My first year in the House of Representatives is just about over, one day left to deal with vetoes. Having been an active participant in the legislative process as a citizen, a school board member, and a banker for the last 36 years I had an idea of what it would be like but not the daily routine for 38 days. I knew I would be busy, but not as busy as it turned out to be.
After getting elected, I was asked to be on the Appropriations Committee. Appropriations held 3 days of committee orientations and scheduling prior to the session starting. My daily schedule in Pierre was a 7:15 a.m. briefing with the Legislative Research Council (LRC) staff, an 8:00 committee hearing, followed by a 1:00 caucus meeting, then to a 2:00 floor session. The evenings were full of receptions and a few dinners.
The purpose of the Appropriations Committee is to set the budget for the State. To speed the process the Senate and House Appropriations Committees meet as a joint committee (JCA). We received 4 to 5 presentations per day from every agency and department in state government. After that we started working to gain a better understanding of the various requests and budgets. We also review the Governor’s and LRC’s revenue projections. We then set our best estimate of the general fund revenue for the balance of FY 17 and for FY 18. The next step was finalizing Budget Setting Motion Sheets for each department and agency, balancing to our revenue projection. Not an easy task.
While working on the FY 17 budget s the revenue estimate was lowered first by $268 million and then another $286 million. Yes, $54 million in changes. Other issues included selling various pieces of State owned real estate, bills to authorize the new SDSU Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory, plus a few more.
During our first floor session, we are sworn into office. Standing and reciting the Oath of Office with the 70 members of the House is truly an experience. After that we had to prepare for committee hearings by reading and researching the bills on the agenda. One key was to listen to the testimony and develop questions or concerns regarding the purpose, intent or language of the bill. Most of this can be heard daily by going to the state’s website: sdlegislature.gov.
Early in the session IM 22 was front and center, including how it should be addressed. Repeal and replace or try to fix it so it would be Constitutional and workable? A consensus was reached to repeal and replace. This was a bipartisan effort in the House with bills being authored and amended by both Democrats and Republicans. We managed to settle all issues before we left last week except one: campaign finance contribution limits. There will be a committee to review campaign finance and offer suggestions for next year’s session. I hope we will see limits on contributions to ballots initiatives and constitutional amendments that was left out of IM 22 by out of state PACS and authors.
I was appointed to the Revenue Subcommittee in the middle part of the session. That was an important assignment that led to a recommendation which JCA accepted on February 14th. Soon after that the Senate wanted to increase the FY 18 revenue estimates so increases could be appropriated for schools. The House members ended up blocking this effort since no new source of revenue was provided. Asking for more without a source of revenue did not meet my personal test of a balanced budget., which we in the House worked on every day. Especially when you look at our top three revenue sources – sales taxes, excise taxes and insurance taxes – were all down.
The last week the budget process moves quickly and several bills that had moved through one house needed to be modified in the other house and the differences settled in a conference committee. One such bill was SB 35 which set the local real estate taxes for K 12 education. I was appointed to this conference committee. We made changes to reflect the 0.3 per cent index change in aid to education. The bill also repealed the percentage split of the half cent sales tax passed the previous year. This repeal was an important step. Sales tax collections are down for the current FY 17 budget. K-12 school aid was $3,724,000 too high and would have to be lowered by $1,182,000 for FY 18. By repealing the percentage split, we held education harmless for the shortfall in sales taxes and gave it 0.3 per cent inflation factor index required by last year’s bill. In conference, I also added an amendment to retain important language on the methodology of distributing money to the Technical Institutes for high cost and high need instructors. We also added an inflationary index increase to start in FY 19. LATI and the Watertown School District thought both were important.
Working in a different chamber than D-5 Sen. Neal Tapio, D-5 Rep. Nancy York and I only ran into him a couple of times a week. Rep. York and I compared notes and keep each other abreast of communications from home and issues every day. I loved kidding her about her easy schedule of committee meetings only two days per week, but she was there every morning sitting in on committees to follow bills of interest to our district. She was a big help to me since I spent almost every minute in Appropriations.
I look forward to working on the Interim JAC this summer and fall. We will meet 4 to 6 times to review programs and approve limited changes in the budget. I have also been appointed to two National Conference of State Legislature committees by the Speaker of the House. Through these committees, I hope to become better acquainted with how Medicaid works and the changes currently being discussed in Washington D.C. Medicaid is the second largest use of general funds dollars in South Dakota.
If you have issues or need assistance on a state issue please feel free to contact me at home or email email@example.com Going to Pierre has been a wonderful and educational opportunity. I would like to thank the voters of District 5 for their trust and confidence.