Report from Pierre By Senator Ben Nesselhuf
District 17 The budget continues to be the main focus of the 2009 legislative session. Many of my fellow lawmakers want to raise taxes avert the governor's proposed budget cuts. I will resist any effort to raise taxes, whether they be property taxes or sales taxes. A temporary sales tax is really no permanent fix to what the governor calls our â�?�?structural deficitâ�? because when the tax goes away we still will have a hole in the budget. Rather than raise taxes on South Dakota families, I would like to institute an across-the-board cut, tap the budget reserves and other excess funds in state government. Budget cuts are also possible. The governor has proposed a whole slew of cuts in important education and health programs that affect children, seniors and poor families. His cuts appear to be designed to force the legislature to raise taxes. I also want to find budget cuts, but I think it's irresponsible to simply shift health and education costs back to local governments. That's not a cut, and in fact it's a big waste of resources because if state government shirks its role in programs like â�?�?Birth to Threeâ�? which helps infant with disabilities then we would lose a lot of federal funds. The same is true of many of the governorâ�?�?s so-called cuts. I want to look for savings in corporate welfare programs, out-of-state travel, the state-owned airplane fleet, Washington lobbying and other no-bid private contracts, which number in the hundreds. On the Senate floor the smoking ban failed by one vote this week, but the issue isn't dead. There will be an effort in the House of Representatives to pass such a bill. Legislators are getting tremendous input on the issue from both proponents and opponents. The House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that is intended to stimulate home construction in South Dakota communities. Itâ�?�?s a small attempt at our own economic stimulus package. Unlike Washington, we canâ�?�?t print and distribute money. But this bill simply lowers property taxes to owner-occupied status on new homes that havenâ�?�?t yet been sold. It should help both the builders and the home buyers. Open government continues to be a big concern for lawmakers. This week we tried to get more information on the REDI Fund. That information used to be readily available. This year, after several requests for information, our party leaders still only received sketchy answers. How can legislators make good public policy decisions if we donâ�?�?t have access to information? I will strongly support a bi-partisan bill proposed this session that will declare a â�?�?presumption of opennessâ�? on all state records unless the information is specifically closed to the public by state law. This sounds like an Inside-Pierre fight but I assure you that it is critically important to our democracy and government efficiency. We canâ�?�?t cut the budget if we donâ�?�?t have the numbers. The 2009 legislative session is almost at the half-way point. The good ideas are rising to the surface, and Iâ�?�?m confident that weâ�?�?ll be able to balance the budget without raising your taxes and causing more difficulties for people back home. But a lot of tough decisions remain to be made so I look forward to your continued advice and ideas. I appreciate the opportunity to serve the people of Clay and Turner counties. I enjoy hearing from constituents and can be reached in Pierre by email at email@example.com or by calling 605-773-3821. �?