A few ways to begin a dialogue next week

A few ways to begin a dialogue next week by the Plain Talk Imagine stepping into the Capitol building at Pierre, or into any of the several surrounding nearby structures that house state offices.

Now imagine all of the walls of those offices have suddenly disappeared.

That, in a nutshell, is what will be happening here in Vermillion on Wednesday, April 20, as our community becomes Capital for a Day.

Following an opening ceremony at 3 p.m. in the Vermillion High School Commons, Gov. Mike Rounds and officials from 18 state agencies will be available, from 3 to 6 p.m., for some one-on-one interaction with the public.

Capital for a Day is a time for Vermillion to not only put its best foot forward and show itself off a bit. It�s also a time for everyone involved, from every John and Jane Doe of our fair city, to Gov. Mike Rounds and each of his cabinet officials, to learn something.

We�re a firm believer that the best way to learn is to ask questions. We understand how that can be difficult, maybe even a bit intimidating, when you�re face-to-face with some of the most powerful people in state government.

In the interest of making the process a bit easier, we�ve thought up a few sample questions. We�re certainly not advocating that they use them, but if you suddenly find yourself grasping for a way to get a dialogue started, you may want to consider lobbing out one of these, and see what happens.

? We know that South Dakota only has so much money to spend in its budget each year. But can�t something be done to provide the needed funds to make sure education is properly funded?

? We realize a state legislative task force will be studying the issue of school funding this summer, and in particular, it will be looking at the school state aid formula. But will participants be looking at ways of increasing the total amount of revenue allocated to schools, or will they merely be shuffling around the current amount spent on education?

? Could the state help us all save a bit of money, in the long run, by offering more incentives to smaller school districts to consolidate sooner rather than hanging on until operating alone is no longer feasible? Or is consolidation not a viable answer to make school funding more economical?

? We realize that education is not the only area of spending that South Dakota must tackle each year. One challenging area has been in corrections and law enforcement. Consider posing this question to Gov. Rounds, or representatives of the Department of Public Safety of Department of Corrections: As of the end of 2004, there were 3,103 men and women in the state prison system. That compares with 1,733 in 1995. The prison population is growing at an average annual rate of 7.6 percent a year. The 2003 Legislature authorized construction of 792 new prison beds, but projections show those will meet the system�s needs for only five years. What can be done to reduce the costs of caring for a ever-growing inmate population so that some of those resources could be shifted to our young going to school, or our elderly on Medicare? Would a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and drug treatment help? How about intensive probation? Are these options viable; would they reduce the prison population while meting out appropriate punishment without diminishing public safety?

? Toss this one at officials from the departments of environmental resources and agriculture: We live in one of the most beautiful areas of South Dakota, with rich farmland, the Missouri River and other resources. How can we progress in the next decade without putting the environment and our precious water supply at risk? Can you assure us that large livestock operations won�t threaten our way of life?

We�ve only really skimmed the surface here; there�s so much to talk about next week, ranging from ethanol and wind power to economic development, West Nile and care for the elderly and disabled.

Become involved. Share your concerns Wednesday.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials

reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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