HURON – Legislators on both sides of the aisle found areas of agreement in Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s proposed $4.1 billion budget he unveiled on Tuesday.
But Democrats say it largely ignores major needs like adequate state funding of education and health care.
“Communities across South Dakota are sinking from the state’s budget cuts, and Pierre is hoarding all the lifeboats,” said Democratic House leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton.
Daugaard talked about his concerns with uncertainties tied with the fiscal mess in Washington, D.C., and the lingering drought, but Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, for one thinks he is being too cautious.
“The drought is not as severe as the governor describes,” she said after his speech to a joint session of the Legislature.
Daugaard is proposing the use of one-time monies for one-time expenses and that was well received by Sen.-elect Jim White, a Huron Republican who will switch from the House to the Senate in January.
The governor is also leaving room for the legislative branch to use its judgment in making budgeting decisions.
“I was happy to see he had that attitude,” White said.
Rep.-elect Dick Werner, R-Huron, said he found it positive that the governor isn’t talking about more cuts, but “it was all pluses. In some people’s minds it may not be enough but it’s a good starting point.”
Gibson agrees that South Dakota needs to spend money on its corrections system, principally to cut down on the number of nonviolent men and women sentenced to prison for drug and alcohol offenses. Instead, the proposal is to direct more money toward community support centers for rehabilitation programs.
“I think we are 30 years behind on that,” Gibson said.
She also welcomes investments in workforce training and improvements to state parks, as well as $100,000 proposed for permanent inmate housing on the state fairgrounds so inmates can be on site during the year to maintain the property.
The state will also authorize replacement of Clover Hall for 4-Hers in the budget proposal.
But Gibson said the state is still not doing enough to fix the damage done to school districts when funds were cut two years ago.
“We’re losing our good teachers,” she said, adding that many schools have cut vocational programs.
She said the state has too many unspent dollars “and we shouldn’t be stashing our money away.”
A proposed 3 percent increase for education, state employees and Medicaid is hopefully in line with what they are expecting, White said.
Daugaard, after a tour of deteriorated buildings at the Human Services Center in Yankton, is proposing to deal with what has become a liability.
There are other projects across the state that need one-time money and the governor unveiled plans for those as well.
One-time money will basically be used to fill holes and fix things where it can solve the problems, Werner said.
Democratic leaders also said the state can’t afford not to participate in the Affordable Care Act because there are 48,000 uninsured South Dakotans.
“These are real people with real stories,” said Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot.
The $200 million provided through the Affordable Care Act will be a bargain for the state and a major economic boon, he said.
With low administrative costs, it would create jobs. Many of those who would be helped are low-wage earners, mostly young adults, in Huron, said Gibson.
Democrats say Medicaid should be compared to farmers helped by the farm bill.
“We wouldn’t think about not having a farm bill to help our farmers,” she said.
White thinks the governor is right to be cautious because of uncertainties in the immediate future. Legislators will be instrumental in making decisions in the coming weeks.
“He’s very proud of the financial picture of our state and he should be,” White said of the governor.
“South Dakota has led the way in some areas in dealing with issues and getting on with business,” he said.
For the complete article see the 12-05-2012 issue.
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