I’m posting updates throughout the testimony this morning on Twitter. I’m at @pierremercer on Twitter. Also, the Legislative Research Council is carrying the audio via the Internet. To find the audio and the agenda, go to this link and click on the links for Joint Government Operations and Audit approximately half-way down the web page. The hearing began at 8 a.m. CST and is scheduled to continue through 11:30 a.m.
Here is a link to the GOED web page where the reports are posted for the two outside accounting firms and the state Department of Legislative Audit.
This seemed noteworthy and simultaneously beyond explanation. At a legislative hearing today, regarding a $6 million request for funding for a railroad project, were the three top guys from the firm managing the Mike Rounds campaign for U.S. Senate.
There was former state Sen.Bob Gray. And there was Rob Skjonsberg, who was the first (and longest) chief of staff when Rounds was governor. And there was Jason Glodt, who was an aide to Rounds while governor and left state government to form the new consulting firm with Gray and Skjonsberg.
State records show the three are lobbyists in the 2014 legislative session for a new non-profit formed just last month called Rails to the Future. The non-profit’s purpose, according to its incorporation paperwork, is to “extend rail transportation west from Chamberlain, SD.” Its directors are William Ferguson of Witten, Steve Halverson of Pierre (who farms at Kennebec) and Bryan Jorgensen of Ideal.
That all three of the Gray Skjonsberg Glodt group would go to a 90-minute hearing when the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate nomination is less than 90 days away seems remarkable.
Mike Ruth, who has been superintendent for the Miller school district, submitted his resignation from the South Dakota High School Activities Association board of directors Wednesday. According to SDHSAA executive director Wayne Carney, the Miller school board accepted Ruth’s resignation as superintendent for personal reasons.
Ruth didn’t attend the SDHSAA meeting. Carney said the association will be accepting nominations at the April 22 general-membership meeting for a replacement for the two years remaining on Ruth’s term as a Division III representative on the eight-member board. Carney said the other board members appreciate Ruth’s service and wish him well.
The board also could be operating for some time without another one of its directors. Mike Miller, a school board member from Aberdeen, has a kidney illness, according to Jason Uttermark, who is principal at Aberceen Central high school and is also a SDHSAA director. Uttermark informed the other directors present at the Wednesday meeting.
The request by House Democratic leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton that more money be made more easily available for addiction treatment services has the state House of Representatives in a holding pattern regarding the proposed expansion of video lottery. The legislation from Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes, and Rep. Dick Werner, R-Huron, seeks to allow establishments to have up to 15 machines. The current limit is 10. The additional machines 11 through 15 would need to be new technology. The inside word as of Tuesday late afternoon is that the bill’s debate will be delayed until Monday in the House so that the South Dakota Lottery Commission and perhaps the South Dakota Commission on Gaming — the regulator for Deadwood casinos — can hold special meetings. The purpose of those meetings would be to consider requesting an interim study from the Legislature on gambling addiction services and the possible reasons why the addiction money available to the state Department of Social Services from the South Dakota Lottery hasn’t been fully drawn the past three years. The House isn’t the most hospitable territory for any gambling expansion especially regarding video lottery; House members killed a bet-limit increase (from $2 to $5) for video lottery earlier this session. The Hunhoff request carries with it a possible requirement there be a two-thirds majority if addiction funding is explicitly attached to the 15-machines legislation. It is highly unlikely House members would provide a two-thirds majority, and so the scramble behind the scenes now is to find a way to satisfy Hunhoff and those of similar thinking without needing a two-thirds majority.
The other play under way in this drama is revenue. The Legislature’s rumor mill in the past few days suggests that economic forecasts for the remainder of the current budget year and the coming budget year that starts July 1 aren’t quite as glowing as two to three months ago. Whether allowing more video lottery machines under SB 180 would affect revenue in a significant positive way fast enough is an unknown. State government receives 50 cents from every dollar lost by players in the privately owned terminals. That argument cuts both ways in a House where legalized gambling has many challengers.
Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka, has been telling friends he isn’t running for re-election this year. That hasn’t slowed his push to change the South Dakota Constitution regarding term limits for legislators. The Senate State Affairs Committee endorsed his term-limits proposal 6-2 Monday. That leaves approval by the full Senate as the last step before the November general-election ballot. The Senate vote could come as early as this afternoon (Tuesday). The constitution currently limits lawmakers to no more than four consecutive elected terms in the same chamber. There aren’t restrictions beyond that; lawmakers have been coming and going between chambers for the past two decades. Hoffman’s proposal would change the limit to six consecutive elected terms in the same chamber. The House of Representatives voted 54-16 on Feb. 5 to endorse the proposal for the November ballot. Voters would be the ultimate decision makers on this — or any other — change to the state constitution.
As for Hoffman, what we hear is he’s stepping aside for what he hopes is one term. He has a personal project in mind and has told friends he would seek election to the House again in 2016. That is a magic-number year in his district. His district’s other House member, Rep. Justin Cronin of Gettysburg, is the House Republican assistant leader and, assuming he won re-election this year, Cronin would be in his final term of eligibility in the House in 2015-16. Meanwhile the district’s senator, Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, is in his third term and would face the limit of four consecutive terms if he wins re-election this year. Brown is the Senate’s top member as president pro tem. Unknown as this point is who would run this year for the seat now held by Hoffman. Looking ahead, if that winner wants to seek re-election in 2016, there would be two term-limited incumbents in 2016 who could set up to swap seats if they chose — Brown to the House and Cronin to the Senate — but that would leave Hoffman and the Hoffman replacement competing for one seat. We don’t know yet what Cronin and Brown plan to do this year regarding re-election or what they might want to do in 2016. But for Hoffman to run again in 2016 for the House, it would seem to assume Brown won’t be running for the House.
And if Hoffman’s term-limit extension passed this November, the intrigue for 2016 would really be stewing in this district.
UPDATE: The Senate deferred debate Tuesday on the resolution and rescheduled it for consideration today (Wednesday). A second resolution, seeking a statewide vote on expanding Deadwood casino games to include roulette, craps and keno, also is on the Wednesday debate calendar in the Senate.
The Legislature’s joint committee on government operations and audit will hold a special meeting Friday morning (March 7) on the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the EB-5 immigrant investor program. The full Legislature isn’t meeting Friday.
Here is the schedule:
8:00 a.m. Call meeting to Order
Item 1 – Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) opening remarks
Item 2 – Eide Bailly LLP to present their internal controls examination report followed by
responses from GOED, Bureau of Human Resources and the State Auditor. Committee
questions on the Eide Bailly LLP report.
Item 3 – Stulken, Petersen, Lingle, Walti & Jones, LLP to present their agreed-upon procedures
report followed by a response from GOED. Committee questions on the Stulken, Petersen,
Lingle, Walti & Jones LLP report.
Item 4 – Department of Legislative Audit (DLA) to present their audit report of the GOED
Governmental Funds followed by a response from GOED. Committee questions on the DLA
Item 5 – GOED overview of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s EB-5 program.
Committee questions on the EB-5 program.
Item 6 – Closing comments from Commissioner Costello
10:00 a.m. Item 7 – Public testimony
Item 8 – Committee discussion regarding next steps
11:30 a.m. Adjourn
The state Board of Economic Development meets March 11 in Pierre. The agenda shows an interesting series of decisions to be made on policy changes and on funding applications. Pierre, Parkston, Hartford and Thunder Valley Development Corp. seek money for local infrastructure improvements, while Wagner, Cloud Horse Art Institute and Heart of the Hills Development Corp. seek aid under the economic development partnership program. Policy changes for those two programs, created through 2013 legislation, happen to be set on the agenda for earlier in the meeting. Another funding decision for the board is a reinvestment grant application from B&H Wind, based at Chokio, Minnesota; the reinvestment program was created in the 2013 legislation and replaced the state tax-refund program that expired Dec. 31, 2012. B&H Wind was organized in South Dakota in 2009 by Raymond Faricy III of Minneapolis, Minnesota. B&H Wind vice president Keith Thorstad filed merger papers in South Dakota, folding in B&H Acquisition, which was organized by Faricy in South Dakota just three weeks ago on Feb. 14. The merger was recorded Feb. 19. Also on the agenda is Arlington Community Development Corp., which had applied to the state board for an economic development partnership grant; the Arlington application was considered by the board’s grant-screening committee at its Feb. 19 meeting but is listed separately on the board’s March 11 agenda rather than with the other applicants for those grants.
Evidently the state House of Representatives will lose Republican Gary Cammack of Union Center and Democrat Scott Parsley of Madison. They’ve filed their candidacy petitions for state Senate seats.
Cammack is running for the District 29 seat now held by Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, who’s seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. There will be a Republican primary there, with Susan Cheshier of rural Newell the first to be filed for that seat.
Parsley meanwhile wants the District 8 Senate seat currently held by Republican Chuck Jones of Flandreau. Jones, who hasn’t filed yet, was appointed by the governor last year to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Senate Republican leader Russ Olson of Wentworth.
We already knew Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, would be leaving the House because she’s term-limited there. Her candidacy paperwork is in for the District 28 Senate seat held by Republican Ryan Maher of Isabel, who’s term-limited too. Maher lives in the same House sub-district as Democratic incumbent Dean Schrempp of Lantry and doesn’t plan to challenge him. (More on that in an upcoming newspaper story profiling Maher…)
Olson doesn’t have a free path, however. Oren Lesmeister, a Democrat from Parade, has filed for the District 28 seat too. Maher went unchallenged in 2012.
These numbers are three weeks late (the fault is mine, not anyone else’s) but they’re worth getting on the record. The latest monthly compilation of voter registration for South Dakota shows, as of Feb. 7, that Republicans gained one voter since Jan. 15, 2014. Democrats lost — gulp — 475. Independents gained 209. Increases also were posted by: Constitutionalists 26 and Libertarians nine.
Republicans, Democrats and independents all took thumpings in previous months as county auditors whittled their registration rolls for voter inactivity. Since January 2013 the Republicans are down about 10,000 and the Democrats are down about 14,000. Independents are down about 850. Here’s the full report.
We should have new March numbers next week.