Senator Jason Frerichs (D-Wilmot)

The legislature has come to the final week. Ever since Governor Daugaard announced his plan to cut all state spending by 10%, people throughout South Dakota have spoken up largely through cracker barrels. Throughout the entire state people have been consistently angry and frustrated with the Governor’s plans to cut education and Medicaid and Legislators finally listened. In a call for smaller cuts, ways have been found to alter the proposed budget cuts to those most adversely effected: education and Medicaid.

Education funding for K12 received about another $12 million, which is due to the increased revenues from our economy. This additional funding, along with freezing local property taxes will result in about a 6-7% cut in per student education funding. Medicaid cut equals out to about 6%, with the infusion of $12 million of unused funds. Local nursing homes should emerge with less than a 4% cut in Medicaid funding. The funding for County Veterans Service officers was still cut. A comment was made by the Appropriations Chairman that this is an effort to have the counties help out the State with our budget problems. I completely disagree with this statement and feel this is a misguided cut. Our county veterans’ service officers assist veterans in acquiring services and assistance which brings more funding into our communities.

By spreading out the pain of these cuts and not hitting education and Medicaid this year, we may have spared some nursing homes from closing, along with school districts that may have eliminated elective coursework. However, we are only looking at this next year and nursing homes will still need to fundraise locally, and school districts will be forced to increase the class sizes of students for each teacher. As a result of Governor Daugaard’s pass the buck budget, local property taxes may ultimately be increased in order to completely cover the loss in State support for K12 education. Purely passing the buck by the Governor’s office from the state to local taxpayers is not fair and should not be the solution to solving the budget deficit.

Throughout the next few years and into the distant future, South Dakotans need to be honest with ourselves. In the past five years and more, the State has lost revenue from the elimination of the inheritance tax and revenues from the video lottery and bank franchise taxes have recently dropped. These decreases in revenue, coupled with the recession, created most of the problem with our State Budget. An honest conversation needs to be had of how to sufficiently fund the necessary programs throughout the state especially if the revenues do not increase.

Our Republican friends in the Legislature and the Governor’s staff have found multiple band-aid solutions to get us through this year. They made every effort to insure that any variation from the Governor’s 10% across the board cut would be treated as one-time funds and to not expect the dollars to be there next year. So where has the Governor’s leadership been through the process? He has stood solid in his initial request to supposedly erase our structural deficit and reset the State Budget. This is well-intended but misguided and many Legislators have altered the Governor’s plan, and we will expect him to bring real solutions to the table next year and work with us.