Legislators, public focus on budget during cracker barrel
The state wants to provide the money sought for education, social services and other programs, state Rep. Lance Carson said Saturday.
"It's not a situation where we're not listening to people, not listening to causes," Carson said during the first of two cracker barrels in Mitchell this winter. "The state does not have the money."
The forum, held at the Mitchell Technical Institute amphitheatre, drew about 70 people, most of whom wanted to talk about the state's budget crisis. Gov. Dennis Daugaard has called for sweeping cuts, at least 10 percent in every department.
Carson and state Rep. Tona Rozum and state Sen. Mike Vehle discussed their work and the options they have in Pierre this session. All three are Republicans.
LifeQuest CEO Daryl Kilstrom, of Mitchell, said a 10 percent cut in state funding would cost his firm $674,000. He said the nonprofit entity, which assists challenged individuals, has reduced staff, cut into retirement and not offered raises in recent years and now is being asked to make more cuts.
"These cuts will have a negative and direct impact on people who can't take care of themselves," Kilstrom said.
Carson said telling health care providers that they face a reduction in funding from the state is a difficult matter.
"These are the kind of decisions that have to be made," he said. "And they're not easy decisions to be making."
David Mitchell, a Dakota Wesleyan University professor and chairman of the Davison County Democratic Party, asked the legislators if this wasn't the time to tap into savings.
"The point of reserves is to get you through down times," Mitchell said.
He also asked if all ideas were on the table in Pierre, including a six-month, one-half percent increase in the state sales tax. Mitchell also warned against a cut in state support for Medicaid, since South Dakota receives $1.50 from the federal government for every $1 in pays.
Rozum said all ideas are on the table. But she said reserves have been tapped for the last two years and are down to $107 million now.
"I think we're going to be very cautious," she said.
Rozum said she is learning and listening in her first weeks in the Legislature. She often deferred questions to the more experienced legislators.
"I'm learning right along with you," she said.
Vehle, who has proposed increases in the gas tax, license registration fees and the excise tax in the past three sessions, said he will continue to push for them, even in this difficult economic climate.
"I'm still going to hold hearings on it," he said. "I'm still going to push for it."
But he said any increases would need approval from a "hard two-thirds," since Daugaard has vowed to veto any tax or fee increases and it would take two-thirds of the Legislature to overturn a veto.
Carson urged people to continue to lobby their legislators and push for the programs they believe in as these tough choices are made.