A quick check of the budget says our Legislature acted like pretty big spenders this year, though just a hair less big than the Governor wanted (decreases in red):

general funds federal funds other funds total
FY 2014 adopted $1,312,583,507 $1,691,241,801 $1,086,806,915 $4,090,632,223
FY 2015 Daugaard proposed $1,390,852,751 $1,692,011,931 $1,183,394,942 $4,266,259,624
FY 2015 adopted $1,388,956,590 $1,686,967,782 $1,183,399,323 $4,259,323,695
2014–2015 change $76,373,083 ($4,274,019) $96,592,408 $168,691,472
  5.8% 0.3% 8.9% 4.1%
Daugaard–Legislature change ($1,896,161) ($5,044,149) $4,381 ($6,935,929)
(0.1%) (0.3%) 0.0% (0.2%)

If I'm reading the budgets correctly, this year's Legislature has approved 4.1% more spending than it approved last year. It countered a 0.3% decrease in federal funding (yay, self-reliance...right?) with a 5.8% increase in general funds and an 8.9% increase in other funds.

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One line in David Montgomery's coverage of the state budget catches my attention:

Lawmakers voted down plenty of other spending proposals — frequently saying they would like to say yes but didn’t have the money. Out of luck were Teach for America, Jobs For America’s Graduates, senior citizen meal providers and college scholarships [David Montgomery, "Legislature: Budget Help for Teachers, Low-Income South Dakotans," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.03.15].

No state money for Teach for America, the program that is on track to teach half of South Dakota's Native American students next year? Really?

I check the hopper: sure enough. Last month, Senator Phyllis Heineman (R-13/Sioux Falls) pitched Senate Bill 127 to her colleagues. SB 127 would have given Teach for America (TFA) $500,000 to support its efforts in largely Native American schools in South Dakota. Senate State Affairs (not Senate Education?) heard South Dakota TFA exec Jim Curran, Ponca tribal member and Lower Brule TFA teacher Bryce Drapeaux, and McLaughlin elementary principal Angie Thunker. Principal Thunker said McLaughlin is in its first year with TFA staff. She says McLaughlin has eight TFA recruits doing great work in her community and boosting student performance.

But the big schools, school administrators, and the Governor's finance folks testifed against SB 127. The Pine Ridge delegation split, with Rep. Kevin Killer supporting TFA and Senator Jim Bradford opposing. SB 127 made it out of committee by one vote, then foundered in the Senate, where it failed on two tries to get the two-thirds vote necessary to pass a spending bill.

Senator Heineman returned during last week's budget debate to ask Joint Appropriations to squeeze $250,000 into the FY2015 budget for TFA. The committee did not add that money to the budget.

Senator Heineman testified that South Dakota's past financial support of Teach for America boosted the program's reputation and private fundraising. She noted that TFA has 66 active members teaching in South Dakota. In addition, 52 TFA alumni have chosen to stay in South Dakota, and 35 of them are still teaching on the reservations. "If we're looking for a program for New South Dakotans," said Senator Heineman in front of Senate State Affairs on February 5, "TFA has been a great recruiting tool, and it's been at a pretty good bargain."

The Legislature's rejection of TFA funding means we will likely see fewer of those new South Dakotans. Staff is the major expense for TFA, just as it is for K-12 schools in general. Jim Curran tells me that TFA will likely have to bring fewer teachers to South Dakota schools next year, but they will persevere and continue to serve the state.

I remain uneasy about the possibility of Teach for America providing short-sighted school districts with an easy fiscal out for laying off experienced teachers and replacing them with cheaper TFA staff. I'm open to a discussion about the effectiveness of TFA teachers regular classroom teachers.

While I don't view Teach for America as an optimal solution (neither does passionate teacher Drapeaux, who says TFA is not perfect, nor Curran, who told Senate State Affairs that TFA is not the solution to all educational problems), cutting state funding for TFA in the absence of a better replacement is irresponsible. If the Legislature found some better program to support K-12 education in Indian Country, I'd be happy to see our measly $250,000 go there and a lot more. But I see no such new or expanded Indian education initiative in the FY 2015 budget. Heck, the Legislature couldn't even come up with $65,000 to help the Board of Regents hire one person to help Native students get into university.

State Education Secretary Melody Schopp has declared that South Dakota just can't educate all of its 14,000+ Native American students and that Teach for America fills an otherwise unfillable gap. Refusing to pay even a part of Teach for America's costs for filling that gap adds their young teachers to the big poll of educators whom our Legislature exploits, taking advantage of their energy and skills but not paying for the value they contribute.

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We have a possible Democrat sighting in District 12! A fortuitous tweet brings to my attention Ellee Spawn, candidate for District 12 House of Representatives. Spawn's issues:

Education: "...South Dakota's teachers pay being 50th out of 50 states is simply unacceptable.  In order to retain the best and brightest teachers, it's imperative that improving teacher salaries becomes a priority in South Dakota."

Veterans: "...support legislation to help ease the transition of soldiers returning to civilian life, expanding job and educational opportunities for returning service men and women... committed to ensuring our returning veterans have access to good jobs and vital job training."

Women's Rights: "...equal pay for work... fight to keep programs that deliver assistance to woman and children such as WIC and Planned Parenthood and other critical family planning services... a woman's medical decisions should always be made between her, her family, and her doctor... ease the process of adoptions in South Dakota...."

Marriage Equality: "...fight for the rights of all persons to legally marry in South Dakota."

Spawn is not on the official candidate list yet, so we can't verify party affiliation (and her website keeps mum on that relevant detail). Spawn runs in a district currently represented by Republican He-Man Woman Haters Rep. Manny Steele and Rep. Hal Wick and gubernatorial appointee Senator Blake Curd.

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Habemus budget! The South Dakota Legislature passed Senate Bill 187, the general appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2014, and got the heck out of town at 8 p.m. last night.

David Montgomery does fine work spreadsheeting the numerous budget amendments that were proposed yesterday. At peril of positing a false dilemma, I offer two amendments for comparison.

Senator Billie Sutton (D-21/Burke) took one more swing at expanding Medicaid. He moved to amend $1.9 million into the budget to put South Dakota on board with the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act. The Joint Appropriations Committee said no.

Joint Appropriations could not bring itself to spend $5.3 million to bring South Dakota's per-student spending back to 2011 levels. They settled for Senator Bill Van Gerpen's (R-19/Tyndall) amendment to put $2.2 million above what Governor Daugaard asked what Governor Daugaard asked into K-12 education.

That education amendment puts another $16.72 toward teaching each of our 130,000-plus K-12 students. The Legislature wants to direct that money to teacher salaries, which will boost each of our K-12 teachers' pay about $220, which moves us 9% of the way to not being last in the nation and 1.3% of the way to catching up with Minnesota.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not going to say no any dollars the Legislature is willing to put toward paying South Dakota teachers what they are worth. But let's put on our green eye shades.

$2.2 million for K-12 is good, but it constitutes 0.65% of the general fund allocation for state aid to K-12 education, $341 million.

$1.9 million would have been a similarly small increase in South Dakota's general fund expenditures for Medicaid, 0.63% of $301 million. But it also would have brought into the state $273 million in federal spending, a 59% increase over the $464 million we already get.

We could have done both. We could have added more money for K-12 and expanded Medicaid. But if we had really been down to our last $2.2 million in mad money, and if someone had said take your pick, boost teacher pay $220 a head or expand Medicaid, I might have had a hard time leaving $273 million dollars in medical assistance and economic stimulus on the table in favor of marginal pay increases that will not noticeably alleviate our teacher pay crisis.

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The South Dakota Legislature listens to constituents, respects local control, and sends a message that texting while driving is irresponsible, dangerous behavior. What's not to like?

David Montgomery reports that, after declaring failure just a couple days ago, legislators have crafted a compromise statewide texting ban that, actually, feels less like compromise and more like a whole lot of what good sense would call for.

We should see the details in HB 1177 shortly. But it looks like we get $100 fine for texting as a secondary offense. The Highway Patrol can't pull you over just for staring at your screen instead of the road, but when they bust you for not seeing that stop sign or drifting over the center line, they can write up your texting as well.

As a bonus (consolation?) for Republicans, the new bill would not prohibit local governments from implementing more serious penalties.

As a bonus for small-d democrats, Rep. Charlie Hoffman tells Mr. Montgomery that this bill is happening because the people want it:

"There was an enormous amount of pressure from home, and from people who talked in the last crackerbarrels, (saying) ‘Why aren’t you doing something about texting?’" said Hoffman. "People in this House and Senate didn’t want to go back on their campaign and have to be badgered with, ‘Why aren’t you doing your job?’ [David Montgomery, Lawmakers Reach Texting Ban Compromise," Political Smokeout, 2014.03.13]

Dang: voters speak, legislators respond. That's how government is supposed to work.

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Last month, the state Ag Department, the state dairy industry, and the Valley Queen Cheese factory ganged up to block Senate Bill 126, which would have undone some of the onerous restrictions the state put on raw milk sales last year. While a whole bunch of South Dakotans asked the Legislature to give them a little more freedom to sell and buy locally produced milk, Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch called raw milk "inherently dangerous."

Guns are inherently dangerous, yet the state recruits gun manufacturers to make and sell their product in South Dakota.

Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth said, "Current disease data shows people who drink raw milk have gotten sick.... We should do everything we can to prevent this.”

People who text and drive have gotten hurt, yet the Legislature refuses to impose a statewide ban on that activity.

Big-wheel Republican lobbyist Matthew McCaulley, speaking on behalf of Valley Queen Cheese (one of the big businesses selected by Dennis Daugaard to join his May trade mission to China), complained that if we allow more raw milk sales, "Consumers will have difficulty distinguishing between pasteurized and unpasteurized products." Therefore, "Valley Queen Cheese Factory would be in favor of, as some states have done, a total ban on the sale of raw milk."

You have local dairy producers selling milk they bottled themselves at farmers markets and small mom-and-pop shops. You have Valley Queen Cheese dumping massive quantities of industrial dairy products at the supermarket. Are you really struggling to tell the difference? But hey: when you're a crony capitalist trying to rationalize your request for the nanny state to ban your competitors from the marketplace, you end up saying some silly things.

Meanwhile, an eager reader notes that the nanny states of Europe are making it easier to buy raw milk:

In response to the first-rate benefits of raw milk, several European nations have installed self-service vending machines that provide access to the food 24 hours a day. Brainchild of dairy farmer Michel Cantaloube, the machines have been stationed around France, the UK and Spain – supplying local, sustainable and unpasteurized milk to surrounding communities. The dairy farms involved hope to expand the venture into a similar vending machine for raw yogurt.

Other countries like Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands have begun to install their own raw milk vending machines as well [Carolanne Wright, "Europe Embraces Healthy Raw Dairy by Unveiling Fresh Milk Vending Machines," Wake Up World, 2014.03.11].

Bring your own bottle! Please tell me that vending machine moos when you hit the button.

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Ronald Fuchs should be the face of the Medicaid expansion debate in South Dakota. The Mitchell man is a regular guy, age 63, suffering from various maladies that make it hard for him to work. Still, he can't get disability payments. His Social Security income ($650 a month) is too low to qualify for help under the Affordable Care Act but too high to qualify for the Medicaid coverage that Governor Dennis Daugaard refuses to expand.

Republican legislators are spending more time working on a resolution to urge repeal of the Affordable Care Act than they are looking for a solution for Ronald Fuchs.

Ultimately, Ronald Fuchs's only hope remains a couple years of luck, followed by the most reliable health care coverage in America, government-run Medicare:

He says the only advantage he has now is his age. He’s 63.

"So, I can spend another year and a half to two years uninsured, hoping that I don’t get sick, that I don’t have to use the emergency room. Hoping against hope," Fuchs says.

When Ronald Fuchs turns 65 years old, he’ll qualify for Medicare. He says younger people struggling in poverty can’t simply wait it out for their health care [Kealey Bultena, "Medicaid Decisions Impact Mitchell Man," SDPB Radio, 2014.03.12].

This is now way for South Dakota to treat a neighbor. We have the money to expand Medicaid. Let's do it.

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Yesterday the House GOP leadership honked Governor Dennis Daugaard's nose and violated the state constitution. This can't end well.

The House passed Senate Bill 53 yesterday, but it wasn't really Senate Bill 53. The original SB 53 was a request from Governor Daugaard's Labor Department for $500,000 for the mostly failed New South Dakotan's program and the mall-tripping Dakota Roots program. Senate Appropriations amended that down to $1; the wiseguys in House Appropriations amended it up to $2. Such dollar-amendments happen as legislators say they're o.k. with a program but need to negotiate a final dollar figure in conference committee.

But then the full House got its hands on Senate Bill 53 and hoghoused it. Poof go New South Dakotans and Dakota Roots; in come four new appropriations, out of the blue:

  1. $1,000,000 to jump start the delayed Lewis and Clark Rural Water System;
  2. $500,000 to fund the Readiness and Environmental Protection and Integration (REPI) buffer program at Ellsworth Air Force Base under the Governor's Office of Economic Development.
  3. $464,000 to fund a shale research facility at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
  4. $500,000 to improve airports.

Whatever the merits of these four surprise projects, all unvetted by the committee process, Senate Bill 53 now violates the South Dakota Constitution. Article 12, Section 2 says the only bill that can fund more than one project at a time is the general appropriations bill. "All other appropriations shall be made by separate bills, each embracing but one object, and shall require a two-thirds vote of all the members of each branch of the Legislature." Senate Bill 53 embraces four objects, different places, different functions.

The unconstitutional hoghouse failed to win two-thirds approval on its first go-round. Then after a motion to reconsider, seven legislators (Reps. Campbell, Craig, Ecklund, Kopp, Qualm, Verchio, and Werner) all suddenly decided violating the Constitution to spread out more election-year earmarks was a good thing, and SB 53 passed 49 to 20.

I know you legislators are getting tired and cranky and stressed over having left so much work until the last minute. But your procrastination does not permit placing the hoghouse above the state constitution. You want to fund four emergency projects? You're going to have to hoghouse four separate bills, the way you've had to all session to build a highway patrol facility in Rapid City, work on the Hot Springs veterans home, and remodel the House Chambers. You have to do four different bills the same way you've required the Board of Regents to come to you with four different bills to fund four different projects on one campus (SDUS: See SB 15, SB 16SB 17, and SB 20).

The constitution matters. The Legislature must follow it. If the conference committee can't embrace the constitution, let's hope the Governor will with his veto pen. Even if he vetoes Senate Bill 53 purely out of personal pique over the House's rejection of his pet economic development programs, that veto would defend the constitution from greedy, sloppy legislating.

p.s.: You guys would have more time to get these things done if your weren't spending conference committee time haggling over a resolution calling on Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Aren't 50 futile votes in Congress enough?

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