Service and Air Force to produce information about the costs of presidential travel. Whether the travel is necessary or not, it’s a massive amount of money. We will continue to monitor this spending while taxpayers continue to pay the bills for presidential travel.

One legislator’s take on replacing Rep. Tieszen

I sent a note Thursday to state Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City, asking what advice he would offer to the person that Gov. Dennis Daugaard appoints to replace state Rep. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City. The funeral for Rep. Tieszen is Monday.

Lust served eight consecutive years in the House of Representatives, including the final four as House Republican leader, and returned to full-time law practice in 2015. After the death of Rep. Dan Dryden, R-Rapid City, last year, the governor appointed Lust to the vacancy. Lust is now serving the term Dryden won. Lust doesn’t plan to run in 2018.

Here’s what Dave had to say via email Thursday afternoon:

“Not to sound cliché but Craig really is irreplaceable. I cannot think of a legislator with whom I have served who was as engaged, responsive, and professional as Craig. He thoroughly enjoyed everything involved with the process. The things many legislators least enjoy (social events, crackerbarrels, etc…) were things Craig relished. He thoroughly enjoyed people – regardless of their perspective or beliefs. We had many hours in the car together to talk about issues and ideas. Those are great memories and I am going to miss that the most.

“I hope his replacement strives to maintain a similar level of professionalism, thoughtfulness, and respect for others. More importantly, I hope those who remain in the legislature model their conduct after Craig. That would be a great way to honor him.”

Grain company gets state’s second OK for Presho elevator

Dakota Mill and Grain began moving dirt recently at its site for a grain elevator the Rapid City firm has proposed at Presho. Meanwhile state government’s Aeronautics Commission gave its approval Tuesday for the elevator tower at the site.

The commission, meeting in Pierre, approved permits for a structure that could be 173 feet tall, as company officials prefer, or 153 feet as the company’s fallback position. Both permits are pending before the Federal Aviation Administration for a decision about whether either height meets the no-hazard standard.

The elevator site is 0.85 miles northeast from the Presho public airport.

State government’s Railroad Board gave the green light to Dakota Mill and Grain earlier this year to build a facility at Presho. The siding would be on state-owned property along the state-owned Mitchell-Rapid City rail line.

Jerry Cope of Rapid City serves on the railroad panel. Dakota Mill and Grain employs him. Cope abstained from the rail board’s discussion and approval of the Presho project.

“They’re in a hurry to put this facility up,” Colton Stahl, an employee in the state office of air, rail and transit, told Aeronautics Commission members Tuesday.

Commission member Arlen Hauge of Sioux Falls initially said he’d prefer to wait for the FAA’s decision regarding whether the elevator would be a hazard for an airplane.

“It just looks to me it would be a crazy place to put a structure,” Hauge said. He described a situation for a plane departing Presho airport.

Bob Huggins of Sioux Falls, the new commissioner whom Gov. Dennis Daugaard appointed earlier this month, didn’t agree with Hauge.

“It’s a grain elevator in South Dakota,” said Huggins, who worked twelve years as air traffic controller at the Sioux Falls public airport before recently retiring.

Huggins added, “I think it’s one of the least objectionable buildings I’ve seen.”

Eric Odenback of Eureka, the commission’s chairman, said the state commission’s decision wouldn’t matter if the FAA doesn’t approve the elevator. Hauge withdrew his substitute motion and voted for allowing the structure at either height.

Governor issues appointments

Gov. Dennis Daugaard made one reappointment and two appointments recently to state government boards and commissions, according to the latest issue of the Legislature’s official Register.

Kenneth Albers of Canton was reappointed to the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Albers, a former sheriff and a former legislator, would serve in his new term starting Jan. 18, 2018, until Jan. 17, 2022. He served 10 years as a state senator, from 1997 through 2004 and from 2007 through 2008.

Norman Sorenson of Rapid City was appointed to the Board of Hearing Aid Dispensers and Audiologists effective immediately Nov. 20, 2017. His term runs until Oct. 30, 2020. He succeeds Louise French of Rapid City, who served three terms. She originally was appointed July 18, 2008, by then-Gov. Mike Rounds.

Robert Huggins of Sioux Falls was appointed to the Aeronautics Commission. His term took effect immediately Nov. 17, 2017, and runs until Oct. 30, 2020. He succeeds Vernon “Skip” VanDerhule of Yankton. VanDerhule served three terms and originally was appointed Aug. 19, 2004, by then-Gov. Rounds.

State Banking Division issues lending-exemption guidelines

The Legislature approved a law earlier this year regarding money lenders and nonresidential mortgage lenders. Prime sponsor was Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City; the lead sponsor in the second chamber was Sen. Justin Cronin, R-Gettysburg. The measure’s final version won Senate approval 33-2 and got the green light from the House of Representatives 45-16 (and those sixteen are quite the mix of red R, blue D, and shades of purple).

The new law set a cap of $4 million and a limit of five or fewer nonresidential loans. Lust said a previous law passed in 2015 was too broad and covered too much. “I would argue we don’t need to regulate as far as we have,” he said. Lust added that many communities have people who are lenders of last resort and charge high interest rates. “These loans help people get financing immediately or ultimately,” he said.

“What they’re really asking is to be exempt from a tax,” argued Rep. Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, who has been a longtime banker. He opposed the measure. Bartels told House members that bank exemptions have grown to $7 million from $5 million in recent years. Responded Rep. Mark Willadsen, R-Sioux Falls, the legislation wasn’t about payday lending. “We’re talking about economic development in our communities,” Willadsen said.

Cronin told the Senate the purpose of the bill was to allow people and institutions to invest in businesses that otherwise can’t get a loan. He said the lender is barred from debt-collection tactics, which he described as “another good move.” Exceeding the $4 million requires registering with the state and becoming subject to the state’s six percent bank-franchise tax.

“I think we’ve got a good product here,” Cronin said. Sen. Jim Stalzer, R- said the new wording changed his position to an aye from a nay.

Rep. Liz May, R-Kyle, said her family’s business received a loan “from a really good gentleman who was willing to take a risk” and now are lenders too.

State government’s Department of Labor and Regulation announced this morning the forms for qualifying for the exemption are now available. Here’s the news release.

Banking Division Issues Money and Mortgage Lender Reporting Guidance

PIERRE, S.D. – House Bill 1179 passed during the 2017 legislative session and became effective July 1, 2017. It created limited exemptions for certain money lenders and nonresidential mortgage lenders under SDCL Chapters 54-4 and 54-14.

Official guidance on House Bill 1179 and the required annual reporting forms are posted at dlr.sd.gov/banking. Annual reports must be filed with the South Dakota Division of Banking by Dec. 31, 2017.

The reporting requirement included in House Bill 1179 is not intended to apply to loans made between family members. Additional questions can be directed to the Division at 605-773-3421.

Who ultimately makes teacher-compensation decisions

That’s a phrase, not a query missing the question mark. The local school boards agree to the contracts for teacher compensation with the local bargaining units, but the decision now sits with the 18 legislators who comprise the Joint Committee on Appropriations.

They gather at 1 p.m. CT on Dec. 4 (the agenda is here) to sort through the recommendations from state government’s School Finance Accountability Board. They’ll decide whether to accept the board’s decisions. None of the school districts face the penalty set in law — losing half of the additional state aid each district was supposed to receive under the 2016 act — but thirteen school boards were told to put more money into the compensation packages for the current school year.

No one has tested the state law giving the 18 legislators the authority to decide. But when the Legislature passes a law giving one of its committees the power, the South Dakota Supreme Court probably would defer to the Legislature. Lawmakers also increased the state sales and use tax rate to 4.5 percent, from 4 percent, to generate the money for the additional state aid and to provide local property-tax relief through the school districts’ general education levy.

The appropriations panel is split nine and nine. The House co-chairman is Rep. David Anderson, R-Hudson. The Senate co-chairman is Sen. Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings.

Other House members are Democrat Dan Ahlers of Dell Rapids and Republicans Hugh Bartels of Watertown, Lance Carson of Mitchell, Taffy Howard of Rapid City, Jean Hunhoff of Yankton, Chris Karr of Sioux Falls, John Lake of Gettysburg and Sue Peterson of Sioux Falls.

Other senators are Democrats Reynold Nesiba of Sioux Falls and Billie Sutton of Burke and Republicans Justin Cronin of Gettysburg, Terri Haverly of Rapid City, Jeff Partridge of Rapid City, Deb Peters of Hartford, Jim White of Huron and John Wiik of Big Stone City.

Here is the accountability board’s draft report.

Did your South Dakota alma mater make this list?

Here are ten top South Dakota post-high school institutions from the perspective of an organization rating online courses.

South Dakota State University (Brookings). Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown). University of South Dakota (Vermillion).. Augustana University (Sioux Falls). Northern State University (Aberdeen) Mitchell Technical Institute (Mitchell).  Western Dakota Technical Institute (Rapid City. Dakota State University (Madison). Dakota Wesleyan University (Mitchell). Presentation College (Aberdeen).

You can see methodology and other ranking schools here.

Governor chooses new judge for Third Circuit

Gov. Dennis Daugaard has chosen Magistrate Judge Dawn Elshere to be a circuit judge. Here is the Wednesday news release.

PIERRE, S.D. – Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced today that he will appoint Magistrate Judge Dawn M. Elshere as a circuit court judge in South Dakota’s Third Circuit Court in Brookings.

“I thank Judge Elshere for accepting this appointment,” said Gov. Daugaard. “As a magistrate judge, she already understands the important role that judges play in our society. I particularly appreciate her advocacy for alternative courts.”

Elshere will fill the vacancy created by the July retirement of Hon. Vince A. Foley. The Third Circuit includes Beadle, Brookings, Clark, Codington, Deuel, Kingsbury, Grant, Hamlin, Hand, Jerauld, Lake, Miner, Moody and Sanborn counties.

“I am very excited and honored to be given the opportunity by Gov. Daugaard to serve the Third Circuit as a Circuit Court Judge,” said Elshere. “I’ve enjoyed my work as the Magistrate Judge and the Beadle County Drug Court Judge and I look forward to serving in the capacity as circuit court judge.”

Elshere currently serves as a magistrate judge in the Third Circuit, a position she has held since 2015. Elshere was Codington County states’ attorney from 2007 to 2015. Prior to that service, she was a deputy states’ attorney in Codington and Brown counties, and was in private practice for five years. In 1994 and 1995, she was law clerk for Hon. Warren Johnson in the Eighth Circuit.

Elshere is a native of Hosmer, South Dakota. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of South Dakota in 1991 and is a 1994 graduate of USD School of Law.

Elshere administers the Beadle County drug court. She has served on the Unified Judicial System’s Judicial Training Committee and SAVIN Advisory Committee, and has worked as a trainer for the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault. Elshere and her husband, Brad, have two children.

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PUC warns phone companies to pay up

State government’s Public Utilities Commission decided Tuesday that some telecommunications providers licensed in South Dakota are late paying their gross receipts taxes.

Commissioners voted to notify the companies to show cause why the commission shouldn’t take action against the companies’ certificates of authority. The companies are:

Four long distance providers — Business Discount Plan Inc.; CSDVRS LLC; iNetworks Group Inc.; NECC Telecom Inc.

One VoIP provider — Telnyx.

Two wireless providers — Patriot Mobile LLC; and Tempo Telecom LLC.

The commission could impose fines and could suspend or revoke the certificates of authority.

Some districts received compromises on teacher pay

State government’s School Finance Accountability Board members sounded vexed at times last week during hearings on school districts whose officials argued they couldn’t afford to pay teachers as much as the 2016 state law required.

The board recommended Plankinton officials re-open teacher contracts and spend $53,886 more. That was less than half of the approximate penalty of $123,000 the district faced. The vote was 3-2.

Yeses came from Brandon Valley superintendent Jarod Larson, governor’s aide Patrick Weber and Belle Fourche schools business manager Susan Proefrock. Huron superintendent Terry Nebelsick and Mobridge-Pollock school board member Eric Stroeder voted no.

New Underwood saw its potential penalty reduced from $125,000 to $22,000. The recommendation was 4-1, with Nebelsick saying no.

McLaughlin faced a potential penalty of $122,807. The board voted 3-2 to recommend McLaughlin re-open teacher contracts to add $114,729. Nebelsick and Stroeder voted no.

The board meets by teleconference Nov. 27 to affirm its decisions from last week. The recommendations in the 26 appeals made to the board will go to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations for decisions Dec. 4.