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Richard Anderson / Geoff Preston, Journal staff 

Jayden Bies of St. Thomas More drives towards the basket Friday night in the 63-54 win over McCook Central/Montrose in the Class A girls' state basketball semifinal game. Bies led he Cavs with 17 points.

State lawmakers approve $4.7B budget to cap 2018 session

PIERRE | The South Dakota Legislature approved a roughly $4.7 billion state budget Friday that includes higher-than expected funding to education, Medicaid providers and state employees for the upcoming budget year.

The Senate voted 32-3 to pass the budget as the main part of the 2018 legislative session came to a close. Earlier Friday, the House voted 49-17 for the bill that sets state spending for the 2019 budget year, which begins July 1.

The Republican-controlled Legislature benefited from state tax collections projected to climb higher than Gov. Dennis Daugaard anticipated when he proposed his budget plan in December. The budget for the next fiscal year includes roughly $1.63 billion in general state spending, about $18 million above the governor's proposal.

"We all know we came into this session thinking we had no money whatsoever," said Rep. David Anderson, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Appropriations. "Fortunately, we were able to come up with a little money through some newfound growth in our economy."

The approved budget includes a 1 percent increase for education, a 1.2 percent salary bump for state employees, and inflationary increases of 2 percent for community-based providers and 0.5 percent for other providers. Daugaard in December had proposed no inflationary education funding increases per student and leaving most state workers without raises for the second straight year.

Eric Ollila, executive director of the South Dakota State Employees Organization, said he hopes the raise has a positive effect on state employees.

"It's far in excess of what the governor proposed originally, which was nothing," Ollila said before the budget passed. "We've come a long way, and I think that state employees should be happy with what we've done this year."

The budget calls for spending roughly $1.7 billion in federal funds and $1.4 billion in other state money such as highway funding. The Legislature focuses mostly on how to spend the roughly $1.6 billion portion of the budget financed with general state taxes.

Lawmakers reshaped the current year's budget to add roughly $35.5 million in new funding. That includes more than $8.7 million in one-time dollars to providers and a one-time $5.4 million payment for state aid to education. It also budgets more than $11.8 million to fill a hole in the state employee health plan that workers would have had to cover out of their own pockets. Ollila said he would like to see the Legislature study state employee compensation and the state health plan.

Mary McCorkle, president of the South Dakota Education Association, a teacher's union, said educators are pleased they're making progress.

"We continue to have concern about South Dakota being competitive with the neighboring states, being able to recruit and retain teachers for the students of South Dakota," she said. "We're moving forward. We're not moving forward a lot."

Lawmakers will come back to the Capitol on March 26 for the session's final day to debate any vetoes that could come from Daugaard.

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Black Hills home show kicks off

The home show opened a three-day run Friday, filling Rushmore Plaza Civic Center’s Barnett Arena and LaCroix and Rushmore Halls.

The 2018 Black Hills Home Builders Association Home Show features more than 500 exhibitors displaying new products and current services dedicated to indoor and outdoor home remodeling, interior design and new construction. Other attractions include do-it-yourself seminars and a variety of musical entertainment. 

“Education is a key service we want to offer to consumers and trade associates during the Home Show," Dean Hedrick, board president for the Black Hills Home Builders Association, said in a news release. "Our expert presenters are some of the most experienced home improvement and product experts in the region."

The show continues from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Home show officials expect more than 12,000 people to attend the show through the weekend.

Admission is $5 per adult per day, or $8 for the weekend. Children age 12 and under are free.

“The Black Hills Home Show is the largest home and garden show in South Dakota,” Hedrick said. “We take pride in having our members showcase their products and services while attendees experience an event that offers a diverse list of products and services under one roof." 

Rapid City man will represent SD in the Special Olympics

Twenty five years ago, Josh Gilbert got his first taste of Major League Baseball, and it was enough for the Rapid City man to be hooked for life.

“My dad took us to a Chicago Cubs game,” said Gilbert, but it ended abruptly when he and his siblings wanted to go back to the hotel to swim instead of watching the game.

“I felt really bad. Now I stay until the whole game is over. It’s the reason I became a Cubs fan. My dad is proud now.”

Gilbert, 32, will represent South Dakota as an outfielder on the Special Olympics softball team at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle the first week of July. He will be one of five Special Olympics competitors who will help with Black Hills Works’ annual Black Hills Putt-n-Pub event today, which will raise money for the organization as well as the five Special Olympics participants. An additional 35 people supported by the organization will help as well.

The event is in its sixth year and has continued to grow, said Tara Wilcox, director of engagement and events for the organization’s foundation. The event started with eight teams, and this year 80 teams will participate.

“We’re really excited that it brings in a new generation of people who are learning about our mission,” she said. “It’s grown tremendously.”

Funds from the event during the last three years helped the organization renovate the gymnasium, giving the Rapid City Flame and Storm Olympian teams a space to practice year-round.

Today, the Putt-n-Pub teams will try their hand at one of two miniature golf courses located throughout downtown Rapid City.

Team check-in begins at the Rushmore Hotel starting at 10 a.m. Play begins at 11 a.m. and continues until 5 p.m. Teams will return to the Rushmore Hotel at 5:30 p.m. for awards. Prizes will be awarded for best and worst team scores, best costumes, and holes-in-one.

Holes will be located at Wobbly Bobby, Thirsty’s, Murphy’s Pub, 445 Lounge, Paddy O’Neill’s Irish Pub & Grill, Press Start Retro Arcade Bar, Suzie Cappa Art Center, Independent Ale House, Que Pasa, the VFW, Tinder Box, Brass Rail, BakeWorks, Kol and the Oasis Lounge.

The Special Olympics participants will be located at various locations. Gilbert will be at Thirsty’s, a business that has planned a few extra events to support him. Owner Frank Morrison said Gilbert is a consistent customer and avid Cubs fan.

“We’re very proud of him,” Morrison said. “He’s very self-sufficient, hardworking and an all-around good guy. He’s a familiar face at Thirsty’s, always friendly and willing to chat with anyone, especially about the Chicago Cubs.”

Gilbert will be at Thirsty’s from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, wearing his Cubs uniform and available for autographs.

Morrison said the event is a good way to support a great local organization. “They provide such an awesome service for our community,” he said. “It’s an honor to be considered a partner to such a worthwhile organization.”

Joe Burmeister, director of Special Olympics for Black Hills Works, said it’s nice to see local businesses and the community support the Special Olympics and Black Hills Works.

“Thirsty’s took it to a whole new level,” he said. “Josh has a rapport there.”

The five athletes include Gilbert, David Tanner, Derrick Boegel and Mike Estman in softball and Matt Morin in bocce.

Burmeister, who will travel with the team and compete as a non-disabled participant alongside Morin, said he’s excited for the competitors.

“I hope they soak up the experience,” he said. “It’s not something that happens very often. I hope they cherish it.”

Gilbert, who has participated in the Special Olympics since 1998, said that’s exactly his plan. He hopes to see the Space Needle, take a dinner cruise and tour the city. He also plans to do well during competition. The support he feels is invaluable, he said.

“It’s a big honor,” he said. “It means so much to me. It feels like playing for the Chicago Cubs.”

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For Bronc fans, getting to state tournament half the fun

WATERTOWN | The drive from Belle Fourche to Watertown takes around six hours, but that didn't stop a sizable group of Bronc girls basketball fans from making the trip here to root on their team. 

“The community support that the girls have gotten all year is remarkable,” said Scott Drubb, of Belle Fourche. “No matter what happens here, we’re behind them 100 percent. It’s nice to be able to have the community behind you.”

The Broncs are playing in their first state tournament since 2000. On Thursday, they were defeated by Madison 56-42 in the first round of the Class A state tournament.

Although a state title is no longer on the table, just making it to the tournament was a major accomplishment for the Bronc girls. The Broncs had been knocking on the door in recent years, but each year kept running into St. Thomas More, who has taken home the last four state championships.

Belle Fourche resident J.D. Young said the new Round of 16 format made it possible for Belle Fourche to be a part of the tournament action in Watertown.

“I think it’s the coolest thing in the world that they’re doing this Sweet 16,” he said. “There’s some years when our boys and girls teams have been strong, but we had to get by other teams, and that’s been going on for years and years.”

The team's success has also contributed to the support, according to Young. He said the reason fans have filled the stands and driven over 350 miles is because they know they’ll see high-quality basketball.

“We have had a good team," Young said. "In any small town when you have success it brings people out, but I think that we have a huge community support even without that.

"In the smaller towns, it’s fun to come out and see what the kids are doing. A lot of the people in the crowd grew up in Belle, so there’s a lot of pride.”