Two members of the state Senate took different seats in the chamber Tuesday night. Jim Bradford of Pine Ridge returned to his political roots and switched from the Republican side to the Democratic side. He took the desk previously held by Ryan Maher of Isabel, who switched from the Democratic side to the Republican side and sat at Bradford’s old desk. Bradford was a Democratic member of the House prior to the 2008 election, when he ran as a Republican for the Senate because of some unique political circumstances in his district. Bradford remained a member of the Republican caucus until Tuesday. He tipped his hand when he filed his re-election candidacy petitions as a Democrat. Maher meanwhile switched his political registration a week ago, in a story first reported extensively by the Timber Lake Topic newspaper. Two years ago he ran and won as a Democrat, but previously he was a Republican. Maher filed his re-election candidacy papers for 2010 as a Republican. Bradford will face Eugene Christensen of Kadoka. Christensen is a Republican and earlier was listed incorrectly as a Democrat on an official candidates list. In District 28, Maher was listed today as the only Republican candidate certified for the ballot in that district. He faces Democratic candidate Julie Garreau of Eagle Butte.
Former legislator Ron Volesky of Huron is attempting a comeback. He filed for the District 22 state Senate seat. He is the second Democrat in the race, joining Perry Danforth of Huron. They will face each other in a June 8 primary for the nomination to face the Republican incumbent, Sen. Tom Hansen of Huron. Volesky had filed the initial paperwork last year to run for governor but decided against making that race against state Senate Democratic leader Scott Heidepriem of Sioux Falls. Heidepriem, who is formally campaigning as a “Independent Democrat,” is the only candidate for governor this year from their party.
Some folks might remember Gilda Radner’s character Roseanne Roseannadana from Saturday Night Live decades ago. Her trademark schtick was going off on a rant, turning out to be confused about it and then getting out of it with “Never mind.” The news that Kevin Weiland changed his mind and won’t be challenging U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in the June 8 Democratic primary after all brought Radner’s character to mind again.
The last thing our state DOT can afford right now is another four-lane highway to construct and maintain. But each time I drive on U.S. 12 between Ipswich and Aberdeen, I become more convinced that expanding to a four-lane highway might make sense from a traffic safety standpoint. The area has seen more and more agriculture development including ethanol production, which has seemed to significantly increase semi-truck traffic. Whether or not the traffic numbers support such a project, I don’t know. But I do know that the combination of grain trucks, which seem to be driven safely on a consistent basis, and the impatience of many other motorists frequently isn’t a smooth mix, especially during sunrise and sunset hours.
Members of the state Board of Regents are gathered in Aberdeen this morning as they meet today and Thursday at Northern State University, in an effort to sort out all of the cuts made by the Legislature yesterday. Regents president Terry Baloun said the meeting agenda will be juggled somewhat so that more budget information can be gathered for presentation on Thursday.
The state Board of Regents will take a $4.2 million cut in general funds as the result of a decision moments ago by the Joint Committee on Appropriations. “There are some things they can do to counter-balance that,” Rep. Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings, said. The cut originally was proposed at $3.7 million. Tidemann said the deeper cut is an offset for giving the technology fellow scholarships $500,000 rather than eliminating that program entirely. “The students are going to make up these cuts,” Sen. Dan Ahlers, D-Dell Rapids, said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the students.” Monte Kramer from the Board of Regents said the board office’s budget will be cut about $595,000, and other cuts will be spread in various ways to the six state universities and the state medical school. “This will mean higher tuition and fees than we had planned,” Kramer said. “The institutions cannot absorb these cuts.” He said each university will take a cut of 2.3 to 2.5 percent in their general state funding. “I just can’t support cuts like this to our higher education,” Rep. Paul Dennert, D-Columbia, said. He noted the School for the Blind and Visually Handicapped will take a $43,000 cut as part of the reduction. “I will be voting no.” Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, said there are cuts taking place in other states’ university systems too. “We are not alone,” Hunhoff said. State funds provide approximately 38 percent of the regental budget in South Dakota, accoring to Kramer. “I’m very concerned about what these cuts indicate about our Legislature’s and state’s attitudes about higher education,” Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton, said. She said state government has the forty-ninth ranked tax burden in the nation and $1 billion in the bank. “Sooner or later we’re going to have to decide what kind of quality we’re going to stand for, and what we do stand for in this state.” Sen. Jeff Haverly, R-Rapid City, said the regents were “blind-sided” last year by significant cuts and this cut is heavy too. “We’re not in the same traps as other states in the Union because we’ve been fiscally responsible,” Haverly said. He claimed there are West Coast companies looking at South Dakota because of the state’s approach. He said the regents should be congratulated and commended for what’s been accomplished and how budget challenges have been hired. “Everybody up here supports higher ed. We’re in a tough economic time folks,” he said. “If you’re going to stand for something, stand for balancing the budget of this state like our constitution and the people of our state want you to,” he added. “Yes, these are tough economic times, these are tough hits. But we are still in place the mechanism to educate our students,” Rep. Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings, said. “I know these are tough times but this cut can be absorbed and made.” “I think it goes back to the old saying: With friends like this, you don’t need enemies,” Rep. Quinten Burg, D-Wessington Springs, said.
The Joint Committee on Appropriations voted this afternoon for a decrease of state funding for public technical institutes. The reduction of $1,348,402 is half of the governor’s proposed increase for tech schools in the 2011 budget year. The reduction was opposed by Sen. Jeff Haverly, R-Rapid City, but he also urged adoption of scaled-down increase. “It’s important to understand this cut was conceived in the last 24 hours,” Haverly said. “At the end of the day, we need to be able to balance the budget.” He acknowledged students will have to pay more to make up the cut, and the schools’ administrations will need to adjust down their budgets. “This is not a cut to their programming. This is a reduction in their growth. I think we have to look at it that way,” Rep. Deb Peters, R-Hartford said, who acknowledged she’s “not crazy” about the smaller amount either. “I think it’s going to show the exact short-sightedness we’re going to do to balance this budget,” Rep. Quinten Burg, D-Wessington Springs, said. The vote to accept the smaller increase was 10-5 along party lines, with Republicans in support.
The Joint Committee on Appropriations hopes to pick up $4.2 million of state savings because the Medicaid caseload hasn’t grown as sharply as previously forecast. Social Services Secretary Deb Bowman testified this afternoon that the caseload continues to grow but at a slower rate than expected. The reductions would be $2.1 million in the current 2010 budget and $2.1 million in 2011. The committee voted moments ago to make the adjustment and apply the savings toward the 2011 budget deficit. “It’s only as good as the economy doesn’t bomb and those type of things,” Bowman said. Rep. Quinten Burg, D-Wessington Springs, complained that the information hadn’t been made available by the administration and by Republican legisaltors. “I am disappointed we have been cut out of this process (for the last three or four weeks),” Burg said. He said Democrats have been left out of the process. Bowman said she hasn’t talked with any of the committee members. She said she’s been working with Finance Commissioner Jason Dilges and Gov. Mike Rounds about what’s appropriate for her department. “I’ve had to respond almost on the fly to what’s been happening the past two days,” Burg said. “I don’t believe there’s any bogey-man here,” Rep. Jim Putnam, R-Armour, responded. Various members of the commitee weren’t aware of the Medicaid money until 10 a.m. today, according to Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton. “I think that is a valid criticism of the process,” Wismer said. Bowman said she took another look at her department at the request of the governor, chief of staff Neil Fulton and commissioner Dilges.
The Joint Committee on Appropriations just decided against eliminating the intensive methamphetamine-treatment program operated by the state Department of Corrections. The elimination was part of the Republican cuts list released earlier this month. The program receives about $1.6 million of state funding.
The legislators who comprise the Joint Committee on Appropriations just took a mid-afternoon break after two straight hours of steadily working their way through about two dozen more budget amendments. The committee has about 20 more left to consider. So far they’ve shown more inclination to reduce proposed cuts rather than seek even-larger cuts.