Pierre Report: ‘We’ll get through this’

Each week  brings new thoughts and challenges to us in Pierre.  This week has been no exception.  Some 180 bills have been introduced for the House of Representatives to consider.  If the Senate has the same, that adds up to 360 bills.  As a freshman legislator, I am having a difficult time understanding why we have so many.  Is our state that badly ruled or are we putting bills in for the enlargement of our egos?  I am told the number of bills this year is 100 to 150 less than past years. The main reason for fewer bills is because so much time and effort is being spent on our governor�s proposed budget.

In the Friday, Jan. 28 edition of the Argus Leader, an 89-year-old gentleman from Elk Point had an editorial on the budget proposal.  How refreshing to read common sense from a former farmer and businessman. School administrators and primary care providers are shouting about the 10 percent budget cuts across the board to balance the state�s budget and the effect these cuts will have on their entities.

This budget deficit didn�t just occur.  The budget has been out of sync for seven to eight years. As a businessman, I am a firm believer in staying within the constraints of a budget, but this problem should not be solved in one year.  Our governor has stated that he would veto any tax increases.  No one wants their taxes increased, but even more so, no one wants to see our quality of life diminish drastically in one year.  There have been two or three bills circulated throughout the legislature asking for a sales tax increase with different lengths them time and amounts of increases in them.  There will be others coming.

Let�s visit about solid numbers.  A 10 percent cut in children�s� education will affect the following schools this way:  Centerville � $107,623, Hurley � $56,454, Parker � $172,966,  Vermillion � $606,230,Viborg � $121,076.  We have two options:  cut teachers or do an (or another) opt-out.  Regardless of which option a school chooses, it does shift the burden to the property tax payers.

A 10 percent cut in Medicaid is $30 million from the state. This is only partially true.  The federal government is a partner in Medicaid, so if we cut at the state level we lose another $40 million in federal funds for a total loss of $70 million. The $40 million is all new money to the state. Using the 7x multiplier of economic development experts, that becomes a $280 million hit to the state's economy.

The Game, Fish, and Parks Department is being cut 22 percent of its budget, all from general funds.  This appears to be huge but it's not; 85 to 90 percent of GF&P's income is self-funded through parks fees, hunting and fishing licenses and other revenues.

An absolutely great asset we have in South Dakota is the State Investment Council.  Did you know we have the number one investment council in the United States?  What they are accomplishing with our state monies is the envy of the investing world.  Our governor has told them to cut 10 percent also, but that may be short-sighted. The staff at the Investment Council can probably find work anywhere in the nation � including on Wall Street. I would hate to see that office crippled because it is very important to our state employees and public retirees.

It�s refreshing to have so many e-mails this week.  I have had over 120 of them; most were concerned with the budget.  Don�t be afraid to ask tough questions.  I�ll try to answer them.  If I don�t know the answer, I�ll try to find someone that does.

We can get through this difficult time.

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