Attorney General Marty Jackley's fall-guy "investigation" and questionable financial and legal dealings in the Governor's Office of Economic Development and EB-5 visa investment program have many South Dakotans doubting our state government.

But on some metrics, South Dakota is one of the better-run states. So concludes frequent list-maker 24/7 Wall Street with this mostly fiscal survey of the best- and worst-run states in the Union. They consider income, dropout rates, employment, housing values, crime, and other factors that don't directly measure whether elected officials are making good decisions... but then those are the same kinds of metrics for which governors and other elected officials take credit and on which voters often base their ballots.

By 24/7 Wall Street's methodology, South Dakota ranks ninth:

9. South Dakota
> Debt per capita: $4,321 (14th highest)
> Budget deficit: 11.0% (24th largest)
> Unemployment: 4.4% (3rd lowest)
> Median household income: $48,362 (22nd lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.4% (18th lowest)

South Dakota has not experienced the same oil boom as North Dakota, and it effectively had flat GDP growth last year versus a 13.4% increase for its neighbor. Agriculture accounted for more than 10% of South Dakota’s total GDP in 2012, the most of any state in the nation. Last year, output from agriculture and related industries actually shrank, reducing total GDP growth by 2 percentage points. Despite this, the state’s economy is extremely strong by many measures. The median home value rose by 13.1% between 2007 and 2012, and just one in every 410 homes was in foreclosure last year, both among the best in the country. Also, the state’s 2012 unemployment rate was just 4.4%, better than all but two other states [Michael Sauter et al., "The Best and Worst Run States in America: A Survey of All 50," 24/7 Wall Street, 2013.11.21].

I'm trying to figure out the deficit figure. South Dakota runs a balanced budget every year, by law. Maybe they are looking at gross public debt rather than budget deficit, but 24/7 thinks we owe someone something, and that drags down our ranking.

So who beats us? Pretty much everyone else in the upper Great Plains neighborhood:

  1. North Dakota
  2. Wyoming
  3. Iowa
  4. Nebraska
  5. Utah
  6. Vermont
  7. Minnesota
  8. Alaska
  9. South Dakota
  10. Texas

That top ten support the notion that this list has more to do with regional economics than state governance. Six of the ten slots are occupied by Northern Plains states that were somewhat insulated from the last recession. Four of the top ten are bolstered by energy extraction, which the Middle East tells us isn't the best guarantee of effective governance.