The Legislature's budget-writing committee approved a $4.3 billion spending plan Friday that gives extra state money to teachers, the state's four technical institutes and some nursing homes and other health care facilities that serve low-income people.
The Joint Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to pass the spending plan. The House and Senate planned to approve the budget late Friday, the final day of the main run of this year's legislative session.
In hearings over two days, the panel added $3.3 million to Gov. Dennis Daugaard's proposed budget for the year that begins July 1. The extra spending was possible because spending in the Medicaid program is expected to be lower than had been projected earlier.
The budget will spend about $1.7 billion in federal funds and $1.2 billion in other dedicated money such as highway funding. The Legislature focuses mostly on the $1.4 billion portion of the budget financed with general state taxes.
Daugaard, who worked with the Legislature to cut spending by about 10 percent in many programs in 2011, said he's pleased with the budget because it's balanced but also the most generous in his four years as governor.
"I feel pretty good about it," the Republican governor said. "We've got a lot accomplished with the spending we've made - really quite a lot,"
The committee's budget would give school districts an extra $2.2 million in the budget year beginning July 1, and the schools would be required to use the extra $16.72 per student to give teachers a pay raise. That could amount to about $230 a year for each of the state's approximately 10,000 teachers, lawmakers said.
Lawmakers said they want to give school districts extra money because South Dakota's lowest-in-the-nation average teachers' salary makes it difficult for some schools to hire and keep teachers. Sen. Bill Van Gerpen, R-Tyndall, said teachers not only educate students but help them deal with social and family problems.
"I know how important it is, the role of teacher in South Dakota," Van Gerpen said.
Daugaard's proposed budget increased state aid to school districts by 3 percent next year, nearly double the inflationary increase required by law. But school districts had asked the Legislature for a 3.8 percent increase to restore per-student funding to where it was before 2011 budget cuts.
House Appropriations Chairman Fred Romkema, R-Spearfish, said the money added Friday will give schools a total increase of about 3.4 percent next year, giving them about half the extra money they had sought.
"I think we did a really good job here," Romkema said.
Wade Pogany, director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, said he was grateful that the Appropriations Committee found extra money for schools.
"They had to work hard to get this," Pogany said.
The governor's budget also proposed increasing state spending by 3 percent for the four technical institutes. The Appropriations Committee added another $140,000 to bring the total increase to 3.4 percent. The extra $22.41 per student will help the technical schools compete with other schools in nearby states that have lower tuition rates, lawmakers said.
Another change to the budget adds $800,000 in state funds and $620,000 in federal funds to help nursing homes, mental health centers and other facilities that rely heavily on the Medicaid program to provide care to poor people.
Daugaard said his budget proposal used a windfall in one-time revenue this year to pay off about 20 percent of the state's debt, including bonds, which freed up money for ongoing spending on education and other priorities in future years.
"We strengthened our financial condition, and it's the most generous budget in the last four years," he said.