Monthly Archives: June 2017

Democrats’ woes in the Legislature

The Legislature’s current balances are 60 Republicans and 10 Democrats in the House of Representatives; and 29 Republicans and six Democrats in the Senate.

Legislators draw new boundaries for their 35 districts – one senators and two representatives – after the U.S. census each decade.

The most-recent census occurred in 2011 and legislators drew boundaries in a special session later that year for the November 2012 elections.

Republicans had a two-thirds majority in each chamber in 2012 and again in 2013.

They went from a 51-19 advantage in the House in 2012 to 53-17 in 2013, a gain of two seats.

The Senate went from 30-5 to 28-7.

Looking back to the 2001 redistricting, Republicans had a two-thirds majority in the House, with a 50-20 advantage in 2002 and a 49-21 advantage in 2003.

The Senate also was in two-thirds control of Republicans, as the chamber went from 24-11 to 26-9.

The 1992 redistricting came amid a brief resurgence, at least on the Senate side of the Capitol. The House of Representatives fluctuated somewhat.

Republicans held a 45-25 advantage in 1991 and a 42-29 advantage in 1993 before returning to 46-24 in 1995.

The Senate switched from an 18-17 advantage for Republicans in 1991, to a 20-15 advantage for Democrats in 1993. The chamber returned to Republican control in 1995 at 19-16.

The 1994 Republican nominee for governor, Bill Janklow, and the Republican Party’s statewide chairman at the time pushed for Republicans to regain control of the Senate and put an end to the Democratic uptick in the House. They succeeded.

Democrats controlled the House chamber only a handful of times in South Dakota’s history. The first times came in 1933 and 1935. They managed a 35-35 tie in the 1973-74 session.

The Senate came under Democratic control seven times. The first era was 1933, 1935 and 1937. The next came in 1959, then 1973 and 1975, and again in 1993.

But Democrats also found themselves without any senators in 1945, 1947 and 1953.

The conclusion I draw is that high voter registration for Democrats coincided with the brief times that Democrats controlled one or both chambers of the Legislature.

Wheat report reflects lack of water

The South Dakota Wheat Commission issued its weekly update today (Tuesday). It shows the damage from drought.

Winter wheat as of June 26 was 21 percent very poor and 35 percent poor. On the plus side, 34 percent was fair and 10 percent good.

Good was 55 percent just two months ago on April 24.

For spring wheat, 31 percent was very poor and 31 percent poor as of June 26, while 26 percent was fair and just 11 percent was good. One percent was excellent.

Topsoil moisture was 28 percent very short and 35 percent short. Subsoil moisture was 28 percent very short and 32 percent short.

The baling began in earnest earlier this month.

Nationally, are Democrats now a rudderless ship?

My, oh my — some strange findings in the latest Politico / Morning Consult survey of registered voters nationally regarding leadership of the Democratic Party.

The on-line poll of 4,003 voters nationwide took place May 23-25.

Presuming those results are still valid, former President Barack Obama still stood as the top Democrat, in terms of who should best reflect the party’s values, with 29 percent support.

Next came U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (who technically is an I — as in independent — but ran for the Democratic presidential nomination last year) at 18 percent, followed by former U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (who won the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination) at 15 percent.

The rest of the Democratic field finished in single digits.

The news gets worse for Democrats. “When asked who should best reflect the party’s values, 55% of Republicans answered Donald Trump,” according to the survey report.

Vice President Mike Pence posted 10 percent from Republicans. The rest of the Republican field finished in single digits.

The question now for Democrats is, where will they turn in 2020 for their presidential nominee?

An evolution in unemployment tax policy

State government’s Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council moved gradually during 2016 toward a final position on reducing the tax rates charged to most South Dakota employers.

On May 9, 2016, council members received a briefing on three ways to calculate the solvency of South Dakota’s unemployment-insurance trust fund. Reserve ratio measures the trust-fund balance against total wages. A high-cost multiple uses the highest historical benefit-cost rate during a 12-month period. Average high-cost ratio uses the three highest benefit-cost rates during the last three recessions or the past 20 years.

Marcia Hultman, who is state government’s secretary of labor and regulation, recommended to council members that South Dakota use an average high-cost multiple of 1.5 or higher. According to the minutes from the May 9 meeting, “An AHCM of 1.5 means the trust fund could pay out one and a half years of benefits during a moderate recession without receiving any additional revenue.”

The council’s consensus that day was to start with an average high-cost multiple of 1.5 to 1.75 as the starting point. “Development of a new tax rate/reserve ratio structure will be based on this target and further discussion will be held by the Council at the next meeting,” the minutes said.

At the council’s next meeting July 19, 2016, the council agreed to using 1.6 as the average high-cost multiple.

When the council gathered again Sept. 22, secretary Hultman and Pauline Heier, director for state government’s unemployment division, proposed an annual tax-rating process that would reduce the current tax rates when the average high-cost multiplier reached or exceeded 1.6 on June 30 of any given year.

“Rates for the following year would then be reduced by a set amount for all employers,” the Sept. 22 meeting minutes said.

The council met once more Oct. 19. That day secretary Hultman presented an overview of Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s administration’s proposal that would be submitted to the Legislature in 2017. The tax reduction would be coupled with an administrative fee proposal that had died in the state House of Representatives in the 2016 session.

The combination legislation, HB 1097, met resistance again over the $3 charge per employee. The tax reduction sweetened the taste, however. House members, led by Rep. David Anderson, R-Hurley, voted 49-19 for the package after turning aside an amendment offered  by Rep. Mark Willadsen, R-Sioux Falls.

The Associated General Contractors of South Dakota’s lobbyist, Deb Mortenson, changed from an opponent to a supporter when the legislation came up for a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee. Mortenson said she had been assured by Daugaard officials the $3 fee would receive an annual review. The legislation still failed during its first vote in the Senate, receiving 20 ayes and 12 nays, when 24 ayes were needed.

That first Senate vote came Feb. 27. One week later, the Senate took a second vote. This time it passed 25-9.

Changing from nays to ayes were Democrats Troy Heinert of Mission and Billie Sutton of Burke; and Republicans Jeff Monroe of Pierre and Neal Tapio of Watertown.

Also voting aye the second time were two senators, Republican Blake Curd of Sioux Falls and Democrat Kevin Killer of Pine Ridge, who weren’t present for the first vote. Switching from aye to nay was Republican Jenna Netherton of Sioux Falls.

This Friday, June 30, will mark the first time the average high-cost multiple will be calculated. Heier told council members Monday that the most recent ratio was 1.67. Hultman said employers would receive their 2018 tax notices in October. She expects the tax cut will be $4.4 million to $5 million for 2018.

The tax reduction will slow down the growth in the unemployment trust fund.

The projection is the fund will finish calendar 2017 with $122.1 million. Employer contributions and interest are estimated to be about $41.2 million in calendar 2017, while benefits are forecast to be about $30.3 million.

That would change in 2018 to about $35 million from contributions and interest and about $31 million flowing back out in benefits.

The expected effect is the trust balance would taper its growth to $126 million by the end of calendar 2018.

GFP answers questions about ‘Open Waters Compromise’

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department published its Internet link Friday regarding the ‘Open Waters Compromise’ approved by the Legislature and signed into state law by the governor June 12.

You can go here and find the information at the bottom left corner under “Nonmeandered Waters Information.”

The new law declares all nonmeandered waters as open for public use until the landowner closes the water. GFP officials also received authority under the new law to pursue agreements with landowners for public access to waters that landowners close.

New model coming to University Center-Sioux Falls

A consultant has recommended that state government’s Board of Regents proceed on a different model for University Center-Sioux Falls. You can read the report here.

Essentially it calls for converting the focus to two-year associate degrees — a major switch for a system built on bachelor and graduate degrees, and, in some cases, doctorates — and putting the campus under the supervision of the University of South Dakota.

The consultant, by the way, is based in Nashua, New Hampshire. You can read the $90,000 state contract here.

The regents, who govern South Dakota’s system of six traditional public campuses and three university centers, are scheduled to discuss the FutureWorks report during their meeting next week in Aberdeen. The topic is on the agenda for Thursday.

Governor makes six CDBG awards

Gov. Dennis Daugaard awarded Community Development Block Grant money to help six small cities with infrastructure improvements.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development announced the grants Thursday morning.

“The CDBG awards include the following:

“The city of Blunt will use a $515,000 grant to make improvements to the city’s wastewater infrastructure and treatment lagoons.

“The city of Faith was approved for a $515,000 grant to upgrade its wastewater system.

“The city of Lake Andes was approved for a $750,000 grant to upgrade the city’s wastewater system.

“The town of Langford will use a $565,000 grant for construction of a new drinking water storage system and increase the capacity of the city’s water infrastructure.

“The city of Newell was approved for a $324,370 grant to assist with replacing the city’s water mains.

“The city of Veblen will use a $765,000 grant to make improvements to its wastewater infrastructure and collection ponds.

“The CDBG program provides local governments with funding to complete projects that improve living conditions. The CDBG program is funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.”

Corn and bean farmers want money from grain company

Twelve people filed notices of their intent to sue H&I Grain of Hetland in recent days over many thousands of corn and soybeans.

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission scheduled a meeting for Friday on the commission’s intent to immediately suspend the company’s grain buyer license.

H&I operates in Hetland, Arlington and DeSmet. Each location has a separate license from the commission.

On June 16, the commission’s grain-warehouse division received a draft copy of the company’s fiscal 2016 balance sheet and statement on profit and loss.

“The draft balance sheet shows significant deficiencies in working capital and equity,” commission lawyer Kristen Edwards said in a letter asking for a docket to be opened.

She added, “We are specifically aware of acts of insolvency and stress an immediate suspension of the license at each of the three locations is the only way to prevent further potential damage to South Dakota producers.”

The commission meeting is scheduled for Pierre at 9 a.m. CT Friday in the Capitol, room 413.

SDRS elections marred by low participation w/updates

Rob Wylie, the top administrator for the South Dakota Retirement System, said Monday he didn’t know why voter turnout was so low in four contests for seats on the SDRS board of trustees.

The 2017 round of elections marked the first time SDRS offered on-line voting as an option, with the hope that participation would increase, at least among the teachers, state employees and county employees with access to computers.

SDRS also mailed approximately 50,000 paper ballots and informed those members whose classes had seats at stake in the elections that they could vote on-line or by paper.

The return rates were far from great.

Of 14,363 ballots sent to teachers, the company handling the election received 1,157 back, between on-line and paper, and counted 1,154. The response of 8 percent was the lowest for teachers since at least 1989. James Appl of Aberdeen won the four-candidate contest with 476 votes.

There were 8,380 ballots mailed to state employees. They cast 1,089 and 1,079 were counted. The 13 percent response tied the 2013 turnout as the lowest since at least 1992. Incumbent Laurie Gustafson of Pierre won the four-candidate race with 487 votes.

Retirees, who have one seat among the 15 voting trustees, were sent 23,445 ballots. They cast 7,704 and 7,660 were counted. The 33 percent turnout was lowest since at least 1989. Incumbent James Hansen of Pierre won the seven-candidate contest with 1,754 votes.

County employees were mailed 3,622 ballots. They cast 468 and all 468 were counted. The 13 percent participation was the lowest since at least 1992. Winner in the two-candidate race was the Incumbent, Kathy KJ Peterson of Rapid City, who is the deputy auditor for Pennington County. She received 344 votes.

Wylie said the SDRS trustees and administrative staff are “concerned” about the long-term trend of declining turnout. For comparison, turnouts were retirees 46 percent in 1989; teachers 36 percent in 1989; state employees 23 percent in 1992; and county employees 29 percent in 1992. All four have gradually but steadily dropped during the decades since then.

“We had hoped that the electronic voting initiated this year would improve the vote count, though we knew the impact on the retiree election would be minimal.,” Wylie said.

“We will take a closer look at this to determine if there are other steps we can take. I anticipate that we will discuss this matter in more detail with participating employers and members also.

“In short,” Wylie concluded, “I do not think the electronic voting lowered the turnout, but the long-term trend of lower vote counts continued in this election.”

FIRST UPDATE: The electronic voting numbers, by the way, were teachers 251; state employees 240; retirees 853; and county employees 66.

SECOND UPDATE: The trustees appointed Roy Lindsay Jr., mayor of Madison, to the elected-municipal official seat. His term runs July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2021. He succeeds Pierre Mayor Laurie Gill, who didn’t seek re-election this spring. No one was a candidate for the seat.

THIRD UPDATE: Here’s the Election Returns Comparison 2017 (1).

USD dean elected to medical schools board

Mary Nettleman, dean of the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota, was recently elected to the board of directors for the Association of Medical Colleges.

USD announced her election in a news release Monday. The release stated:

“The board of directors provides fiduciary and strategic oversight and direction to the work of the AAMC, a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to transforming health care through innovative medical education, cutting-edge patient care, and groundbreaking medical research.

“AAMC, founded in 1876, is comprised of all 147 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools; nearly 400 teaching hospitals and health systems, including 51 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers; and more than 80 academic and scientific societies.

“AAMC represents 148,000 faculty members, 83,000 medical students, and 115,000 resident physicians.”