Fair still troubled: Lawmakers take initial step to fund shortfall

Fair still troubled: Lawmakers take initial step to fund shortfall
The South Dakota Senate approved a bill Jan. 17 that would fund the deficit for the 2005 South Dakota State Fair. Lawmakers will work this session to decide the fair's ultimate fate.

Senate Bill 27 would provide $994,000 to cover expenses for last September's fair. The allocated money would not be part of the 2006 state fair budget.

"The people of this state need to remember one thing about this bill, and this bill only � it has nothing to do with the future of the state fair," Sen. William Napoli, R-Rapid City. "This bill is just a bill to move forward."

Napoli said it is necessary to get the fair back on its feet, but this will be the last time he plans to support any additional money for fair deficits. He does intend to support legislation this session that will change the fair's structure and avoid future debt.

Napoli is chairing an appropriations subcommittee that will look at options for the fair's future. Meetings begin in February and none of the members have an idea to kill the fair, he said.

The committee will consider ending the fair as one option, but also will look at other directions in which the fair can go, Napoli said. That could mean coming up with a different funding formula.

"Everybody's pretty fed up with it," Napoli said. "We don't have a million dollars to shove at that thing every year. Hopefully this year we can make some decisions."

He invited members of the public to attend the meetings and give the committee their opinions on the fair's future.

South Dakota Agriculture Secretary Larry Gabriel said the state fair staff has put together a detailed budget that will allow the legislators to see how money is being spent.

"I believe that is necessary so they can understand what contributes those costs," he said.

One major part of the budget is to assist with medical bills for a staff person that was injured several years ago at the fair. Gabriel said that is one cost many don't realize is part of the fair budget.

He said it's hard to predict what the appropriations subcommittee will entail. He does know committee members will thoroughly look at the fair's budget.

During Senate discussion, Sen. Jerry Apa, R-Lead, reminded lawmakers that they often allocate millions of dollars to the S.D. Department of Corrections and other agencies that are responsible for the state's lawbreakers. He told senators they need to remember the law-abiding citizens and they can do that by preserving the fair.

"It brings people there that are the pillars of our society not at the downfall of society," he said.

Sen. Clarence Kooistra, R-Garretson, said the fair's price tag is too high.

"I am willing to work with the Department of Agriculture to work out the problems of the state fair, but we cannot continue to give the state fair a blank check," he said.

In 2004, a subcommittee met with Gabriel several times and agreed to give him three years to become more involved with the fair and work out its problems, especially the continuous deficit, said Sen. William Earley, R-Sioux Falls.

Because this is the third year of that agreement, several senators agree that it is the legislators' responsibility to follow through with the deal and allow the fair one more year for redemption.

Although the annual deficit has remained consistent, Garbriel has made improvements in several areas, Earley said. He has produced attendance and revenue numbers shortly after the fair and has dissected the budget into numbers, which has allowed them to detect where the financial problems lie.

Sen. Eric Bogue, R-Faith, said that Gabriel has worked hard to preserve the fair and deserves one more chance.

"It's completely inappropriate to place all issues on one single individual," he said.

The bill passed in the Senate 31-4. It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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