Rounds ready for challenges in Pierre

Rounds ready for challenges in Pierre Mike Rounds by David Lias Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Rounds can't claim the same degree of familiarity with Vermillion and The University of South Dakota that his opponent, James Abbott, enjoys.

That didn't stop Rounds from visiting Vermillion recently to tell people firsthand why he is running and to share his vision for the state's future.

Rounds said he is ready to take on the challenges facing the next governor of South Dakota, thanks, in part, to his 10 years of service in the South Dakota Legislature.

"My district elected me and then re-elected me four more times, so I've held elected office and I've stood that test," Rounds said. "In addition to that, my peers in the Legislature elected me as the majority leader not once but three times, so apparently they also felt I was an appropriate leader, moving in the right direction."

Rounds said he has been successfully tested in helping deal with problems challenging the state.

"We went through floods and blizzards; we increased taxes during that time," Rounds said. "We explained what we did, the people agreed to it. We brought Republicans and Democrats together, not by telling them what they had to do, and telling them we knew better than them, but by explaining to them and working the way through a process to build a consensus. It works.

"The average voter is a lot smarter than a lot of politicians would like to give them credit for, and that's the message that I send," he said. "I talk to people about a job I want to do, and that I want to work for them, and if I'm in a job interview, I should be talking about the things I can do, and about my basic beliefs."

Rounds doesn't hesitate to tell citizens he's pro-life. He's made it clear that he's against a state income tax. He also supports Gov. William Janklow's efforts over the years to reduce state property taxes by 30 percent.

"If we hadn't done that, the average person's cost for their schools that they would have paid out of their tax dollars would be 42 percent higher than if we hadn't provided the $130 million in property tax relief on their homes and their farms and their ranches," he said.

South Dakota has offered tax relief and yet has never failed to operate within a balanced budget, Rounds added.

"Even though some people voted against having a reserve account, I took the heat and I voted for a reserve account in 1991," he said. "In addition to that, we created a second reserve account called the property tax reduction fund, and we allowed extra monies that had been collected from the previous year and had not been spent on the state government level to not be spent the next year.

"We placed it in that fund in case we

experienced a bad year," Rounds said. "We met that bad year last year."

In 1993, South Dakota provided only 27 percent of the general cost of education in the state.

"When I left office at the end of the year 2000, we were almost at 54 percent," he said. "We almost doubled the amount that the state paid for education in that seven year period of time. I feel very good about that; I have a commitment to state aid to education."

Rounds noted that from 1995 to 2000, as the state was making more funds available to local school districts, the local school districts were placing more funds in their savings accounts.

"In 1995, we had $100 million in savings accounts in school districts," he said. "In 2000, when I left the Legislature, we had $200 million in savings accounts in school districts. Now we're back down to $147 million; they're tapping into those reserves."

Rounds said it's time to change the state aid to education formula.

"We should take the money from the declining enrollment, and average it back in to the kids that are left," he said.

Rounds said the interest from the state's tobacco tax trust fund will provide approximately $7.5 million of new money in its first year. In following years, that amount will grow to nearly $10 million annually.

"I propose to put that in as new money into the school budgets," he said. "I think we should put the vast majority of it into the state aid to education formula."

South Dakota needs to change its attitudes to encourage its young people to stay here, Rounds said.

"We should be exporting ethanol; we should not be exporting our children," he said. "When they go to school here, we should be finding every way to find a way to keep them in South Dakota."

Rounds said he will go to businesses and show them by example that South Dakota can afford to tap into the resource of its young people and "buy them away" from out-of-state competitors.

He hopes to eventually offer tuition free educations to youth at public and perhaps private universities and colleges in South Dakota in exchange for five years of public service in the state in job positions experiencing employee shortages.

"Once they have done that, I will reimburse, at the rate of one-fifth per year for five years so they will end up not having to have paid tuition while they are going to school in South Dakota."

He hopes a vast majority of these students get "bought away" by businessmen and businesswomen in South Dakota. "And they will pay them more money than what I can afford to pay them, and they will make enough to not only get ahead in life, but also repay us for the tuition and fees that we otherwise would have forgiven."

Rounds recognizes that the state's young people aren't the only population demographic facing challenges. Retirees must deal with a host of problems, especially in the area of health care.

"Medicare has to be reformed," he said. "Congress has that responsibility to do that."

In the meantime, Rounds said, South Dakota can help people save money on prescription drugs through a program that encourages the use of generic drugs rather than name-brand drugs when possible.

People who are 65 and over are often at a disadvantage when it comes to purchasing prescription drugs, because they can't take advantage of networks that are formed by private insurance companies to provide price discounts.

"When you're over the age of 65, you don't have an insurance company, because Medicare doesn't cover prescription drugs," Rounds said, "so you don't have the advantage of having a network to get that same discount."

He wants to use networks in place today, and make them available to senior citizens.

Rounds said his winning the Republican gubernatorial nomination on a budget of under $120,000, while his two opponents spent millions of dollars, demonstrates that South Dakotans believe in what he's proposing for the state's future.

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