PIERRE — During Tuesday’s State of the State address, area South Dakota legislators generally took a positive view of Gov. Kristi Noem’s priorities for leading the state through and beyond the pandemic.
Noem, a Republican, delivered the speech before a joint session of the Legislature. The day also marked the opening of the 2021 session.
The Republicans dominate the Legislature with 94 members while Democrats comprise 11 members. In the Senate, the margin is 32-3, while in the House, it’s 62-8.
DISTRICT 18 LEGISLATORS
Sen. Jean Hunhoff (R-Yankton) said Noem highlighted priorities for this session. However, the thrust of the speech focused on the role of South Dakotans themselves in building a better state, Hunhoff said.
“Her budget address in December reflected her budget priorities for programming,” Hunhoff said. “Her focus today was on the family — how to strengthen the family as a solid foundation to raise our children and empower them with the values we have as South Dakotans.”
Noem used personal examples, including people brought to Pierre for her speech, to illustrate her points, Hunhoff said. Those people had made differences in their own lives, she added.
“Seeing the faces of people that have succeeded reinforces that less government intervention and more focus on the right programs can make a change that that is positive and sustainable,” the senator added.
Rep. Ryan Cwach (D-Yankton) noted both what the governor did and didn’t mention in her address.
“Every State of the State address is a mixed bag,” he said.
On the one hand, Cwach saw proposals that can benefit Yankton and the southeast region.
“I was excited to hear the governor commit to expanding tourism and state recreation in South Dakota and needs-based scholarships for college and technical-college students,” he said. “I look forward to working on those with the governor and fellow legislators, including advocating for Mount Marty University to be included in the program.”
The current proposal limits the needs-based scholarships to students attending the South Dakota public colleges and universities, Augustana University in Sioux Falls and the University of Sioux Falls.
On the other hand, Cwach found Tuesday’s address lacking in some areas.
“I was disappointed that the governor’s speech did not mention rising health care costs, local infrastructure or address how we successfully mitigate the impact of COVID until enough of our population is vaccinated,” he said.
For Rep. Mike Stevens (R-Yankton), Noem seeks to maintain the state’s financial strength beginning during the previous Daugaard administration and continuing through the pandemic.
South Dakota has maintained its AAA bond rating, and its retirement system is fully funded, Stevens said. In addition, South Dakota has maintained and even grown its revenue during the pandemic while other states have been forced to raise taxes to make up for lost revenue.
“Thus, South Dakota is not looking at government cuts to education which occurred a few years ago,” he noted.
Noem’s proposal for high-speed broadband internet services will benefit education, Stevens said. The need has been seen during the pandemic when students have been learning remotely and parents are working from home, he added.
“A side benefit is that it encourages others to move to South Dakota to have a higher quality of life and yet keep their job,” Stevens said. “Secondly, our tech schools are doing great and are literally considered the best in the United States.”
In addition, high school students will take advantage of the needs-based Premier Scholarship Fund, Stevens said. In addition, Noem, encouraged students to make outdoor recreation part of their education, he added.
“The governor said it best when she said that the goal is ‘to get our students to ‘put down the X-box and pick up the tackle box.’ We have a lot to be thankful for by living in South Dakota.”
In terms of COVID, Hunhoff sees the state emerging from the pandemic and looking at the world in different ways. At the same time, the State of the State address reflected new realities, she said.
“Indirectly, people’s activity levels have changed to seek more outdoor activities and to create healthy lifestyles,” the senator said. “Our potential workforce has new opportunities for accessing education that will be funded by scholarships both at the higher (education) and technical college level.”
Noem’s address provided an upbeat message in working through the pandemic, Hunhoff said.
“This was her time to celebrate the people of South Dakota for their actions in helping themselves and the people of this state,” the senator said.
• District 17 Sen. Art Rusch (R-Vermillion) said he found “several interesting outtakes” from the address.
He noted the $2.8 billion of economic development projects last year, which was an all-time high. South Dakota already has commitments of $500 million in projects this year, primarily with the announcement of the large Schwan’s facility in Sioux Falls providing 600 jobs.
In addition, Rusch pointed to the governor’s priority of spending $100 million to connect the rest of the state with high-speed broadband. He noted the impact for the 135,000 residents without it, many in rural, often isolated, areas.
“Her examples were interesting — (such as) a technology expert from California who has moved back to his hometown of Lemmon and works remotely from there,” the senator said.
On another issue, Rusch applauded the start of a needs-based scholarship in South Dakota, something he has sought for years.
“South Dakota is the only state that has no needs-based scholarship program. We have tried to get minimal funding in order to start the Dakota’s Promise with a $5 million effort last year but failed in our efforts,” he said.
The Premier Bank system has promised $50 million if the state matches the figure, far more than Dakota’s Promise, Rusch said. “I hope the Legislature will provide that $50 million matching money,” he added.
• District 19 Sen. Kyle Schoenfish (R-Scotland) said Noem’s priorities would set up the state for future growth.
“South Dakota is in a strong position economically,” he said. “Ongoing and one-time revenues are up, Businesses and jobs are expected to keep coming to our state. Investments like broadband will set up the infrastructure to keep South Dakota going in the right direction.”
He pointed to the value-added projects that could benefit the state’s agricultural sector.
“Meat processing grants and the merger of the Departments of Agriculture and the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources are issues of interest to the ag community that constituents have been contacting me about,” he said.
In addition, South Dakota is taking steps to keep younger workers in the state, Schoenfish said.
“Workforce development is mentioned every year,” he said. “The Premier Scholarship looks to fund needs-based scholarships to students who work in South Dakota.”
• District 19 Rep. Kent Peterson (R-Salem), the House majority leader, said he supported the governor’s address and priorities.
“The governor laid out a strong vision for how South Dakota has faced its challenges through the pandemic and what that has meant to the citizens we represent,” he said. “Our economy has stayed strong compared to others; we are truly open for business. We will once again balance our budget, and do so without any gimmicks or tricks.”
Peterson noted the importance of decisions regarding the spending of federal stimulus dollars for the pandemic.
“We have the opportunity to make investments in future generations of South Dakotans with the one-time dollars that are available,” he said. “Our job is to make wise and prudent investments.”
• District 16 Sen. Jim Bolin (R-Canton), the majority whip, said he agreed with almost all of Noem’s points in her address.
“She emphasized strengthening the family and how many positive things are taking place in the state,” Bolin said. “Revenue is up, and we did not shut down like most other states did.”
Bolin made note of the Noem’s format, describing it “as much a production as it was a speech.”
“I have heard 13 of them (State of the State addresses), and this was different in that each point was illustrated by a personal example from someone who was brought to Pierre to be in the gallery. I thought it was very effective,” Bolin said.
“In speaking to other legislators, they described it as Reaganesque, as (Ronald Reagan) was the first president to do this extensively in his State of the Union addresses.”
The State of the State address played well, Bolin said. “Overall, the governor got a warm reception to her plans from the strongly-GOP legislature.”
The Press & Dakotan sought email comments from District 16, 17, 18, 19 and 21 legislators.
Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter