Bob Mercer follows up on his Wednesday list of legislator out-of-state travel reimbursements with a big Sunday feature on the Legislature's far-too-loose travel policy. Evidently the Legislature continues to slide away from rule of law and down into the arbitrary discretion of one man.

Mercer reports that the Legislature has a list of approved events for which legislators can foot the bill. But faced with requests from lawmakers who went to events off that list, the Legislature's Executive Board lost its nerve and handed decisions over to their chair:

But at least one trip fell outside those approved events.

Rep. Isaac Latterell, R-Tea, and Rep. Jim Stalzer, R-Sioux Falls, attended the meeting of the group called the Mount Vernon Assembly held in Indianapolis in June.

Maher said he gave that trip the go-ahead because last year he approved a trip by Rep. Ray Ring, D-Vermillion, to a special economic conference.

Rather than fight over the Mount Vernon matter, or tighten the policy, the board instead loosened the approval policy by adding a sentence to the policy effective Oct. 1 to give the chairman more latitude. It says, “Any out of state travel to a non-mentioned organization shall be at the discretion of the Executive Board chair” [Bob Mercer, "Secrecy Surounds Increased Travel by South Dakota Lawmakers," Rapid City Journal, 2014.09.14].

Combine this increased latitude with the Legislature's decision to end election of the Executive Board chair and hand that position to the House Speaker and the Senate President Pro-tem (in alternating years), and we see one less chance for accountability to policy and open vote and one more chance to concentrate power in the hands and the whim of one legislator.

Related Arithmetic: Eight Democratic legislators and seventeen Republican legislators have submitted vouchers for out-of-state travel since the end of the 2014 session. The average travel expense request among the Democrats is $741. The average travel expense expense request among the Republicans is $1,633. The thriftiest traveler is Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Susan Wismer, who vouchered $252.51 for one trip. The most profligate globetrotter is Republican Speaker of the House Brian Gosch, who is claiming $4,339.09 for two trips.

13 comments

Mr. Ehrisman notices that David North of the Center for Immigration Studies has weighed in again on the GOED/NBP/EB-5 scandal that is occupying more of GOP Senate candidate Mike Rounds's time. North reviews David Montgomery's reporting from last November on the hefty fees Rounds's minions collected from EB-5 investors after they privatized administration of the program and makes this fiscal observation:

All of these fees, except the legal ones, would have gone to the state government had it not been for the contract with the Rounds administration.

Let's think about this conversion of a unit of a public university to a for-profit entity for a moment and discuss a hypothetical analogy:

Suppose the dean of the Engineering School at the hypothetical Maryland State Institute of Technology, discovered that some patents the school owned were about to become very valuable. Do you suppose the dean could persuade the president of MSIT to spin off the engineering school (including the patents) to the dean's personal ownership, for a nominal return? That sound's pretty unlikely, but that is exactly what happened in South Dakota at Northern State University [David North, "A New Angle in South Dakota's Continuing EB-5 Scandal," Center for Immigration Studies blog, 2014.09.05].

North calls this a new angle. We haven't talked much about this angle, but I find it's not new to our own Rep. Kathy Tyler (D-4/Big Stone City), who raised this flag last April in an interview with Denise Ross:

For Rep. Kathy Tyler, D-Big Stone City, the question gets even more specific than the shift to a private entity. She wants the committee to look inot how SDRC Inc. set up a fee structure that gave itself a percentage of each deal it guided through the EB_5 process. When millions were invested in each of dozens of projects, that had to add up to millions in profits for the private corporation, she says.

"Think of the millions that were made that the state could have had," says Tyler, who is not a member of the Government Operations and Audit Committee but has been vocal about the Legislature's need to investigate this issue [Denise Ross, "State Program Became For-Profit Before Securing Northern Beef Financing," originally published in the Mitchell Daily Republic, reprinted in AgWeek, 2014.04.09].

Very much worth noting is the very next line of Ross's April 9 report, in which Mike Rounds, who was governor at the time this shift to a private entity took place, says he knew what was going on:

For his part, Rounds says he was aware in general that SDRC Inc. would need to fund its operations.

“We knew there had to be a way in place to fund the operation. We understood that,” Rounds says without elaborating further [Ross, 2014.04.09].

There's no time like the present to elaborate further, candidate Rounds. Why did we fund your tireless push for Northern Beef Packers by privatizing the visa investment program? And why did you give up millions that the state could have had?

11 comments

The Bakken oil boom is making North Dakota rich! Too bad its universities are falling apart:

Students returning this week will attend classes in buildings without adequate ventilation or fire detection systems and in historic landmarks with buckling foundations. A space crunch is making it difficult for researchers to obtain grants and putting the accreditation of several programs at risk, administrators say.

“It’s embarrassing,” said North Dakota state Representative Kathy Hawken, a Republican from Fargo who sits on the higher education funding and budget committees. “We have a divided legislature on higher ed: Some think we put too much money into it and some think we don’t put enough. Buildings aren’t people, so we don’t put dollars there” [Jennifer Oldham, "North Dakota Universities Crumble as Oil Cash Pours In," Bloomberg, 2014.08.26].

Moving that money from petro-tax revenues to classrooms is complicated: Oldham reports that 30% of the money is locked up in a state trust fund until 2017, while another big chunk goes to municipalities. The $300 million the North Dakota Legislature gets faces competition from road needs. While the universities need $808 million in repairs, the state also needs $925 million to fix roads statewide over the next two years, including $485 million for repairs to industry-battered oil-patch roads.

9 comments

An eager reader sees that former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue likes Mike Rounds. How nice.

May we assume that Mike also likes Sonny's self-enriching tax breaks and land deals? Or how about Sonny's legacy of debt, saddling taxpayers with teacher furloughs and budget cuts to health care while doling out pork for projects in his home county?

Taxpayers will spend almost $4 million annually paying off Perdue’s Go Fish aquatic wildlife and fishing education center, some new equine and livestock facilities at the Georgia National Fairgrounds near his home and the purchase of the Oaky Woods conservation property at a price some lawmakers considered excessive. All are in Houston County, where Perdue was born, raised and plans to return when he leaves office.

The state is making debt payments on those three projects — worth a total of $60 million — at a time when legislators are approving tight budgets that forced teacher furloughs and layoffs, and brought spending cuts on everything from economic development efforts to health care.

The three projects are part of the about $1.2 billion a year the state is now paying on long-term debt, up about 60 percent from the year Perdue took office [James Salzer, "Perdue Pushed Pet Projects," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2011.01.03].

No wonder Sonny likes Mike; they are birds of a fiscal feather.

2 comments

The last couple pages of the Legislative Research Council's 2014 Statistical Comparison offer a summary of the funds appropriated by the South Dakota Legislature every year since statehood. The 1890 Legislature appropriated $438,708 to the general fund. In the coming fiscal year, our general fund has $1.389 billion dollars, 3,166 times the amount of money our founders gave Governor Mellette to spend.

Of course, we have much more than $1.389 billion in government money coursing through our state veins. The general fund makes up just under a third of the total FY2015 state budget of $4.259 billion. 27.8% of that spending comes from other fees and licenses, while 39.6% comes from Uncle Sam.

The 2014 Statistical Comparison starts breaking down the budget by general, other, and federal funds in 1978. South Dakota's total budget that year was $457 million. In FY2015, South Dakota government will spend 9.3 times that amount.

Now let's compare that growth to what's happened in Washington. Crunching numbers from USGovernmentSpending.com, I find that federal spending in FY1978 was $458 billion. Federal spending in FY2015 is projected to be $3.9 trillion. Over the period that South Dakota's government spending has increased by a factor of 9.3, federal spending has increased by a factor of 8.5.

Or let's compare annual growth. Since 1978, South Dakota's total state budget has grown at an average of 6.3% each year. Over the same period, the federal budget grew at an annual rate of 6.0%. South Dakota's budget grew faster than the federal budget in 25 of those years; federal budget growth outpaced our state budget growth in just 13 of those years.

Governor Dennis Daugaard and his predecessor-cum-Senate candidate Mike Rounds like to talk about how Washington ought to apply South Dakota common sense to its budget. But if South Dakota had matched federal spending patterns, our state budget would be 8.8% less than it is now.

8 comments

Speaking of smoking dope, Congress appears determined to spend more on military equipment that the military does not want:

The House panel that decides defense spending came out with a $570 billion blueprint Thursday that spares the USS George Washington aircraft carrier....

The spending bill echoes the broad defense policy bill that the House overwhelmingly passed last week that saves ships and aircraft despite pleas from senior military officers for the reductions....

Military leaders have warned that sparing what they consider to be parochial programs will undermine their ability to train soldiers, sailors and airmen to fight. But lawmakers are determined to protect favorite weapons [Donna Cassata, "House Panel Snubs Pentagon on Defense Spending," AP, 2014.05.29].

MSNBC's Steve Benen lists more items where Congressional posing trumps military budget sense:

The Pentagon requested a modest pay raise; Congress went beyond what was requested.

The Pentagon requested a slight increase in out-of-pocket costs for housing and food, in order to help control the cost of benefits; Congress turned down the request.

The Pentagon requested retiring the U-2 spy plane and the A-10 Warthog; Congress funded them anyway.

The Pentagon requested shuttering unnecessary bases; Congress is keeping them open.

Lawmakers, at least on the right, aren’t just throwing unwanted money at the department, they’re also ignoring military leaders on policy matters – the Pentagon wants to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and Congress doesn’t care [Steve Benen, "Pentagon Asks for Less; Congress Spends More," MSNBC: MaddowBlog, 2014.05.30].

Thank goodness we've saved Senate candidate Jason Ravnsborg's favorite prop.

I thought candidates liked to get hyped up about listening to the military and not making battlefield decisions from political perspectives. But apparently neither the practical advice of the generals nor their own deficit-hawkery can stop Congresspeople seeking re-election from throwing money at the Pentagon.

11 comments

Cheers to the Mitchell Daily Republic for recognizing that GOP U.S. Senate candidate Marion Michael Rounds is pulling our legs when he pander-shouts that he'll eliminate the federal Department of Education:

HISSES to former governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rounds for repeating, during his Friday night visit to Mitchell, his earlier call to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. The same day we printed his comments about that, we also printed a separate story revealing that South Dakota is third-most dependent among all states on federal government aid for K-12 education, receiving 16.4 percent of its K-12 budget from the feds. A man who governed a state so dependent on federal education money lacks the credibility to claim the federal government should have no role in K-12 education. Change and improve the Department of Education? Fine. But calls to abolish it strike us as unrealistic political pandering [editorial board, "Hisses and Cheers," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.05.25].

Normally Rounds's feigned ignorance of fiscal reality would end on June 3, when he could stop having to recycle old-conservative dog whistles to beat Stace Nelson and focus instead on calling Rick Weiland a liberal. But if Rounds wins the primary, he'll have to keep saying silly things like "Nuke the Department of Education!" to beat back the conservative challenge from Gordon Howie.

And the longer Rounds has to do that, the longer voters will have to see that Rounds is a spineless panderer with no credibility.

8 comments

Last week we discussed South Dakota's red-state moocherism in the form of its third-place rank for reliance on federal support for its state budget.

In further refutation of Governor Dennis Daugaard's oft-proclaimed commitment to self-reliance (also here, here, and here), NPN finds that we are also third-worst at funding our own education system. According to newly released Census data on public education financing, Uncle Sam provides 16.4% South Dakota's K-12 spending.

Remember, this reliance on Uncle Sam comes in a state where we don't take Medicaid expansion money because we don't trust the federal government to sustain its spending levels.

Only Mississippi and Louisiana get a greater portion of their K-12 budget from the feds. Nationwide, the feds provide 10.0% of K-12 funding.

Alas, the savings from the federal largesse don't trickle down to local school districts; they all accrue to Pierre. Nationally, state and local funding for K-12 education is about an even split, 45.5% to 44.5%. In South Dakota, the state provides 30.5%, while locals provide 53.1%. No state provides less funding as percentage of total K-12 spending than South Dakota.

Here's the data for South Dakota and its neighbors:

K-12 education funding from federal, state, and local sources, 2012
Fed % State % Local %
Iowa 8.5 44.4 47.1
Minnesota 7.0 63.1 29.9
Montana 13.3 47.2 39.5
Nebraska 9.9 31.6 58.5
North Dakota 12.3 50.5 37.3
South Dakota 16.4 30.5 53.1
Wyoming 8.7 51.3 40.0
Source: Mark Dixon, "Public Education Finances: 2012," 2012 Census of Governments, U.S. Census Bureau, May 2014

Our K-12 lean on the federal crutch is not new; it is chronic South Dakota irresponsiblity, reported for years on this blog, from Republican governors and state legislators who subsidize their low-tax promises by taking money hand over fist from an ever-forgiving Uncle Sam and the generous liberals in other states who can't turn their backs on the children we hold hostage.

Hmmm... imagine what would happen if liberal neighbors in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wyoming(!) got tired of giving in to our demands. They might decide to save money by saving the hostages. They're paying for our students' learning anyway; why not just recruit their families to move out and come to Marshall and Minneapolis, Hawarden and Des Moines, Cody and Cheyenne, where they'll find happier, better-paid teachers and lower local school district tax burdens.

We are an independent lot who believe in self-reliance, perseverance, and determination.... South Dakotans are also some of the most compassionate and generous people you will ever meet [Governor Dennis Daugaard, explaining to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius why South Dakota has chosen not to expand Medicaid, letter, 2014.01.30].

25 comments

Recent Comments

  • Bill Fleming on "SDDP Ad in Brookings...": Ok Larry. It's a start. Now, make Joe Sixpack, Sal...
  • larry kurtz on "SDDP Ad in Brookings...": Mike Rounds failed as an executive (six words)....
  • Bill Fleming on "SDDP Ad in Brookings...": Jenny, Troy is definitely not like the average SD ...
  • Roger Cornelius on "SDDP Ad in Brookings...": Bill, in spite of the Republican objection to the ...
  • Bill Fleming on "SDDP Ad in Brookings...": Roger, actually, a postcard might have been better...
  • Roger Cornelius on "SDDP Ad in Brookings...": Troy, Apology accepted, the confusion was that af...
  • Roger Cornelius on "SDDP Ad in Brookings...": Since there doesn't seem to be a vast difference b...
  • Jenny on "SDDP Ad in Brookings...": If Troy is like the average SD voter, then I would...
  • Troy on "SDDP Ad in Brookings...": Roger, I admitted that this was a newspaper ad ...
  • Roger Cornelius on "SDDP Ad in Brookings...": Simple question for anyone out there, Troy has con...

Support Your Local Blogger!

  • Click the Tip Jar to send your donation to the Madville Times via PayPal, and support local alternative news and commentary!

Hot off the Press

Subscribe

Enter your email to subscribe to future updates

South Dakota Political Blogs

Greater SD Blogosphere

Visit These Sponsors

Conversation and Lunch with Democrats!
Join Stan Adelstein's conversation about South Dakota's past and future
Mike Myers, Independent Candidate for South Dakota Governor
Support Howard inventor John Albert

SD Mostly Political Blogroll

South Dakota Media

Madville Monthly

Meta