The first two weeks have sailed past. So far, I appreciate the four-day workweek concept. This allows legislators a little more time at home to see their families and to communicate with you.
Several senior Republican Legislators have joined Prime Sponsor Jerry Apa in co-sponsoring SB110 that would add 2 cents fuel tax to Ethanol blends. This is a revision of SDCL section 10-47B-4. It singles out Ethanol blends from 8 other classifications of fuel listed in that law. I do not believe this is the time to impose this additional tax on Ethanol at a point where the industry is faced with significant profitability challenges. This is a time when South Dakota Farmers and Ethanol Producers need leadership and innovation in encouraging increases in consumption to remain profitable. I am in support of legislation to enhance Blender Pump installations in South Dakota.
I am co-sponsoring two Veterans bills: The first is to establish March 29, 2008 as Vietnam Veterans Day in South Dakota. March 29th is the 35th anniversary of the final withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam. About 18,000
South Dakotans served on active duty during the Vietnam Era 1964-75. Seventy Eight percent of active duty South Dakotan's actually served in Vietnam with 212 having been killed in action. This is no-cost legislation.
The second bill is to provide higher education fee and tuition waiver for Purple Heart recipients of service in Desert Storm and Operation Iraq/Afghanistan Freedom. Currently, 8/2/1991 has been established by Congress as the beginning date of this wartime service. The date is open ended. This would assist Purple Heart recipients from the State for their service for our great nation. DAV is aware of 24 Purple Heart recipients from South Dakota who would potentially be eligible for this waiver at state institutions of higher education. DAV estimates that a third of these individuals would utilize this benefit; therefore, the cost would be insignificant. This bill would be an excellent example of "actions", doing something for our brave young service men and women who are routinely embraced with "words" in political speeches across the state.
In his State of the State address, Governor Rounds suggested that schools having 23-24 percent budget reserves were too high and difficult to justify. However, state law allows for up to a 25 percent budget reserve. I spoke with Vermillion Schools Superintendent Mark Froke regarding the reserves. He reported that the Vermillion Schools budget reserves were 18 percent for last year and that this was just sound financial management. In that, a school needs reserves to cover all the unforeseeable expenses. For example, one can not predict how much snow there will be to remove, how low the temperatures drop or climb, how many repairs will be needed, etc. The list of contingencies go on and on; some schools have even been forced to borrow money to continue in operation as their reserves were not adequate. This is not a reason to reduce education funding especially if you are comparing schools that have opted-out with those who have not.
The Department of Corrections testified before the Appropriations Committee during the first week regarding their budget. The Governor recommended $105,800,302 for the correction facilities and the Department of Corrections had it broken down in the following manner: 65.04 percent or $2,230,405 for Adult Corrections, 33.28 percent or $379,178 for Juvenile Corrections, and lastly, 1.68 percent or $43,256 for Administration purposes.
This budget is about a 3 percent increase from last year's budget, or $3,997,523. The Department proposed creating at least two more positions for social services and for cultural/religious activities. These positions, plus the Governor's Compensation package (which accounts for 57.92 percent of their budget or $1,536,468) and statewide pay raises, account for the majority of the budget's increase.
Attorney General Larry Long briefed the committee on his budget for 2008. The Attorney General's budget is recommended to increase by 3 percent. His office plans on hiring two new prosecutors, but both positions will be paid for through Federal Funds. The Attorney General is also proposing, has asked the Governor to become independent of the salary regulations. I do not support opening the door to an exemption as that could lead to future arguments from other agencies and fields. Along with new positions, the Attorney General's office is asking for $58,000 extra in the budget to go towards ammunition.
The Department of Revenue and Regulation has a recommended budget of $58,924,526; this is a 7.6 percent increase or $4,159,939. The Department reported that due to the increase in cigarette taxes, sales in South Dakota were extremely affected. Problems of across the border purchases and online sales are on the rise. Also, there was concern for the gambling machines and their inspections.
However, the major increase in this year's spending from this department is due to a request for an increase in computer services. This new IRP/IFTA will update their system to electronic format and allow for a new contractual service system. This project is estimated
to cost $1.5 million.
The South Dakota Retirement System went over their budget of $3,614,049; this is a 6.6 percent increase or $224,561. The aging of the baby boomers is having a greater impact on the retirement system, and in the next five years almost twenty percent of SDRS members will be eligible for full retirement. This will require $90,846 and 2 FTEs to accommodate the change.
Appropriations committee heard from the Office of the Secretary of State. Their recommended budget comes to a total of $4,436,581. This is a .5 percent increase or $22,767. The increase comes from the increase in salary statewide. This was the lowest increase of all departments thus far.
The Department of Transportation budget is proposed for a total of $489,696,290. This is a 6.3 percent decrease or $32,907,000
Governor Rounds has proposed a reduction of $2,000,000 in the Department of Transportations Highway Patrol budget. Both sides of the isle have questioned this cost savings. When I made inquiries of the Governor's Staff
I learned that this reduction is for this year only and that it resulted from the following: holding off from buying new Highway Patrol cars until next year's budget, increasing the amount of visibility to the traveling public by parking along the interstate and monitoring automobile speeds etc. instead of patrolling and consuming fuel, and reducing the "overtime" budget amount. I agree with the Governor's first two reductions, however, in talking with my district 17 colleague from across the isle, Rep. Boomgarden, the third reduction in overtime pay should be considered further. Perhaps, by keeping the $275,000 for overtime it would avoid a possible morale
problem. I do not believe the budget reduction would result in any lost law enforcement and in fact may even improve it with more visibility along the highways.
For more detailed information regarding my District 17 representation in the 83rd Session of the South Dakota Legislature you can go to www.Nygaard.us. When e-mailing me at rep.Nygaard@state.sd.us please note where you are from. I get a large amount of unsolicited input from outside of District 17; I especially need input from my district to better represent you.