Legislators see governor’s budget as only a starting point

It was interesting to listen to the discussion Tuesday afternoon, as the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations met after Gov. Mike Rounds’ speech, in which he outlined his recommendations for state government’s 2011 budget that starts July 1, 2010. The committee members received copies of what they know as the “blue book” prepared by Department of Legislative Audit staff showing all sorts of financial data about state government, including how much cash is sitting in dozens of accounts for state departments, agencies, boards and commissions. The listing covers several pages and ranks the amounts on hand, as well as tracks how the amounts change from year to year. The book is assembled first for the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee. But GOAC members work with JCA members, and some legislators serve on both panels, including GOAC’s current chair, Rep. Deb Peters, R-Hartford. The House JCA chairman, Rep. Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings, reminded the appropriators that the cash in many of the accounts can be used for other purposes if the Legislature so decides, so long as enough is retained in the account for annual operations. “That’s another thing to look at,” he said. Peters also suggested the appropriators examine the operating costs and usage of state airplanes for government travel. Appropriators clearly seem ready to go their own way in 2010, especially because the governor proposed few real cuts and offered no real solution to the financial difficulties other than hold down spending and hope for an economic turn-around before all of the state’s $107 million of reserves are spent. Throughout the afternoon after the speech, legislators frequently made the observation that the governor’s budget proposal is only a starting point. Rounds is term-limited and the 2010 legislative session will be his eighth and presumably last, a situation that will only further embolden legislators and further undermine his relevancy.  Seven years of little innovation, no new efficiencies or savings of any significance, an emphasis on protecting his hometown’s economy, and showing minimal backbone on spending — he complained but still signed the budgets into law when the Legislature spent more than legally required on public schools, for example– are coming home to roost.

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About Bob Mercer

Bob Mercer is a newspaper reporter in Pierre where I cover state government, issues and politics for the Aberdeen American News and four other separately owned newspapers: the Black Hills Pioneer, the Pierre Capital Journal, the Mitchell Daily Republic and the Watertown Public Opinion. I began covering the Legislature in 1985 and have lived in Pierre since December 1986. I grew up in Wisconsin, worked my way through college, took my first full-time newspapers jobs in Wyoming, and have lived in South Dakota since the summer of 1984 when I moved to Aberdeen to join the American News. I worked for the Rapid City Journal as its state government reporter in Pierre from late 1992 through late 1998. I spent four years as press secretary and a senior aide to Gov. Bill Janklow during his fourth and final term from late 1998 through 2002. I returned to journalism in January 2003 as a self-employed reporter, providing state government coverage to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish, Pierre and, depending on the year, Aberdeen newspapers. In 2008, the Aberdeen American News offered to hire me as full-time member of the AAN staff, with my reports continuing to be available to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish and Pierre papers. The new arrangement has been in effect since January 2009 as the five papers continue their remarkable dedication to their readers and the general public, as the only South Dakota news outlets with a full-time reporter covering state government in Pierre throughout the year. In addition to focusing on the Legislature during the annual winter session and its various activities during the interim periods between sessions, I spend many days throughout the year -- traveling as often necessary -- to cover state government boards and commissions which oversee the state universities, technical institutes, outdoors, water, environment, business, public schools, banking, agriculture, utilities, health care and various other areas of public interest. I purposely don't register to vote because of my profession; the last time I recall voting in a presidential election was the first time, 1976, when I had just turned 18. I think I voted for Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford. Make of that what you want, just don't make much of it.

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