The South Dakota Legislature will not reconvene for nearly six months. But there is a legislative debate brewing tonight. It comes after the announcement of what sounds like good news: the state ended the last budget year with a surplus of nearly 48 million dollars. But tonight, one Democratic lawmaker is openly asking: why does the state need to hold that much money in reserves?
Most of us like to have as much money in the bank as possible. Governor Daugaard's announcement of 48 million in surplus for this last budget year is making many feel relieved about the state's rainy day possibilities. But 48 million isn't the number state Democrats are focusing on.
"The really startling thing is how much reserves have grown...to 134 million dollars over the last couple of years." South Dakota House Minority Leader, Democrat Bernie Hunhoff, is questioning why the state is sitting on 134 million in taxpayer money, saying the amount should be half that or less and says those who would celebrate such a large surplus should consider this. "This is at a time when we've slashed spending for K-12 schools. We've cut college and tech school spending and tuitions have had to raise, we've slashed health care spending for community hospitals."
By law, South Dakota lawmakers have to operate under a balanced budget: they can never deficit spend. So to a real extent, for a small state to have this much money on stand-by is an accomplishment and Hunhoff recognizes that. But he also says funding schools and infrastructure would also be an accomplishment and says South Dakota could do much more than it is....because he says the 134 million in reserve isn't the only money the state is sitting on. "Plus we have about 800 million dollars in trust funds. We are awash in cash, quite unlike Washington we are awash in cash and yet we are....how much is enough? At what point do we start to rebuild the schools? That's really the question of the day."
A spokesman for Governor Daugaard says this budget year's surplus of nearly 48 million was the result of higher than expected state tax collections and lower than expected spending by state agencies.
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