Governor Daugaard had a great opportunity to educate the public about our budget crisis and demonstrate strong leadership to confront it. His budget recommendations last week may have educated the public about a budget crisis he denied existed during the campaign, but he showed poor leadership by passing the buck onto our children’s future and local communities.
Daugaard’s budget recommendations must present an awkward stance for the newly elected Governor. Indeed, he is proposing over $126 million in cuts for a budget crisis created during the Rounds/Daugaard administration.
In a letter distributed to campaign donors on April 14th 2010, Daugaard explicitly stated, “there is NO ‘budget crisis’ in South Dakota.” Just over two weeks later, he rated the budget problem a three on a scale from 1-10 with 10 as most severe. And as recently as October during a debate hosted by Keloland, Daugaard denied even the existence of a structural deficit.
Today, Daugaard said in his budget address, “the gun is at our head” to address our structural deficit.
If the governor believes the budget places a gun at our head, he shouldn’t hold hostage South Dakota’s children and elderly.
His plan to slash education funding by 10% will withhold $60 million dollars for children across the state. That amounts to $480.46 for every student from Kindergarten to Senior year of high school – $480.46 promised to South Dakota’s children for books, extracurricular programs, and well-trained teachers. One school district superintendent told me that he could cut every single extracurricular program and still not come close to making up for these draconian measures against our kids.
Daugaard has called his recommendations a plan for “shared pain.” But the truth is South Dakota’s children have been sharing the pain of funding disparities and uneven investments for years. While school districts agreed to modest growth rates no more than 3% to stabilize education funding for our children, during the Rounds/Daugaard administration state government expanded an unprecedented 53%.
School districts gave up huge spending increases in the good times so our children’s education wouldn’t be shortchanged in the bad times. Now that Daugaard has awakened to the budget crisis created during his own tenure as Lt. Governor, he has put our children’s future on the chopping block to make up it up.
Daugaard also promised us that cuts to health care for our families in need were “off the table.” But in his budget recommendations, he cut not only $30 million for Medicaid but as a result gave up another $40 million in matching federal dollars. That is $70 million dollars less to prevent expensive medical care in the emergency room and reimburse the doctors who serve our friends and families in need.
Local communities already know what happens when the state shirks its financial responsibilities: higher local property taxes to make up the difference in lost funds.
It’s a shame that just one week after denying higher property taxes would result from his budget recommendations, he told the Argus Leader editorial board that some underprivileged communities may require a conversation on higher property taxes. That kind of duplicity got us into this mess. It’s not the kind of talk that will get us out of it.
To be sure, Daugaard has detailed plans to reform our tax incentive programs, examine the need for the state’s fleet of airplanes, and allow local officials to choose the appropriate educational policies for their school districts – efforts proposed by Democrats and consistently blocked by Republicans, including Daugaard, for years.
But holding our children’s future, the health of families in need, and our local communities hostage to heartless budget cuts is not the appropriate response to this budget crisis. Let’s hope that Governor Daagaard reexamines his plan to pass the buck onto our local communities and jeopardize our children’s future.