Legislators Discuss Issues At Majestic Bluffs Forum

Sen. Craig Kennedy (right) discusses some of the legislation being considered in Pierre while Reps. Jean Hunhoff and Ryan Cwach look on during a legislative forum Friday at Majestic Bluffs in Yankton. To view a video from this event, visit www.yankton.net.

Yankton’s legislative delegation was on hand at Majestic Bluffs Friday to answer questions about the current session.

Organized by the League of Women Voters at the request of residents, the event gave residents of the assisted-living facility a chance to voice concerns and hear directly from Sen. Craig Kennedy and Reps. Jean Hunhoff and Ryan Cwach.

In December, Gov. Kristi Noem proposed, among other cuts, a 0% increase to the funding of public education in light of an expected $20 million decrease in tax revenue from Internet service. South Dakota law states that each year, education is to be raised 3% or the rate of inflation (CPI) whichever is less.

This week, the Legislature received updated numbers indicating that there will be more money for 2021 than was thought in December. Newer projections point to a $12.6 million revenue surplus from the previous budget year and $19.2 million increase over last year’s estimates.

Hunhoff put the current budgeting numbers in everyday terms for participants.

For every dollar: 49 cents goes to K-12, higher education, technical education and the department of education; 35 cents of that dollar goes to fund health and human services; 10 cents goes to protecting the public with courts and law enforcement; and the last 6 cents goes to the rest of state government, including 11 departments, four bureaus, the Legislature, the governor and constitutional officers, Hunhoff said.

“So, let’s go back to the 49 and 35 cents, which is 84 cents that is going to education and to Medicaid providers, health care and all of that,” she said. “So, as a matter of that, $19 million: $15 million would be 1%. You need $30 million if you want to do 2% for education, 2% for state employees and 2% for providers. There isn’t enough to do that.”

Legislators will have to decide how much to spend in each area, how much to cut and how much to save to offset budget areas that are expected to bring in less revenue over the next number of years, she said.

Cwach is sponsoring House Bill 1230, which proposes to take an extra $10 million from the education enhancement trust fund to fund the increase to education for 2021 as prescribed by law.

“It’s a very, very significant amount of money for education enhancement, and every year we just take a tiny sliver of that money to go towards actually enhancing education,” Cwach said. “Last year, that trust fund made about $34 million. Of that $34 million, only about $22 million is going to be spent for education. So, I have a bill that says, ‘Let’s use that other $10 million this year.’”

This year, the return on the investments has been good, he said.

“We should be putting that towards education when we have these difficult kinds of penny-pinching years,” Cwach said. “If we take that $10 million now, and we get 6% on $590 million next year, we’re still going to be in a pretty good place.”

Cwach also mentioned House Bill 1204, sponsored by Rep. Mark Willadsen of Sioux Falls, which would not cut other parts of the budget at the expense of education, but would generate more revenue, he said

“We have an insurance tax in this state — and none of us have to pay, but the insurance companies do,” he said. “We’ve been giving them a tax credit for the last few years if they make a donation to a private school. Mark’s bill would lower the amount of that tax credit, and that, too, would help us alleviate some of our budget woes.”

There was also discussion on Joint Resolution 501, a proposal to submit a constitutional amendment to the voters that would allow betting on sporting events in South Dakota. According to the bill, “The entire net municipal proceeds … shall be devoted to the historic restoration and preservation of Deadwood.”

The question Friday was: Why bring a constitutional amendment through the Legislature rather than through voter petitions?

“Having been up there with Port Yankton last year and really being urged to go out and get signatures if we wanted to change the constitution and when Deadwood was there last year with their bill, that was somewhat a similar message that they were receiving,” said Nancy Wenande of Yankton Area Progressive Growth. “So Deadwood comes back again this year and that doesn’t seem to be a part of the conversation. It just seems like there’s maybe a bit of favoritism from one community to another because this really is a new kind of gaming.”

Kennedy said that those conversations did take place, but off the Senate floor.

“Frankly, I didn’t want to make Yankton sound like a sore loser,” he said. “We did have conversations among the senators about what happened to Port Yankton last year, and how this seemed to be very inconsistent with the position that the Legislature took on Port Yankton. I voted against the resolution. It did pass.”

Cwach also expressed doubt that a resolution for sports betting revenue in Deadwood should be brought by the Legislature.

“They have already approached me, and I told them no, I’m not going to vote for it,” Cwach said. “I do think they should have to go and get the signatures necessary to do it. I think getting the signatures is much harder, but it shows a level of commitment and support for a particular idea ....”

Hunhoff noted that those who had voted against the Port Yankton resolution last year had voted for the Deadwood effort this time.

“Certainly, those that were nays last time are yeas this time,” she said. “So I think it goes back to your discussion piece that it’s not a constitutional amendment; it is specific for Deadwood, and I think that’s the approach that I don’t support.”

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