Greetings from Pierre

By Rep. Ray Ring

District 17

The main run of the 2013 Legislative Session ended late Friday night, March 8. We will return to Pierre on March 25 to consider Gov. Daugaard’s vetoes, if there are any. This week the Joint Appropria­tions Committee adopted its final revenue estimates, then divided up the money available for the rest of Fiscal Year 2012-13 and all of Fiscal Year 2013-14.

I was pleased to have

Epiphany Knedler

Epiphany Knedler

from Vermillion as another hard-working House intern. This week’s interns experienced a House schedule that was quite a bit different from the normal. During the last week, we had more recesses while conference committees tried to reconcile bills that the House and Senate hadn’t been able to agree on. Interns still stayed busy copying and passing out bills and amend­ments as they arose, sometimes at the last minute.

Providing adequate funding for education was a primary goal of the Democratic Caucus from the first day of the session right down to the end. The Appropriations Committee provided (and the Legislature approved) an additional $5.8 million (about $45 additional funds per student) to schools for the current fiscal year, to be distributed before June 30. No doubt districts appreciate whatever the state provides, but receiving “one-time” funds in the last couple months of the school year makes budgeting very difficult. We need to find a way to provide more reliable, ongoing funding and rely less on one-time funds.

There were many attempts to improve school funding, right down to the last amendment offered by Democrats on the last day, just before the General Funding Bill passed. Regrettably, only the original 3.0 percent requested in the Governor’s budget was approved for 2014. This raises the Per Student Allocation (PSA) by $135 per student, to $4,625. (Inflation was actually 3.2% but the law says 3% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.) To put that amount into perspective, the 2008-09 per student allocation was $4,642, so the FY14 amount is $17 less per student than five years ago! We can and must do better for our students!

Both chambers also enacted a new “Building South Dakota” economic development policy that promises to be a significant change from previous economic development programs. First of all, the bill guaran­tees that no money will go into the Building South Dakota Fund if regular General Fund expenditures are not funded first. This means that the per student allocation to schools, cost and enrollment adjustment for Medicaid providers, and inflation adjustment for state employees must be provided before any reve­nue would shift from the General Fund to attracting new companies. It also recognizes that economic development requires that we provide for the needs of the workforce by requiring that over half of the Building South Dakota Fund go to workforce education (includ­ing sup­port for English language learners) and to support low- and moderate-income housing.

The new law authorizes refunds (“reinvestment payments”) of some or all sales tax paid by new compa­nies if “the project would not have occurred in South Dakota without the reinvestment payment.” The recipient and amount of these payments are public information, along with data on the number and average wages of the jobs created. This is a significant departure from previous programs and from the large projects program the voters rejected last November. Previous programs provided automatic refunds, even if the project would have occurred in South Dakota anyway. The proposal rejected by the voters would have taken money from the General Fund whether or not education and Medicaid were funded. This program was developed cooperatively and is endorsed by both parties’ leaders and promises to be much more transparent than previous programs. I think it is an encouraging development.

These successes notwithstanding, I still feel the Legislature fell short in other respects. The Governor has recommended a Task Force to continue to study Medicaid expansion. As I made clear in earlier columns, I had hoped we could follow the example of so many other states and settle this issue during the Session. I still believe we need to more adequately fund education and Medicaid. The failure to include pregnant immigrants and to raise the Medicaid income limits for all pregnant women is also very disappointing. I continue to hope that these worthy programs will be adopted sooner rather than later.

As I look toward the 2014 Legislative Session, I will be looking for opportunities to discuss these and other issues with you. I will gladly consider meeting with groups in Clay and Turner Counties. And, of course, I still want to hear from you individually. Reach me at Rep.Ring@state.sd.us and (605) 675- 9379.

 

 

 

 

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