Greetings from Pierre

Everyone needs more money – or is it wants?

By Sen. Tom Jones

District 17

After three weeks of having departments within the state government present their budget requests for the fiscal year 2014, it has become apparent they all have one thing in common. They all have requested more money than what the governor has proposed in his 2014 budget. This week we listened to the Department of Education, Tourism, Administration, Economic Development and Human Services.

One of the Department of Education’s goals is to have all students entering the fourth grade to be proficient in reading. Students who do not read at this level when entering fourth grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than students who are proficient readers. Two factors that are the greatest problems in reading proficiency are: 1) Chronic absence and 2) summer reading/learning loss. The South Dakota Reads program showed improvements and had hundreds of teachers trained, but the program was not funded for continuing years.

When high school students take the ACT and score 18 or less in math or 20 or below in English, they need remedial courses. Letters were sent from the DOE to all students and their parents if they did not score the minimums and offered remedial opportunities through the DOE as a cost of $150. This would be paid by the student or their parents. If they wait until they enter college, the remedial cost is approximately $867.00. This seems like a no-brainer to me. It follows the idea of, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.”

The DOE felt that the majority of the schools are doing well. Eighty-three percent of the schools are at proficiency or higher level. My hat is off to these schools.

A bright shining star is our Tourism Department. South Dakota is a great place to visit and for that matter, to live. This year, there is a “sunset” clause to the tax on tourism. If not renewed, the tax will drop from 1.5 percent to 1 percent. It is estimated that 70 percent of this revenue comes from out-of-state. There is a bill to reinstate the 1.5 percent tax on tourism and its related areas. This is an easy bill to support.

The Bureau of Administration handles many areas. Their total budget request is almost $38 million. State owned vehicles (3,500 of them) were driven over 40 million miles this past year. When state employees drive their own vehicles, they are paid 34 cents per mile. The question was asked, why 34 cents when the Federal rate is 56 cents? The obvious answer was, “South Dakota is solvent. Do I need to say more?” The Bureau is also asking for a 2 percent rate for maintenance and repairs. This is in reference to the upkeep of the state’s buildings. It is better to annually maintain and repair than to incur a huge cost to replace a building.

An item that came under scrutiny within the Economic Development budget was the South Dakota WINs program. Last year Gov. Daugaard established this fund with $5 million from the general fund. The goal was to recruit 1,000 new workers from outside of South Dakota for hard to fill jobs. The cost of the recruitment of each employee is split 50/50 between state government and the hiring company. In the first six months of the three-year program, SD WINs has spent $500,000 tax dollars to recruit and place 55 employees with 10 South Dakota companies. Taxpayers pay the Wisconsin-based recruiting company (Manpower) a $49,000 per month fee. In these six months, we have spent an estimated $8,000 per job from state monies and the hiring company has to match this amount. If this program is to continue, it is only right to do a cost/benefit analysis and let those results determine its future.

As our number-one industry in South Dakota, the Department of Agriculture presented their requested budget for 2014. Their total request was for a little over $42 million. Included with what we would call typical agricultural interests within this department are: Fires, State Fair, Brand Board and veterinary medicine. They have a couple of buildings in their plans for the upcoming year. One is to construct office space on land they have acquired from the Game, Fish & Parks Department located in Rapid City. One of the main purposes is for the Fire crews that are needed in the Black Hills and the Western Plains. The other building is to replace a badly deteriorated building on the State Fair campus in Huron. Perhaps, if we had initiated the 2 percent maintenance and repair fund years ago, we would not have this huge expense today. They also need to move a “governor’s home” next to the State Fair grounds to house inmates that work at the State Fair.

The last department we heard from this week was the Bureau of Human Services; mainly health insurance for the state employees. They are requesting a 14 percent increase for 2014. They offer to the state employees three options of deductibles: $500, $1,000 and $1,800. After many, many questions and answers, we asked them to come back later in the session so we could finish this discussion and deal with the rest of their budget requests.

During the senate session this week, some of the main bills that we acted on, we, in general, agreed with. We passed SB52 which allows for video lottery machines to accept one-cent denomination bets. This bill passed 30-5. SB5, 4 and 3 dealt with postsecondary education regarding policy goals, performance and accountability. I did serve on this committee this summer. SB5 passed 28-6. SB4 and SB3 passed unanimously. SB70 was, in my opinion, the most significant piece of legislation enacted in some time. It rearranges our prison system a great deal. Eighty percent of our prisoners today are because of alcohol and drug problems. This bill will (if passed by the house and signed by the governor) establish more drug and alcohol courts, deal with 24/7 release avenues, daily check-ins, etc. If we do not do something with our criminal court system we will have to spend $225 million in the next 10 years to build and operate two more prisons to accommodate the additional inmates we acquire. This bill passed 31-2, with two absent.

Next week we hear higher education’s budget request. It should be interesting. I anticipate that there will be many in attendance.

If you would like to contact me, do it at sen.jones@state.sd.us. Please sign your name and include where you live.

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