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SD lawmakers OK budget after priority dispute

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 9, 2013 at 12:28 am •  Published: March 9, 2013
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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota Legislature passed a $4.1 billion state budget Friday after lawmakers wrangled on whether to give more money to schools and medical facilities that treat the poor.

The House voted 48-7 late Friday night to approve the spending plan recommended earlier in the day by the Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee. The Senate passed the budget 31-4 just after 11:30 p.m., bringing an end to the main run of this year's legislative session. Lawmakers will return to the Capitol for a final day March 25 to consider any vetoes issued by the governor.

In the House and Senate floor debates, Democrats made a final effort to cut spending in other areas so money could be shifted to support education and medical services for the poor, but the Republican majority rejected the proposal in debates similar to those held earlier by the Appropriations Committee.

Democrats argued that the Legislature should give more money to support ongoing spending in education and medical care. Majority Republicans said the budget takes care of schools and medical facilities while supporting other priorities.

"It feels to me like we're putting big business before people, before kids," Sen. Billie Sutton, D-Burke, said.

After the Appropriations Committee voted to reject extra funding for nursing homes and other facilities that rely heavily on Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health care for poor people, House Appropriations Chair Fred Romkema said lawmakers had to make tough votes to balance the budget.

"We're making some painful decisions here," Romkema told the dozens of state officials, lobbyists and other lawmakers who watched the Appropriations Committee meet over much of the day. "We don't have the money in the budget. We don't relish these votes. We're looking for a balanced budget for South Dakota."

The committee rejected most of the 59 proposed changes to the budget. The panel's recommended spending plan made few changes in Gov. Dennis Daugaard's recommended budget, which gives roughly 3 percent ongoing increases to K-12 schools, universities and the hospitals and other facilities in the Medicaid program.

However, lawmakers noted that the Legislature in recent days approved separate bills that give extra money on a one-time basis to school districts and the medical facilities that treat poor residents. One of those special spending measures gives schools an extra one-time boost in state aid of 1 percent, or $5.8 million. Technical schools get an extra $200,000. And all Medicaid providers got an extra 1 percent one-time increase, with nursing homes and other facilities that are heavily dependent on Medicaid money getting extra help.

The measure would spend nearly $4.1 billion in the budget year beginning July 1. About $1.33 billion will come from state general tax funds, up about $29 million from this fiscal year. Another $1.7 billon comes from federal funds, with about $1.1 million coming from other funds dedicated to specific uses such as roads.

Daugaard had left some money uncommitted in his budget proposal, and the Legislature is spending about $33 million in one-time money on schools, Medicaid, a new economic development program and other projects.

The committee rejected a request by Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton, to add $5.8 million to give schools an extra 1 percent in ongoing state aid. She said school districts need ongoing money because they cannot make long-term plans with one-time money that may not be granted in future years.

But Rep. Dean Wink, R-Howes, said the Legislature cannot make long-term funding commitments while facing uncertainty caused by federal budget problems and the possibility that South Dakota will be hit by drought for a second straight year.

House Democratic Leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton asked the committee to change Medicaid to provide prenatal care to pregnant women who are in the country illegally. The governor supported the proposal, but the committee rejected it on mostly party lines.

The committee approved spending another $2 million to shore up a pension fund for workers at the former State Cement Plant, which the state sold more than a decade ago. Another $4 million from the treasury will be transferred to an economic development fund to replace incentive payments given to two businesses last year when the state had no incentive program to lure businesses to South Dakota.

Other changes endorsed by the committee include $500,000 for grants to help schools upgrade their computer technology, $500,000 for equipment upgrades at technical institutes, and $159,000 to help Northern State University continue providing some courses online to school districts that lack science or math teachers.

The Appropriations Committee also added $500,000 to the Legislature's own budget to pay for an increase in lawmakers' daily expense allowances and their travel to meetings outside the state. The extra money also might be used to hire additional legislative staff.

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Follow Chet Brokaw on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/chetbrokaw