District 17 lawmakers take aim at budget

Even though the election is over, it doesn't mean the issues facing South Dakotans went away.

Two weeks after the election, a District 17 pre-legislative forum was held in Vermillion Tuesday night featuring all three representatives: State Sen.-elect Eldon Nygaard and Reps.-elect Jamie Boomgarden and Tom Jones.

The Vermillion Chamber of Development Company's Legislative Affairs Committee asked some of the questions during the forum, while the rest came from the audience.

Of course, the biggest issue of the forum was the budget deficit South Dakota faces, which will be greater than $100 million.

"We've spent more than we've taken in over the past few years, so we are going to have to cut state government," Nygaard said. "It's going to be tough."

Jones, who was just newly elected to District 17, said the deficit has not been a secret to the state legislators.

"We have some rainy-day funds, and it's definitely raining right now, so maybe we should dip into those funds," he said. "What you have to do is to look at the expenses, and we need to cut the frills out of our government."

Jones offered a few solutions on how South Dakota can save some money and how the state will be able to cut down the deficit.

"I think we need to end no-bid contracts and put everything out to bid," he said. "We have also seen a huge growth in state employees, and we need to quit paying companies big money to come across the state border when they were going to come anyway."

Boomgarden said that before any talk of cutting programs begins, legislators must see the budget that Gov.-Elect Dennis Daugaard will put forth this winter."There are lots of people who want to cut programs just to balance the budget without seeing the benefits of the programs," he said. "We need to look at how we got here. We can slash programs, but a lot of businesses have benefited from some of these programs."

Last year, education saw significant cuts from the kindergarten to college levels, and this year it could be the same way as the state looks to close the deficit.

But Jones, who is a former teacher and coach, said higher education and K-12 funding should come first, not last.

"We got $26 million for education and Medicaid, and it wasn't suppose to be put in the general fund, but that's where it was put," he said. "The state gave $18 million to an oil company (TransCanada) to come through South Dakota when they were coming through anyway. We didn't need to do that, and that money could've gone to education."

But saying the state won't cut education or will give more money to schools is easier said than done, Boomgarden said.

"Everyone makes their speeches about funding education," he said. "Education never receives a back seat; we just have mandated spending. We are going to be tagged again this year because we are penalized for doing well as a state right now."

But Nygaard agreed with Jones and said education needs to see more funding in South Dakota.

"We need to keep up with inflation and properly fund education," he said. "I see us as dead last in so many areas. We can't retain teachers because we can't give them a raise. A 2.7 percent increase this past year would've meant a lot."

Jones said one of the ways South Dakota can raise more money and see some economic growth is to work with and develop industries that can already be found in the state.

"We have to realize what we have here and that there are businesses that want to grow," he said. "A big one is wind energy, and South Dakota is considered the fourth windiest state. I think that's some very good potential."

Nygaard closed the forum by saying he has faith the state can get past these problems and balance the budget.

"It will be a juggling act, but I have great faith in our Legislature. We will work together and look forward," he said. "We have short-term problems, but we need to look forward so it doesn't happen again."

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