But by any objective measurements it's hard to see how the 2007 session of the Legislature can be seen as anything but a great success for South Dakota.
In the first week of the session the House and Senate Republicans laid out a five point legislative agenda that set the benchmarks for the session. The program called for:
1. $45 million in new money over the next five years for K-12 education.
2. $45 million in new money over the next five years in property tax relief.
3. $45 million in new money over the next five years for health care.
4. Comprehensive campaign finance reform.
5. Passage of a balance budget with no withdrawal from the rainy day funds.
By the end of the 2007 session the South Dakota Legislature had successfully passed bills accomplishing each of these five objectives.
K-12 education received $14 million in new money, above and beyond the $17 million budgeted for the 3 percent statutory increase.
Those funds are distributed across several important areas � $4 million in additional general funds with no strings attached, $1.7 million for cooperative programs through the regional Education Service Agencies, $1.5 million for Career and Technical education in the high schools, $4 million specifically targeted to address and increase teacher pay and the balance for additional funds required from implementation of recommendations resulting from the two year Task Force Study.
This represents a total budget increase of $34.5 million for the largest one-year increase in K-12 education funding in the state's history. And unlike most years, that was done almost entirely from state funds, not increasing local effort in the form of local property taxes.
The resulting funding level for 2008 will be a minimum of $4,528.80 per student or $113,220 for each class of 25 students. That is a 3.76 percent increase over last year's base number. That is before inclusion of a further $33 per student available through the Teacher's Compensation Assistance Program (T-CAP). All of this year's funding increase is ongoing and will carry on into future years.
The Property Tax Relief was provided in the form of immediate reductions in property tax levies for all classifications, including commercial property tax payers. This contributed to a 10.5 percent decrease in mill levies statewide.
Nine million dollars from the Health Care Tobacco Tax Fund filled a gap resulting from a reduction in the portion of Medicaid funding provided by the Federal Government, freeing up money in the General budget for other priorities that would otherwise have had to be cut.
Campaign finance reform addressed some gaps in the laws that came to light during the 2006 election cycle and greatly increased the transparency and reporting requirements for candidates so that voters can know where campaign money is coming from and judge for themselves if that money represents a threat to the independence of office holders.
A balanced budget, without depleting the rainy day fund, means that lawmakers continue to manage the public purse in a responsible manner while protecting the $137 million in "rainy day" budget reserves that might be needed if our state's economy were to run into any difficulties.