Report from Pierre

The Senate was busy this week taking final action on all remaining Senate bills as Tuesday was cross-over day, the day all bills must pass the house of origin. With only two weeks left in the 2010 Legislative session, the budget has become the major priority of the Legislature and the debate over the budget is beginning to intensify.

The first week of the Legislative session the Democratic Caucus released its plan for handling the state's budget problems. The plan included capping state spending at 3 percent or the rate of inflation whichever is lower. County governments and school boards in the state are currently confined to this spending cap, but the state government is not.

The plan also included across the board cuts to state agencies and departments. Another priority was stopping the growth of full time state employees. I am very bothered by an attempt to hide some full time equivalents (FTEs) through HB 1052.  This bill would exempt students that work for a state institution in some capacity other than work study from the count of FTEs.

The Democratic Caucus's budget proposal also included consolidation of state departments, specifically the office of State Treasurer and the Commissioner of School and Public Lands. Yet, this proposal along with nearly all others we offered were killed by the majority party.

With only two weeks left in the session, we still have heard no solid plans on how the majority plans to handle the budget. I have a lot of affection and respect, both personally and professionally, for the leadership of the Republican Party.  I try hard to stay away from partisan politics, both in Pierre and in my articles, but this is absolutely irresponsible.  Year after year, budget issues get pushed to the last few weeks of the legislative session. In difficult financial times like these, the Legislature should not be waiting until the last minute to formulate a plan for the state's budget.

Determining the state's budget is one of the most important tasks of the Legislature. The next few weeks will be filled with intense debate over how the taxpayer's dollars should be spent. When dealing with your money, it is important that the Legislature take the time needed to make responsible spending decision. I will attempt to do just that in the next few weeks.

Please feel free to contact me should you have any suggestions or concerns in the next few weeks of the session. I can be reached at sen.nesselhuf@state.sd.us or at my home phone, 605-624-6178.

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