The hopelessly reactive nature of South Dakota's Republican leadership to the news that state sales tax revenues are slightly better than planned (maybe "prayed for" is a better phrase) is symptomatic of the budgeting stasis that has characterized state government during Dennis Daugaard's tenure as governor.

The 1.9% improvement over Daugaard's downwardly revised projections toward the end of last year seems to have provoked a collective sigh of relief in Pierre. Daugaard greeted the news by saying that last December there was "little hope" that the revenue shortfall could allow for even inflationary increases in funding for education, Medicaid providers, and state workers. Now Daugaard is telling the Rapid City Journal that there is "certainly hope" but that "time will tell."

Indeed. Going into his eighth and final year as Governor, Daugaard's wait-and-see posture remains unshaken. Unaddressed is the need for dynamic and pro-active leadership when it comes to finding ways to goose South Dakota's economy to at least the point where we can keep up with the growth rates of our immediately neighboring states, not to mention the U.S. as a whole.

As noted here before, South Dakota's per capita growth through 2016 has fallen far behind the rest of the country during Daugaard's tenure in Pierre. Complete 2017 data have yet to be released, but considering that SD's personal income growth during Q2 and Q3, 2017 were 44th and dead last, respectively,in the country, I doubt that we'll see much improvement in our standing when the final numbers for 2017 come out in March.

Meantime, as to those higher-than-expected sales tax receipts that have ratcheted up the hope level in state government (House Majority Leader Lee Qualm says his mood is "guardedly optimistic), I'd say the news should be an embarrassment to those who see some hope in them.

The South Dakota Department of Revenue discloses that 2017 taxable sales for the state were just 1.05% higher than in 2016. That would be half the relatively modest 2.1% national inflation rate for the year. Being guardedly optimistic about revenues that can't even keep pace with inflation is a measure of the impotence of our state's leadership when it comes to moving South Dakota's economy forward.

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Considering that the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects a decline of nearly 7% in U.S. farm profits during 2018, I don't see our ag-dominated state's financial fortunes improving much during this last year of Governor Daugaard's tenure. USDA's projections expect the lowest farm income since 2006 to materialize this year, which only highlights the failure of South Dakota's leadership to create broader economic opportunities and take advantage of those that already exist. For example, the irrational rejection of the billions of dollars that would have materialized by expanding Medicaid comes to mind right away.

There are others, and they're worth exploring. As we bid adieu to Daugaard, we have a chance to check them out in the context of what his contending field of replacements have in the way of economic development ideas. I'll do a 3-part series on just those issues and my take on how Kristi Noem, Marty Jackley and Billie Sutton plan to address them starting next week.

John Tsitrian is a Rapid City businessman and freelance writer. You can read more of his commentary at

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