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Panel projects more money available for South Dakota budget

PIERRE | South Dakota lawmakers projected Tuesday they will have more money available than previously anticipated when they craft the state budget this legislative session.

The Legislature's Joint Committee on Appropriations set state revenue projections that are millions of dollars higher than those in Gov. Dennis Daugaard's budget from December. Sen. Larry Tidemann, co-chair of the panel, said officials would like to fund increases for education, Medicaid providers and state employees if the dollars can be found.

"Those are the three main ones to take care of at the present time," the Republican from Brookings said.

The panel adopted a $1.64 billion target for the upcoming budget year 2019, up about $18.8 million from December. Lawmakers also set a roughly $1.59 billion current-year ongoing receipts target, which is more than $16 million higher than December.

Committee member John Wiik, a senator, said the numbers are cautiously optimistic.

New figures show revenues for the first seven months of the current budget year are $18.2 million higher than Daugaard projected in December. That includes roughly $7.6 million in higher-than-expected sales taxes receipts, which is the state's main revenue source.

Lawmakers will revise spending for the current 2018 budget year and craft the budget for the upcoming fiscal year before the legislative session ends in March.

Daugaard's December budget plan would add more than $20 million in education spending, nearly all from K-12 enrollment growth, but schools wouldn't see an inflationary funding increase per student under the plan. It also called for leaving most state workers without raises for the second straight year.

Eric Ollila, executive director of the South Dakota State Employees Organization, said state workers would like to see a cost-of-living increase and legislative investment in the state health plan. He said that a 1.7 percent inflationary increase for state workers would cost roughly $6.2 million in state general funds, plus additional money from other sources.

"If we come out of this session with the same result as last session ... I'm certain we'll be seeing increased employee turnover, and that harms the effectiveness of state government," Ollila said.

The employee advocacy group is pushing a bill this year that would write cost-of-living increases for state employees into South Dakota law. The Senate State Affairs Committee is scheduled to debate the bill Wednesday.

Daugaard has said officials wouldn't be able to execute such a law.

Senate changes taxes for townships, schools

PIERRE | Township boards could use their current additional taxing capacity to pay emergency medical costs, while school boards could provide housing for certified teachers without paying property taxes, under measures that received final approval Monday by the South Dakota Senate.

The legislation heads next to Gov. Dennis Daugaard for review and possibly his approvals. The Senate voted 34-1 for the townships bill, which Sen. Kris Langer, R-Dell Rapids, emphasized was “permissive language.”

“This is not a new tax,” she said. Sen. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center, agreed. “This is just to direct funds to wherever they’re needed,” he said.

As they spoke, Maynard Konechne of Kimball looked down from the rear of the Senate gallery. He is lobbyist for the South Dakota Emergency Medical Services Association.

HB 1076 specifically expands the additional annual tax that’s now for fire protection to also be used for costs of emergency medical services. The House of Representatives approved it 66-1 on Jan. 30.

Tax-free housing for certified teachers received Senate approval 35-0. The House approved HB 1143 on a 47-19 vote Jan. 31 in the House.

Sen. Ryan Maher, R-Isabel, said the legislation resulted from an adverse ruling the Highmore-Harrold school district received last year regarding its rental property.

Maher said the ruling snared other school districts too. He said adding “certified teachers” would provide an exemption.

If districts rent properties to the general public, the properties would be subject to taxes, he said.