Legislative report: State lawmakers finish second week

We're now well into committee work in our appropriations committee as we end the second week of the session. The 38 days of the legislature go by quickly. In addition to our regular committee meetings, and each day's general session on the floor, this week there have been special briefings on the school funding formula and the problems in the Black Hills with the Mountain Pine Beetles. Last week there was another special briefing on Medicaid expansion. Legislators have important decisions to make on all of these issues.

Two things that I've noticed that each of the six departments that we have heard from has in common when they present their request for their portion of the state budget are: 1) They are all asking for more money than what our governor has proposed in his budget proposal and 2) They all have good reasons for asking for more money. Once again, our job is to prioritize the money requests and suggest to the legislature how the monies should be appropriated.

School funding – You will hear me continue to mention the need to fund schools and back-fill from the cuts of two years ago. I believe that providing adequate funding for South Dakota's public schools is the number-one public policy issue of this legislative session.

The goal of the funding formula which originated in 1997 is equity among school district, so we don't have great disparity between property rich and property poor districts. Almost all states have a similar goal and funding formula, although South Dakota lags behind almost all states in the amount it puts into the formula.

Even with the one-time dollars which were appropriated for the formula last year, schools receive $4,521 per student during the 2012-13 school year. Back in the 2007-08, the funding formula was $4,529. That's $8 less per student than five years ago. There is no other part of the state government's budget which can say that it is receiving less than five years ago.

Medicaid expansion – Earlier this week legislators attended briefings on the proposed Medicaid Expansion which I support. Medicaid is one of the largest healthcare insurers in South Dakota.

Most of the people covered in our state under Medicaid are children. In fact, 69 percent of the current Medicaid recipients are children and 31 percent are adults. Disabled adults and low-income parents qualify for Medicaid. Many of our nursing home residents qualify for Medicaid.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows the states to expand coverage to those adults who qualify if they are at 138 percent of the poverty level. (Children are already covered whether or not we expand Medicaid.) The population affected would be South Dakota's working poor who do not typically receive health insurance through their employer. If states choose to expand Medicaid, the federal government will cover 100 percent of the costs from 2014 to 2016.

The fed's contribution will begin to decrease in 2017, but will never be less than 90 percent, under the ACA. This expansion would bring close to $200 million federal dollars to South Dakota to care for those in need, make our citizens healthier, and keep them out of more expensive emergency care. Arizona recently announced that they will provide the Medicaid expansion to their citizens.

Economic development – After voters rejected Referred Law 14, the Republican legislature's plan for taxpayer-funded giveaways to large out of state corporations, Democrats and Republicans are coming together to create economic development programs that support all South Dakota businesses, entrepreneurs and workers – without draining your general fund dollars. The legislature is looking at expanding our housing stock for new workers, providing workforce training scholarships, and investing in our infrastructure.

Please feel free to contact me with your ideas. We want economic development to work for you. I invite you to contact me with your questions and concerns. I may be reached via e-mail: sen.jones@state.sd.us.

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