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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

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.

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