It has been a slow week for committees as bills begin to flow in to receive their first reading in the House and are assigned to specific committees. Next week things will change. The appropriation committee has been busy since day one, reviewing the state budget of specific departments.
As for education issues, the only one I am concerned about is the requirement of schools (K-12) under 200 students to have to consolidate. I do not believe it has too much support, but some big names are carrying the bill. Luckily, our governor has made comments to the press that he did not support the forced closing of schools. These are two bad bills because there is a sister bill on the Senate side which has identical language.
K-12 education was addressed in the governor's budget Tuesday. Up front, the schools have already been given a 3 percent increase in state aid funding, which will show that education is not the last item worked on in state government. The appropriations committee will comb through the state budgets and try to uncover other monies that are not needed. Their job is generally not completed until the second to last week of session. It will be at this time we know how much is owed or how much is left over for special interest. Special interest is any category or item any of the 105 legislators may want the monies to go to. This is where all the debates come in – should it go to nursing facilities, Medicaid, drought relief, K-12 education, corrections, preschool education and so on. Many demands but only so much money.
The Republican House and Senate members have in the first week of session come up with a plan to use the tobacco tax revenues that are a result of the initiative we voted on last November in the general election. The first $28 million (as before) will still go into the state's general fund. After $28 million, the additional monies are divided evenly among three other funds – health, education and property tax relief.
At this time the prediction is that each fund will receive an average of $9 million per year from the tobacco tax over the next five years. The way this will work is that education may expect a $9 million increase for K-12 education, which will be targeted in some manner. The health care fund will receive $9 million, due to the federal match reduction the state suffered this budget year. When a state's economy improves, it receives a penalty. In South Dakota's case, due to land valuations and sales receipts increasing at rapid rates, nearly the best in the nation, the reward is we lost $16 million in federal dollars. The state will use the health care portion of the tobacco tax to help offset this loss of revenue.
Finally, the property tax reduction fund will receive the remaining $9 million, which the intent will be to return the money to the property owners by having county mill levies lowered. Keep in mind this does not take any money from the principle of the reserve funds; the principle is still growing but at a slower rate. These "earnings" are still being used as directed to categories as the voters requested in the November election. This is the early direction of the proposal and we will just have to see what changes are in store for these dollars as the session progresses.
Other things coming up this session is the HPV vaccine which the state is taking a lead on which will be voluntary and free to females between the ages of 11 to 18. This virus is responsible for cervical cancer, which affects 25 females, causes infertility and kills nine women each year. There is a federal match, which the state will use to offset their cost to keep this free of charge. The hope is that parents will communicate with their daughters about the serious and silent effects this virus can cause in their lives.
It sounds like the designation for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory in Lead (which is one of two potential sites) will be announced in April. This is very exciting due to the potential for many high paying jobs and the large budgets they will eventually operate on.
Minimum wage was reported as a bill the governor would like to see increased from the $5.15 per hour to $6 dollars per hour. We will have to hear the case for supporting this request, but not too sure how much support it will receive. A side note is that the U.S. House of Representatives has just passed a minimum wage increase to $7.25 dollars per hour. This bill would override the current state requested increase as the one the governor proposed. So this may be a wait and see issue.
There are lots of rumors and proposals floating around right now, and we will see in the coming weeks how many will turn up as bills and discuss them more at that time. Feel free to contact me if any questions arise or if you would like to make any comments. I can be reached through e-mail at Rep.Boomgarden@state.sd.us.
As always, keep the American troops in your thoughts and prayers as they perform their duties and are away from family and friends.