We need more than ‘easy’ answers

"You can't cut your way to success."

This statement, made by USD President James Abbott to the Plain Talk last month following a forum in which he explained just how administrators planned to trim $1.2 million from the university's $150 million budget, sticks with us.

It's a sentiment that we all should be keeping in mind, especially this year, when we will be casting ballots in a few months for who we think will best serve us as our representative in Congress, and who we believe should take over the reigns of state government in the governor's office in Pierre.

Perhaps no elected official will have as much of a direct effect on Vermillion's future as our next governor. We're not going to go out on a limb and endorse anyone  – the primary election was only held a few weeks ago, and all of us South Dakotans need to listen as Republican Dennis Daugaard and Democrat Scott Heidepriem lay out their plans for us to consider.

Either Daugaard or Heidepriem will be our next governor, and their political philosophies will, in essence, spell out future funding for K-12 and higher education.

Education, to a community that perhaps one day will be promoted as "U-Town," is, let's face it, our lifeblood.

Unfortunately, education at all levels in our state seems to have been relegated to a Cinderella status. And, it seems, there's no fairy godmother in sight.

It was a bit troubling to hear Gov. Mike Rounds tell delegates to Girls State, held on the USD campus earlier this month, that no budget crisis exists in South Dakota. He noted that $107 million in reserves that existed before the recession began three years ago are still there. He also proudly talked about how South Dakotans have not had to experience an increase in state taxes.

"We're getting by simply (through) becoming more efficient and using one-time dollars wherever possible," he said.

Granted, the state budget problems we face in South Dakota are peanuts when you consider that some states, like California and Oregon, are drowning in red ink.

Frankly, though, we'd like to see an honest discussion develop, especially between the candidates in the governor's race. We need to know specifically what's in store for the University of South Dakota.

While delegates to Girls State may have found comfort in Gov. Rounds' stating that there is no budget crisis in South Dakota, he didn't mention that 17 vacant positions will be eliminated next year at USD, and that 11 new positions will be created. Nor did the governor mention that a net of 10 graduate assistant positions would be eliminated at the university.

The reduction in funding made it necessary to eliminate three positions. Nine other positions at the university will experience reductions in contracts.

Approximately 25 percent of the net cut to USD's budget will be made in the university's operating expenses. Benefits to USD personnel will be reduced 9 percent, Tech Fellows will bear approximately a 10.3 percent cut, and the revenue allocated for graduate assistants will be reduced by a bit more than 16 percent.

The governor's correct about taxes. They didn't go up. That doesn't mean South Dakotans aren't shelling out any more money to help balance the state budget, however.

Rounds didn't mention to the Girls Staters that students who enroll in a public university in South Dakota would be paying 4.6 percent more in tuition and mandatory fees this fall. The increase will cover less than half of the cuts made by the Legislature earlier this year. The public universities have to absorb the rest of those cuts by reducing services or eliminating programs.

It is, when you stop and think about it, the "easy way" to solve South Dakota's budget problems. It's not, however, necessarily the best way.

For all the quick-and-dirty cuts the Legislature has had to make, with the governor's blessings, there doesn't seem to be an equally assertive effort to take a step back and make more deliberate changes to the cost and structure of government.

It's easy to simply freeze the amount of state funding allocated to K-12 education. That's what our local school board has to contend with as it maps out its future budget.

It's easy to say we balanced our state fiscal books and didn't raise taxes, without mentioning that positions at USD have been cut at the same time that tuition and fees for the students we hopefully will still be able to attract have gone up.

We have complex budget problems to deal with in our state – problems that, if not addressed with proper foresight, will linger for years.

That's why we worry when it's sounds like we're being given "easy" answers to such complicated issues.

We think you should be worried, too.

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