Legislative View

Legislative View by Rep. B.J. Nesselhuf The 77th Legislative Session of the South Dakota Legislature began last week. The opening event was Gov. Janklow's last State of the State Address. While the governor went into great detail about the problems facing South Dakota, he neglected to give us any proposals to solve these problems.

The most troubling item in Gov. Janklow's speech was his idea to require a 60 percent majority in public elections for local governments to opt-out of the property tax freeze.

This would make it nearly impossible for school districts and counties to obtain needed revenue in times of budget shortfalls. Inevitably, this will lead to crisis. Democrats agree that fiscal responsibility is very important. However, this is more an issue of local control. Local voters should make decisions on local tax issues. They do not need the state government to tell them what to do.

It was surprising that the governor did not mention South Dakota's budget shortfalls. This session, South Dakotans will hear hours of debate on balancing the budget using our reserves.

There is agreement that the Legislature may have to use some reserve dollars to meet the budget this fiscal year. The debate to use more reserves for future budgets is much more divisive.

Throughout this recession, state government must not be any different from its citizens; it must tighten its belt and look for more ways to be efficient. This Legislature must decide what its priorities are and make sure every cent appropriated represents those priorities.

Therefore, the Democratic Caucus will offer a Constitutional Amendment that will call future state Legislatures to pass general appropriations bills by a 60 percent majority. Our goal is to ensure the Legislature's budget process is more fiscally responsible and responsive to the will of all South Dakotans. I wonder if the majority of this Legislature agrees that they should follow the same standards as local voters.

This week, the governor's special committees on education presented the Education Committee with their findings. One of the most controversial topics of these reports was school consolidation. I agree with incentives for school consolidations, but I am not in favor of forced consolidations.

Aside from consolidation, there was much common ground amongst the various committees on some of the less controversial issues. All wanted to improve accountability and standards. All agreed that teachers were the most important aspect in a child's education; and for that reason teacher education and retention in the state need to be improved.

A very popular idea was the teacher-mentoring program, in which more experienced teachers would help those with less experience deal with the problems that new teachers face.

The governor leveled his usual claims that small school districts are hoarding money while their students' test scores get worse and their teachers salaries remain low. He used charts comparing the average test scores and salaries of small school to those of the larger schools. Many ask if this is a fair comparison, or if it is comparing apples to oranges.

An issue to be on the lookout for in the future is the stream line sales tax legislation. Currently, the state of South Dakota is not collecting most of the sales tax revenue from items sold via the Internet. The Internet Tax Freedom Act passed by the United States Congress in 1998 currently protects companies selling their goods on-line. However, states are working together to streamline sales tax laws across the country. If 22 states can agree on a plan, the federal government may allow states to begin collecting those sales taxes from Internet companies. We will be learning much more about this issue throughout the session.

As always, I appreciate the calls and concerns from the people of my district. I look forward to hearing you thoughts on the important issues facing this Legislature.

Please feel free to contact me at 773-3851.

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