Governor Dennis Daugaard released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2013, and already Republicans are taking credit for the apparent success of last year’s savage cuts.
To be sure, modest increases won’t hurt our schools, nursing homes, and essential government services. But praising modest increases after brutal cuts ignores the huge consequences our children, property owners, and families in need have shouldered just to make up for the state’s inability to fulfill its basic obligations.
It’s hard to believe “praise” for last year’s budget cuts is what Republicans are giving in light of modest increases this year. After Daugaard’s budget address, Sen. Tom Nelson (R-Lead) said, “It shows some of the hard decisions we made a year ago are coming to fruition with money available to… do some new things for 2013.”
Senator Nelson wasn’t the only one gloating. “Today, I was a lot more comfortable being able to say, we were right,” said Senate Majority Leader Russ Olson (R-Wentworth). “I don’t want to be a sore winner, but we were right.”
Praising this year’s budget sounds genuine only if you’ve completely blocked out the drastic consequences of last year’s unnecessary budget cuts. Extracurricular math programs were cut in Watertown. Tuition skyrocketed at technical schools in Mitchell, Sioux Falls, and Rapid City. And Nursing homes across South Dakota raised rates on private payers just to make up for the state’s Medicaid cuts.
Indeed, if Olson wants to claim victory on behalf of Republican leaders, our students, seniors, and families in need are the clear losers. Republicans entirely disregarded our school funding formula for two years and now lavish self-serving praise just for meeting the state’s bare minimum obligations to education. At the rate of education funding Republicans deem praiseworthy, a current third-grader would reach high school before funding levels returned just to where they were when he or she started school.
Who pays for the state’s failed obligations to education? Local property owners are forced to pay higher property taxes year after year, so their community’s children don’t suffer simply because the leaders in Pierre don’t want to follow the law. South Dakota is quickly approaching a point at which more school districts have opted out of the state’s property tax limits for education than have stayed within them.
And that’s just the bleak picture on education that Republicans somehow want to praise. Some of our Medicaid providers suffered 11% cuts last year, and now they must make do with a .5% increase. One practice in Rapid City has already said it will be unable to accept more families on Medicaid because the state won’t even compensate them for half of their medical expense.
It’s OK to admit that last year’s budget cuts were an overreaction. But we can’t start to fix the damage if Republican leaders think a piecemeal approach will make our schools and hospitals whole again. Our students and seniors just can’t afford to lose to another sore winner.