Could Medicaid expansion happen this year? South Dakota has already given up two of the best years of the federal government's offer under the Affordable Care Act to cover most of the cost of putting 48,000 low-income South Dakotans on affordable public health insurance. But John Tsitrian notices that Governor Dennis Daugaard is hinting at a shift from his ideological excuses to an openness to accepting some form of the Medicaid expansion.

And Democrats are working hard to make that possible. AP reports that our man Bernie (that's Senator Hunhoff, D-18/Yankton) is working behind the scenes with health care providers to bring some sort of Medicaid expansion to South Dakota.

Hmm... just a thought: if health care philanthropist T. Denny Sanford can kick in $25 million to match state funds and launch Governor Daugaard's scholarships for welders, might we be able to persuade Sanford to spend a fraction of that money each year to bring hundreds of millions in the Medicaid economic stimulus to South Dakota?

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On Inside KELOLand last night, Senator Scott Parsley (D-8/Madison) said that the Highway Needs and Financing Committee, of which he was a member, identified $240 million in road maintenance needs. The committee proposed tax increases to fund $101 million of those needs. Governor Dennis Daugaard said that was too much to spend on roads that he thinks are in too good of shape. He proposed a counterplan to raise taxes just over $50 million for road repairs.

The two bills are now essentially one, as the committee's Senate Bill 1 has been hoghoused to reflect the Governor's House Bill 1131. That's how compromise works in Pierre: a committee studies a problem, hears from experts, identifies urgent needs, proposes a plan to meet just 42% of those needs; then the Governor says, "No, let's do half of that," and the Legislature shrugs and says "O.K."

The Governor lacks vision, the Legislature lacks courage, and neither branch is addressing the full scope of our road-repair needs.

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House Appropriations felt like spending money yesterday. The committee heard five bills and approved four of them:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Jonathan Ellis comes to the same conclusion I offered after the budget address two months ago:—with his vanilla budget, Governor Dennis Daugaard is letting his enormous political capital go stale:

Dennis Daugaard won a crushing victory in November. By a historic margin. As he starts his second term in office, that drawer is full of political capital.

In other words, Daugaard has the capital to set an agenda and get stuff done in the next couple of years. But unlike the gold coins, political capital is perishable. Even if you don't use it, you'll eventually lose it. The day will come when Daugaard, even if he is still governor, won't have the leverage he currently enjoys. At some point, the focus will shift to Daugaard's replacement [Jonathan Ellis, "Will Daugaard Spend Political Capital?" that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.02.07].

South Dakota, you used to elect interesting people, like Peter Norbeck, Bill Janklow, and George Mickelson. When did you become allergic to bold leaders with vision?

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How I wish I could be in Aberdeen to join Ken Santema at the Legislative crackerbarrels! My Libertarian blogospheric colleague is providing excellent coverage of Legislative issues. Yesterday he got hold of a useful handout from Senator David Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) comparing the costs of the competing road-tax-and-fix bills proposed by Governor Dennis Daugaard and by the interim Highway Needs and Financing Committee:

Comparison of Daugaard and Interim Committee Road Tax Proposals, distributed by Sen. Al Novstrup, published by Kan Santema, SoDakLIberty, 2015.01.24

Click to embiggen—Comparison of Daugaard and Interim Committee Road Tax Proposals, distributed by Sen. Al Novstrup, published by Kan Santema, SoDakLIberty, 2015.01.24

The immediate bottom line shows the Governor's proposal imposes half the tax burden of the committee's plan, $51 million versus $101 million, largely by leaving out the 3% wholesale fuel tax.

But remember, that's just in the first year. The above comparison does not note the increasing revenue that will come on the motor fuel tax line from Daugaard's proposed ongoing annual two-cent increase, which far outpaces the increase proposed by the interim committee. The 3% wholesale tax in the committee proposal may provide more revenue, if gasoline prices do what we'd expect and rise over time. But remember: after the 1986 oil price crash, gasoline prices remained remarkably flat through the 1990s. The wholesale tax doesn't guarantee more revenue; Daugaard's plan does.

Of course, as of this weekend, we still don't have the Governor's exact plan. The interim committee's plan was the first bill filed for the Senate; the Governor's plan has not yet been filed as a formal bill.

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Rebuttal of the week to gubernatorial malarkey on K-12 education funding comes from Leola superintendent Brian Heupel, who offers this observation on Governor Dennis Daugaard's persistent shirking of responsibility for South Dakota's perennial barrel-bottom teacher pay:

"The governor always says that the local school boards determine teacher pay," Heupel said. "Well, I look at it, when I was growing up, if my dad gave me 50 cents, I couldn't go to the store and buy something for a dollar" [Patrick Anderson, "Teacher Shortage Stories," that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.01.22].

The teacher shortage is real. Heupel and his colleagues in Flandreau, Alcester-Hudson, Chamberlain, and Estelline aren't making it up. And the amount the Governor is willing to spend on education is directly responsible for our continued sorry state.

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I must give John Tsitrian kudos for catching Governor Dennis Daugaard in a brilliant contradiction. In Tuesday's Rapid City Journal, Governor Daugaard responds to a question about South Dakota's weak regulations on uranium mining by saying, "I don't like the notion that the state duplicates federal regulation. So, to the extent that the Atomic Energy Commission or the EPA is looking at this, I think we should let it run its course."

Tsitrian goes just seven months back and finds the Governor saying pretty much the opposite in a press release warning the feds off using the Clean Air Act to impose more regulations on power plants and calling the feds to recognize states as "co-regulators." Hee hee!

Further verbal chicanery lies in Daugaard's feigned preference for EPA regulations of uranium mining. His pal Senator Mike Rounds wants to eliminate the EPA; where would that leave our uranium mining regulations?

Inspired by Tsitrian to jump on the contradiction bandwagon, I scroll up through the Tuesday RCJ article and find another obvious whopper. Asked by RCJ's Meredith Colias about why he left education out of his State of the State Address and his funding priorities in favor of roads, Governor Daugaard dismissed complaints thus:

Bottom line is, you can’t spend money that you don’t have....

I try to give an increase to education every year … so I’m doing what I can with the resources available [Gov. Dennis Daugaard, interview with Meredith Colias, Rapid City Journal, 2015.01.20].

Um, Dennis? You don't have the money to fix the roads, either. You're proposing a plan that goes and gets more money (and still lets the roads get worse). Tell us again: why can you go get money that we don't have now for roads but not go get money that we don't have now for schools?

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I guess Governor Daugaard is going to go full-tilt global-warming denialism on South Dakota's teacher shortage:

Instead of offering answers during an appearance on Argus Leader's "100 Eyes" program, the governor asked questions. He also questioned the state's culpability for South Dakota's low teacher salaries.

"Is there a shortage?" Daugaard said Monday. "Maybe in some areas. Is it driven by a salary differential, or is it driven by location, geography? What is it driven by?" [Patrick Anderson, "Teacher Shortage: Questions from Daugaard," that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.01.20]

Is there a teacher shortage? Dakota Wesleyan University president Amy Novak thinks so:

With fewer teachers for students in South Dakota's rural communities, lawmakers and educators are developing a plan to encourage other staff members at those schools to get teaching degrees.

Amy Novak, president of Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, told The Daily Republic on Tuesday that she has been included in talks about legislation that would help paraprofessionals, such as teacher's assistants, already working in rural communities get a bachelor's degree in elementary or secondary education. Novak said Dakota Wesleyan would like to be involved in any effort to revitalize the state's rural communities [Chris Mueller, "Local College Joins Fight Against Teacher Shortage," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2015.01.20].

So does freshman District 14 Rep. Tom Holmes:

The legislation, prepared by State Rep. Tom Holmes, R-Sioux Falls, is still in its early stages. But, essentially, it would provide tuition assistance to those paraprofessionals who agree to teach for at least five years in a rural community.

The legislation comes as a response to a shortage of teachers in South Dakota, which the numbers indicate is likely to get worse in the near future [Mueller, 2015.01.20].

So does District 20 Rep. Tona Rozum:

State Rep. Tona Rozum, R-Mitchell, said she has visited schools in her district, which includes Davison, Aurora and Jerauld counties, and has seen the teacher shortage firsthand.

"There is a shortage," Rozum said. "They need help to get teachers into the system" [Mueller, 2015.01.20].

And so does the Mitchell Daily Republic, whose editor at no point requires Mueller to qualify "teacher shortage" with "alleged" or "purported" or anything else that would support our Governor's feigned agnosticism.

South Dakota is short on teachers. We're not paying them enough to compensate for two generations of gubernatorial and legislative disrespect. We're not paying them enough to compete with other states and other professional opportunities. The Governor may want to ignore that reality, but evidently even members of his own party cannot sustain that denialism. Let's hope Holmes and Rozum can propose honest solutions to this very real problem.

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