Week 5 of the Legislative Session

On February 15, 2011, in Letters from Val, by Valentine Rausch

Hello again from Pierre.

This week was full of good and bad bills again. Many were defeated in committees, but some live to see the House Floor for votes by the whole body! We now only have a week left before crossover day so the pace will continue to stay very hectic. It is amazing how many visitors I have in the Speakers Office. The discussions will vary from soliciting support on certain legislation, asking which committee a bill will be sent, advice on different legislation, when a bill will be voted on, if a vote can be delayed and occasionally just a visit.

I have had a tremendous amount of emails, I can tell you that I do get to read them all, but I have not had time to respond the way I would normally do. I do have an intern, but I realize that it would not be the same as a personal note from me. Since some emails need to be responded to I will indeed use my Intern to do some of the replies, my apologies. I do appreciate all the advice and concerns expressed in the emails. Our job this year is extremely difficult and not very popular.

It is unfortunate that as things get tough people want to blame someone, like me, for the situation we find ourselves in. The National economy meltdown was something that the legislature could never have predicted and has very little, if any, recourse to correct. As the National Government decided to adopt the plan to offer stimulus money, the Governor and the Legislature thought it prudent to accept the money in hopes that the tough cuts could be avoided and the economy could recover, we were wrong. Then the second stimulus was offered, we again accepted the stimulus with the same hopes in our sights, that our economy would recover, again that did not work. We were now 2 years down the road of no return and now we also had a major revenue source for the state, bank franchise tax, finding the rules changing for them and their profit margins disappeared leaving us with a $26,000,000 dollar over payment that needed to be paid back. We are now faced with the decisions that we were trying to avoid 2 plus years ago, not to mention our revenue levels have now shrunk to the 2008 levels. With 47% of the State’s general funds budget going to Education, 37% of the general funds going to providers and 12% of our general budget going to protecting people, our budget, without revenue increases, needs to have some cuts to these departments or we cannot balance our budget.

I have heard that a petition has been circulated around Milbank asking for support to encourage the Legislature and the Governor to consider a $150,000,000 million dollar tax increase. I will certainly share that information with all, when it is made available to me, but it will be a hard sell with the current makeup of this legislative group to pass such a measure, but I do appreciate the efforts and the support many are giving me as we try to figure out just how to balance the budget. I share the frustration that a solution that seems so easy will be so hard to obtain, if obtainable at all. I continue to look for ways to soften or lessen the proposed cuts, but we need every suggestion we can get, so please send them to me. The Superintendents, from home, have been working very hard to give us suggestions, as well as our administrators of our long term care facilities. We need all to help bring South Dakota through this unfortunate economic crisis.

Again my contact info is rep.rausch@state.sd.us or valrausch@hotmail.com. Or call and leave a message at 605-880-5015.

Sincerely, Speaker Val Rausch

 

Week 4 of the Legislative Session

On February 4, 2011, in Letters from Val, by Valentine Rausch

Hello again from Pierre.

As the days slip by and the work loads increase I can feel the tension and anxiousness increase throughout all of State Government. Many are still trying to find support for the legislation they are carrying, trying to persuade others that their view or idea is worth supporting.

In State Affairs committee this week we had a number of bills that were offered that would try and change the way our legislative districts were established and who made up the committee to decide the districts. This is the year that the legislative districts need to be redrawn, with the new census completed and the population shifts accounted for, the districts need to be redrawn so the population in each district is as equal as possible. This process will take place over the summer and a final plan will be presented to the legislature in October. The bills that were brought to change the way that process has been done in South Dakota all failed, most on a party line vote.

We also had some bills to restrict who people can make campaign contributions to and to restrict where people could hold fundraisers, also a couple of bills that would have changed how the general appropriations bill is handled and what amount of money could be spent, all attempts, in my opinion, to be political in nature and all these bills failed.

In Local Government we heard bills that would change how some appointments are made, mostly clarifying language. The Secretary of State also had a bill to establish the date in which absentee voting could begin. It seems that it was not uniform throughout the state, this bill will make it uniform. The most significant legislation that passed out of committee was a change on how contracts can be awarded when there is no competitive bids and the local contractor is a member of the governing body. I think this change will allow for more rural areas to keep business local and use the businesses in their community to provide the services necessary.

This last weekend, Gary and Estelline, held cracker barrels for the local legislators. The focus in the meetings continues to be around concern for the budget and the affect it would or could have on area schools and area care providers. It is nice to see so many citizens attend the events. It is unfortunate that it takes a financial crisis to inspire them to come. Many in attendance feel that raising taxes is the way to fix the problem, it would certainly provide more revenue for the State to spend, however, a tax increase would require a 2/3rds majority vote and at the present time, those votes do not exist. We are continuing to search for ways to balance the state’s budget in a way that will create the least amount of hardship. I continue to ask you to send your ideas to me as we work through this crisis.

Again my contact info is rep.rausch@state.sd.us or valrausch@hotmail.com. Or call and leave a message at 605-880-5015.

Sincerely, Speaker Val Rausch