The Legislature has concluded another productive year in Pierre.
Most importantly, our state continued its streak, going back to statehood, of a balanced budget. We used ongoing revenue streams to fund ongoing expenses, and one-time revenues for one-time purposes. We maintain a budget reserve fund equal to 10 percent of expenditures. It is for this reason that our state has earned and maintained a AAA bond rating, which speaks to our fiscal strength.
When I proposed a state budget in December, revenue growth was very slow. For that reason, I was not able to propose inflationary increases for education, Medicaid providers, or state employee salaries. Fortunately, our state’s economy has ticked upward in the last three months, so the state budget we passed will include increases for all of those recipients. We were also able to allocate dollars to the state employee health plan, to keep employee costs as low as possible.
The budget includes funding to continue the dual credit program for high school students, to contribute toward a new Precision Ag facility at SDSU and a health education building at Lake Area Tech, and to construct a state veterans cemetery near Sioux Falls. The Building South Dakota economic development also received a reliable, long-term revenue source.
This year, the legislature passed numerous bills to modernize our state’s alcohol industry. The emerging micro-brewing industry will be able to expand and to sell their products to bars and consumers. Farm wineries gained greater flexibility to operate as well. For the first time in decades, the entire alcohol title was rewritten, increasing clarity and easing the regulatory burden.
We also recognized that the open waters compromise, which the legislature passed last summer in a special session, is working, and we passed legislation to make the compromise permanent.
Bills were also brought to strengthen our ties to our tribes. Legislation was passed allowing tribal governments to extradite their members back from county jails, if they choose. We also passed legislation recognizing the right of tribal members to wear traditional regalia, such as an eagle feather, at high school graduations.
I first came to Pierre for the legislative session in 1997 when I was first elected a state senator. I spent six years as a senator, eight years as lieutenant governor, and now eight years as governor. Over those 22 sessions, I have served with hundreds of good people – men and women, Republicans and Democrats, farmers, teachers, nurses and attorneys.
South Dakota’s legislators are not career politicians. They come to Pierre for a few weeks to serve their friends and neighbors, and then they return home to live amongst the people they serve. In the coming days, if you happen to see one of your legislators, please say thank you for a job well done.