State Sen. Angie Buhl, D-Sioux Falls, drew applause from a large audience at a legislative coffee Saturday when she said, “We should not accept as a foregone conclusion that education needs to take a 10 percent cut.”
That scene signaled a prevailing sentiment in the Holiday Inn ballroom among both the audience and lawmakers about the education portion of Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s proposed budget.
Other legislators subsequently drew cheers when they supported moderating Daugaard’s proposed 10 percent budget reduction to schools.
The strongest backer for the governor’s plan, Rep. R. Shawn Tornow, R-Sioux Falls, went only so far as to say that he supported Daugaard’s effort to eliminate a $127 million imbalance between state revenue and state spending with a widespread 10 percent budget cut in the coming fiscal year.
“But I don’t know if I support the full 10 percent,” he added.
Since Daugaard announced his proposed budget this month, proponents of schools and Medicaid have been vocal in rallying to the cause. Most of the lawmakers from Districts 13, 14 and 15 in Minnehaha County, the featured districts for the legislative coffee, apparently are in sympathy with them.
“I applaud the governor in his effort to reduce the executive branch of government. However, education is our sacred trust,” said Sen. Joni Cutler, R-Sioux Falls.
“It’s important for people who come into South Dakota not to see we’re dead last,” Rep. Marc Feinstein, D-Sioux Falls, said of education funding.
Rep. Susy Blake, D-Sioux Falls, said the state can use some of its $107 million in budget reserves to soften a funding cut to schools, “but we need to hear from you to make it happen,” she told the audience.
Rep. Brian Liss, R-Sioux Falls, said he planned to honor a campaign promise not to cut education funding.
Only Sen. Phyllis Heineman, R-Sioux Falls, and Rep. Jenna Haggar, I-Sioux Falls, aligned with Tornow, and Heineman simply said that a $127 million structural deficit was not sustainable and that eliminating it would require “tough sacrifice from everybody.” Haggar said only that legislators must focus on the future of schools and not a one-year budget problem.
The legislators broke similarly in support for shielding Medicaid from a 10 percent budget reduction.
“We cannot do this to people who can’t speak for themselves,” Blake said.
Tornow predicted a cut of less than 10 percent, but he called Medicaid “socialized medicine” and insisted that “somebody has to pay for this.”
Cutler and Heineman were enthusiastic about a project Heineman said could bring new tourism money to the state. They endorsed allowing the Department of Game, Fish and Parks to use $500,000 in fee revenue as the state’s share of a $5 million plan among federal, state and local interests to purchase 305 acres for a new Blood Run State Park. The federal government would pay the largest share, $3.2 million.
Legislators also differed on whether the state needed its own illegal immigration enforcement law.
“It creates a serious negative perception of the state when we are trying to draw people here,” Buhl said. Cutler worried that domestic violence victims would be reluctant to come forward if they feared they would be identified as illegal immigrants.
But Tornow felt the federal government needed a prod from states such as South Dakota to seriously enforce immigration laws, and Liss and Haggar are co-sponsors of House Bill 1198, written by Rep. Manny Steele, R-Sioux Falls, setting forth the state’s role in deterring illegal immigration.