Democratic leaders said the state budget proposed Tuesday by Gov. Dennis Daugaard looks out for the interests of state government in Pierre, but it largely ignores the two major problems in our communities and it even threatens to hurt the South Dakota economy.
"Communities across South Dakota are sinking from the state's budget cuts, and Pierre is hoarding all the lifeboats," said Democratic House leader Rep. Bernie Hunhoff (D-Yankton). "While our state's bottom line is booming, Governor Daugaard isn't tackling the issues facing our people and communities — adequately funding education at the state level, avoiding a shift of education costs to property taxpayers, and making health care affordable and accessible."
"Uncertainty can't stop us from tackling South Dakota issues right now", said Sen. Jason Frerichs (D-Wilmot). "Every day uncertainty stops us from taking action is a day we aren't making college more affordable, training our kids for open jobs and providing affordable health insurance for everyone," said Frerichs. "Our tax dollars are fueling state government in Pierre. Let's put them to work for all South Dakotans right now."
Hunhoff and Frerichs said their Democratic colleagues' two main concerns include:
"Republican leaders seem to be taking the stand that the current school spending is a new norm," Hunhoff said. "Few if any candidates said that during the election, but now that the votes are counted they're back to the same mindset that if the schools need more money they can go to property taxpayers for it. That's terrible policy. Some districts don't have the property wealth to even consider it and home owners are paying more than their share already in all school districts. The state is shirking its responsibility for public education, and it is already costing us in economic development. We aren't preparing our youth for the job skills they need to compete for open jobs right here in South Dakota."
Frerichs said health care reform is a moral issue and an economic issue. "We can't afford to not participate in the Affordable Care Act. We have 48,000 uninsured South Dakotans. Our county governments, community hospitals and clinics are doing all they can to provide emergency care for these folks, which is much more expensive than providing preventative care through Medicaid. Most of them are working in low wage jobs that don't provide insurance, or they've had the misfortune of becoming sick or hurt and they can't get insurance. These are real people with real stories," Frerichs said. "It's a moral issue but it's also an economic issue. The $200 million provided through the Affordable Care Act will be a bargain for our state, perhaps one of the biggest boons to our economy that we could hope for. The $200 million in new spending means hundreds of new jobs in communities across the state."
The Democrats said the administrative costs for the $200 million revenue stream to the state will amount to less than $20 million. "We simply can't afford not to do this," added Hunhoff. "It's the right thing to do and it will be an immense boost to our economy in a year when we have a lot of uncertainties."
Turning the money down, said Frerichs, would be akin to turning down the federal farm program or asking that Ellsworth Air Force Base be closed. "Health care reform is the law of the land. We have a responsibility and an opportunity to make it work for South Dakota. Let's meet the challenge."
Hunhoff and Frerichs said the governor will likely find solid bi-partisan support on corrections reforms, investments in workforce training, state park improvements, the Sanford Mine improvements and the addition of a physics program.
Hunhoff and Frerichs said they also hope to find common ground on school funding, health care reform and economic development initiatives in the 2013 session. "We'll propose some ideas of our own and we'll critique and amend the Republican proposals, including this budget," Frerichs said. "We all want the same thing at the end of session, a plan for a better South Dakota."