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Legislators Await Budget Proposal

SD State Capitol, Summer 2012
Kealey Bultena
SD State Capitol, Summer 2012

Tuesday South Dakota’s governor presents his vision for the state’s next fiscal year. Governor Dennis Daugaard is set to release his proposed budget for all of the state’s finances starting July first. New, returning and some outgoing lawmakers make the trek to Pierre for details on the governor’s plans and offer insight into this session's budget issues.

Vague details ahead of the 2013 budget proposal offer a glimpse of lawmakers’ daunting task. When the full budget is revealed, the distribution of dollars and cents isn’t likely to appease everyone. It’s also not expected to be as devastating as the ten percent across-the-board cuts suggested just two years ago.

"You know, when you’re broke, there’s nothing to fight over," Olson says. "And, you know, last year we saw it. The knives came out when you start dividing up how those precious resources that we have finance end of things get divided up and priorities redefining who gets what is where the arguments are going to come from."

Senator Russell Olson from Wentworth guides Republicans into the January legislative session. The Senate Majority Leader says lawmakers anticipate developing a plan to tackle economic development. That’s after last session’s effort to implement a Large Project Development fund was referred to public vote and failed.

"I definitely think that we’re going to see some attention paid to how those dollars are reinvested into economic development efforts in the state. We’re talking $10 million to $17 million to $22 million that could come as a result of that contractor’s excise tax, money that is no longer, as of January 1, going to be rebated," Olson says. "So we’re going to have to reassess where the priorities for those funds are going to go and, at the same juncture, I think that a reassessment of how we invest in economic development again across the state as a whole."

Olson says the Governor’s plan calls for a mandated  three percent increase for South Dakota schools and a small bump for Medicaid providers.

Across the rotunda from the Senate chambers, Speaker of the House Val Rausch prepares to leave the legislature. He says his colleagues are examining how to retool their efforts to reform education and economic development following that November vote.

"The last general election, the ballot really plays the cards for what they have to do," Rausch says.

Rausch says implementation of the Affordable Care Act also ties into the Medicaid discussion, so that’s another facet to the legislature’s tasks. Rausch lost his primary election this year, but he says he’s confident the legislative body and the Governor can handle the state’s challenges. He says people shouldn’t panic based on the 2013 proposal.

"Governor Daugaard has been very good at including the legislature up front and in sharing his vision to us," Rausch says. "So in some cases, those line up pretty close. We’ve agreed with him and we’ve actually, at times, been able to have him tweak his vision, so it’s something we can obviously support and push forward."

Other lawmakers are less confident.

"Oh, I’m preparing to be frustrated," Representative Susan Wismer says. "I’m afraid that he’s going to be talking about the fiscal cliff and Euro failing instead of the terrible damage that we’ve done to our K-12 and higher education institutions and to our Medicaid providers."

Wismer acknowledges that potential federal cuts would have a significant impact on South Dakota’s budget; however, the Appropriations committee member says she wants a fiscal discussion focused on those big three topics: education, health care and economic development. The Democrat agrees with Republican leaders that the failed ballot initiatives show voters weren’t satisfied with last year’s solutions. Wismer says South Dakota needs to restore funding for several years to meet the state’s responsibilities.

"If education and Medicaid, if we weren’t always trying to plug the holes in those budget, if they were a little closer to being sufficiently funded, then all of the other needs of state government could be much more effectively addressed," Wismer says. "But because education and Medicaid are so critically underfunded, we can’t address all of the other needs that we have in the state."

Wismer says lawmakers have a unique opportunity to understand South Dakota’s financial ledger. She says that mandates a greater responsibility to vet the best use of taxpayer money. 

Representative Scott Munsterman says he takes his obligation seriously. The Brookings Republican chairs the legislature’s long range planning committee. The panel considers issues facing South Dakota, and lawmakers just got their start this year.

"But what’s been interesting is that we have learned some things over the course of the last several months, and especially in regards to how well are we preparing our workforce for the future?" Munsterman says. "And that really begins to ask questions in regards to, how well are we doing with student achievement in our K-12 system? How well does our higher education system really integrate with our economic policy that we have in place?"

Munsterman says the long range planning committee allows lawmakers to act independently, rather than just react to other state decisions. When it comes to the budget address, the representative says he expects lawmakers to form opinions. He hopes everyday South Dakotans do, too.

"As they react to the governor’s address, then that reaction needs to come to the legislators that they have within their districts, so that we can understand what their concerns are," Munsterman says. "Because, we’re only 105 people in this 800,000 plus state population, and we don’t know everything, believe it or not, and we need the help of the people we represent."

South Dakota lawmakers have just more than one month after the budget address before they return to Pierre, but their work starts long before January 8th.

You can tune in to Tuesday's budget proposal from Governor Dennis Daugaard and hear how leading lawmakers respond to the numbers. The budget address airs live on SDPB Radio, SDPB TV and SDPB.org. It all starts at 1 p.m. CT/12 p.m. MT on South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

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