House Appropriations felt like spending money yesterday. The committee heard five bills and approved four of them:
- House Bill 1147 would spend $1.274 million to increase the merit-based Opportunity Scholarship for university students from $5,000 to $6,500. Governor Dennis Daugaard asked for this bill, and House Appropriations approved it 9–0.
- House Bill 1185 would spend $4 million so the state can self-insure its buildings. Governor Daugaard asked for this bill, and House Appropriations said o.k., 8–0.
- House Bill 1186 would use some of the $10 million appropriated to the Science and Technology Authority last year to include the Sanford Lab in the former Homestake Mine in the state's captive insurance company plan. The Governor asked for this bill, and House Appropriations complied, 9–0.
- House Bill 1187 would spend $2 million to include five state entities in the captive insurance plan. The Governor asked, House Appropriations assented, 9–0.
House Appropriations had to balance all that aye with a little bit of nay. Thank goodness they had House Bill 1199 to kick around. House Bill 1199 would have spent $700,000 to help tribal colleges defray some costs involved in educating non-tribal students. Rep. Shawn Bordeaux (D-26A/Mission) said about 20% of the students (out of a total enrollment that ranges between 700 and 1,000) enrolling at Sinte Gleska, mostly local kids who need to stick around the family farm or have other obligations that keep them from trekking off to some farther-away college, plus some of the Teach for America recruits who take classes to boost their credentials. Georgia Hackett, Sinte Gleska VP for resource development, said her university doesn't turn students away for inability to pay and thus is carrying $939,118 in non-Indian student debt. Marlies White Hat, graduate and employee of Sinte Gleska, told the committee that helping non-tribal students attend tribal colleges helps fight racism. Cheryl Medearis, a teacher education instructor at Sinte Gleska, says her school is vital for producing new teachers to address the workforce shortage in her portion of the state.
HB 1199 had more proponents testify yesterday than any other bill on the House Appropriations agenda. But Governor Daugaard sent Steven Kohler from the Bureau of Finance and Management to say we can't afford to help the tribal colleges and that the state constitution won't allow the Regents to give money to schools they don't oversee, and House Appropriations agreed, voting 6–2 (GOP aye, Dems nay) to kill HB 1199.
Asked at last Saturday's Aberdeen crackerbarrel about funding a tuition freeze for Regental students, Republican legislators said they couldn't commit to dollar figures or priorities until the appropriators had a chance to count all the dollars available. But House appropriators seem to understand South Dakota's budgetary priorities quite well: do what the Governor says, and don't spend money on tribes or education.