Governor Dennis Daugaard's new Build Dakota Scholarship for vocational-school students is a corporate welfare program whose primary aim is addressing a workforce shortage and providing select South Dakota industries with a captive labor pool. It will provide 300 scholarships over five years out of a total current vo-tech enrollment of about 6,100.

Democrats in Minnesota's Legislature are proposing free tuition for everyone who wants to attend Minnesota's two-year colleges and technical schools. That proposal mirrors the Tennessee Promise, in which Tennessee is using lottery money to cover tuition to its associate-degree programs:

It will provide students a last-dollar scholarship, meaning the scholarship will cover tuition and fees not covered by the Pell grant, the HOPE scholarship, or TSAA funds. Students may use the scholarship at any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, or other eligible institution offering an associate’s degree program. While removing the financial burden is key, a critical component of Tennessee Promise is the individual guidance each participant will receive from a mentor who will assist the student as he or she navigates the college admissions process. In addition, Tennessee Promise participants must complete eight hours of community service per term enrolled, as well as maintain satisfactory academic progress (2.0 GPA) at their institution [Tennessee Promise, "About," downloaded 2015.01.09].

Instead of tying graduates to in-state employers and introducing grit in the labor market, Tennessee will ask its scholarship recipients to pay their communities back while they are in school with a simple service requirement.

President Obama likes the Tennessee Promise. He's advocating a national version of the plan, which could serve nine million Americans.

Minnesota Republicans' initial response: class warfare!

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, was similarly critical of the Democrats’ proposal for free tuition.

“At this point, we have a lot of questions,” Hann said. In particular, he said the programs lack a means-testing mechanism to ensure they are not abused by higher-income Minnesotans [Richard Lopez and J. Patrick Coolican, "Free College vs. Tax Cuts as Visions Contrast at Capitol," Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2015.01.08].

Republicans are hilarious: hand out general scholarships, and the rich are untrustworthy, abuse-minded miscreants! Hand out tax breaks, and the higher-income citizens who run businesses can be trusted to pass on great benefits to the trickled-upon masses (tax breaks are a highlight of the MN GOP plan for the state surplus).

And South Dakota Republicans bat not one eyelash at the possibility that higher-income South Dakotans might take advantage of vo-tech scholarship recipients who are required to work in South Dakota for three years by paying them lower wages than market forces would otherwise demand.

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Governor Dennis Daugaard is lining up millions of dollars to expand vo-tech scholarships and railroads. He still hasn't announced his willingness to spend a fraction of such money to expand Medicaid.

Alaska's new Independent Governor Bill Walker is not so blind:

...for Walker, it's a no-brainer: Around 40,000 low-income Alaskans would receive health benefits under Medicaid expansion; most of those affected would be childless adults. The federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs until the end of 2016, and after that the state's share would only slowly increase to 10 percent by 2020.

Plus, Walker points out, Alaskans already pay taxes that fund the expansion.

"I always will default back to what is best for Alaskans," he says, "and it's best for Alaskans to have the health care coverage we've already paid for" [Annie Feidt, "Alaska's Governor Eager to Expand Medicaid," NPR, 2014.12.16].

Tennessee's Republican Governor Bill Haslam is at least working with the feds to create a Medicaid expansion alternative:

The plan would provide two private-market choices that would make payments to providers based on outcomes and give participants incentives to take personal responsibility for their health. The goal: to have participants make a transition eventually to commercial health coverage.

The Healthy Incentives Plan would be a redesigned part of the state's Medicaid program. The Volunteer Plan would issue vouchers to be used to offset expenses in the health insurance plans of participants' employers [David Boucher, "Tennessee's GOP Gov to Expand Medicaid Program," USA Today, 2014.12.15].

Alaska's Walker and Tennessee's Haslam join the majority of governors who have figured out that accepting federal dollars to provide more citizens health insurance is a good idea. Governor Daugaard, get off your political high horse and do the right thing.

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