What do you get when you take the 2011 Legislature, and add more money?
Many lawmakers and lobbyists say that's a good description of the 2012 Legislature.
The 105 lawmakers from around the state will congregate in Pierre starting Tuesday for Gov. Dennis Daugaard's State of the State address. And while there are still wild cards - from Daugaard's specific proposals to unexpected bills by individual legislators - many of the year's top issues have been here before.
Abortion? Check. Texting while driving? Check. A fight over the federal health care law? Check. Bullying, eminent domain and tribal ID cards? Check, check and check.
"I have not heard of an issue of real substance that would differ from what we've seen in the past," said Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City, the House majority leader. "I think it's going to be somewhat similar to what we saw last year."
There is one major difference - or 45 million differences. Unlike 2011, when the newly elected Daugaard caused a big splash by calling for 10 percent across-the-board cuts, this time there's a projected surplus.
"There might be a little bit of money to fight over," said Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City.
The governor's budget proposal - which provides a starting point for lawmakers as they craft a budget - called for modest increases to key spending areas like education and health care, topped off by one-time bonuses.
All of those details will be subject to heated debate. Some legislators say Daugaard's budget is too reckless and proposes too much spending. Others say it's too cautious and doesn't give enough money to schools and medical providers still struggling from last year's cuts.
People like Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, say last year's cuts were devastating and that the state needs to do more to help groups affected by them.
"The amount (Daugaard's) putting back into education is not enough," Adelstein said.
Sen. Bruce Rampelberg, R-Rapid City, didn't go as far as Adelstein but warned that many assisted living centers in the state are "right on the cusp" financially and need strengthened support.
But Rep. Mike Verchio, R-Hill City, warned that the improving economy that's given the state more revenue might not last.
"If we tend to look at all the economic news... as good, that's a big, big mistake," said Verchio, who believes the state is in great danger of increasing spending too much.
Rep. Mark Kirkeby, R-Rapid City, agreed. He said lawmakers will be carefully scrutinizing all of Daugaard's proposed spending increases.
Beyond the budget and the rehashes of old issues, lawmakers say some of the year's most controversial legislation is still a mystery.
There "always" is a "wild card" issue, Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said.
"Typically we don't know until we're in the middle of the session. Something rears its head that no one expected," he said. "We've got 105 legislators that can bring ideas, and someone always can and will bring something that no one expects."
Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or email@example.com