Sen. Art Rusch

I have heard numerous comments during the past week about the fact that the Governor's proposed budget did not include any inflationary increases for the "big three" items in the state budget: aid to K-12 education, Medicaid providers and state employees. I agree that the Governor's budget was very conservative in calculating the anticipated revenue but we have a provision in our state constitution which requires that: "The Governor shall propose a budget in which expenditures or appropriations may not exceed anticipated revenue and existing funds available for expenditure or appropriation. Appropriations by the Legislature may not exceed anticipated revenue and existing funds available for expenditure or appropriation." S.D. Constitution Article XII, section 7. This provision was placed in our constitution by the voters in 2012.

Last year (2019 legislature) the Governor also proposed no increases, but the legislature assumed that the revenue would be higher than the Governor anticipated and passed a budget providing for a 10 percent increase for Nursing Homes, a 6.5 percent increase for Community Support providers, a 2.5 percent increase for K-12 Education and a 2.5 percent increase for all state employees. The state's actual revenue receipts were about $6 million less than what the legislature budgeted so it remains to be seen whether the legislature this year will again assume that the revenue will be higher than the Governor anticipated and pass a budget providing for such increases.

Thirty five and one-tenth percent of the South Dakota budget goes for Health and Human and Social Services; 34.8 percent for State Aid for Education; 13.1 percent for Higher Education; 6.4 percent for Corrections and the balance (about 11 percent) for Courts, Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, Game Fish and Parks and all of the other state agencies and departments. There is money that reverts back to the General Fund every year because it is impossible to know in advance how many people will go on welfare, or how many people will go into a hospital or nursing home and need Medicaid assistance or how many students will be enrolled in any given school district.

Although the news media reported that the Governor was not proposing any increases for K-12 education, that is not completely accurate. The Governor proposed an increase of $8.9 million in state aid to education to account for expected enrollment increases and also provided for recalculation of special education budget formulas. Using the adjusted formulas, special education funds will be increased by nearly $14 million for FY 2021. I know that Special Education is a huge financial burden for most school districts so hopefully this will help with their budgets.

Meth has been an increasing problem in South Dakota. The Governor's anti-meth publicity campaign has received mixed reviews but it is undisputed that we need more treatment facilities and the Governor's budget includes $3.7 million for additional intensive meth treatment programs. I believe that we need to be treating addicts rather than jailing them because I don't believe that anyone has been cured of an addiction by sitting in prison.

The Governor has also proposed additional funding for disaster relief in South Dakota due to the adverse weather conditions and flooding that have damaged so much local infrastructure such as roads and bridges. The state has been paying 10 percent of the repair costs with 75 percent paid by the federal government and 15 percent paid by local governments. She has proposed that starting with the 2019 disasters, the state will offer loans to cities, counties, townships and tribes to cover their shares of the disaster costs.

The Governor also proposed about $725,000 for gas well cleanup in the "Spyglass gas field" in Harding County. Harding County, in the far northwest part of the state is about as far from District 17 as it is possible to get but the wells need to be plugged. Forty natural gas wells in the gas field which are located on both public and private lands in Harding County were abandoned by the company that drilled them when the price of natural gas fell. The bonds that were posted for the wells were insufficient to plug them and clean up the sites and there are growing concerns that the abandoned wells will result in damaging environmental consequences including increased greenhouse gases and natural gas spreading into the groundwater.

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