Senate backs many millions of additional state spendingPIERRE — The state Senate marked Valentine’s Day by approving more than $31 million in one-time bonuses for state government employees and millions of dollars in other additional spending Tuesday.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — The state Senate marked Valentine’s Day by approving more than $31 million in one-time bonuses for state government employees and millions of dollars in other additional spending Tuesday.
Senators also put their OK on $27 million of one-time extra funding for public schools, state universities, public technical institutes and providers of social and human services to the needy.
Last winter new Gov. Dennis Daugaard led the Legislature through a grinding round of spending cuts that totaled more than $120 million of general funds, in order to bring state government’s general budget back into balance.
Now they are operating as though times are much sweeter.
Dozens of spending adjustments for the current year’s budget won approval Tuesday, reflecting a broad belief in the Capitol that the state treasury is now flush with extra money, and that South Dakota’s economy will continue improving as state government’s new budget year begins July 1.
The three pieces of major budget legislation that moved through the Senate contained multiple examples of lawmakers’ confidence that the state treasury will have ample cash in the coming months.
One adjustment sends $4 million to the railroad trust fund for loans and grants to rail projects.
“This is a good chance to continue to develop that industry here in the state of South Dakota,” Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, said.
Those were among the changes contained in Senate Bill 48, which easily won approval from senators and now heads to the House of Representatives.
The employee bonuses package contained in Senate Bill 193 received unanimous Senate support and also goes to the House next.
The package was a compromise between the governor’s original recommendations and the preferences of House and Senate members, according to Sen. Kent Juhnke, R-Vivian.
Sixty-nine percent of employees earn $46,000 or less, according to Juhnke. “And that was an eye-opener for me,” he said.
The bonuses won’t become part of the base salaries, Sen. Bob Gray, R-Pierre, said. Employees haven’t received standard raises for the past three years. “It doesn’t catch them up. But it does say thank you,” Gray said.
He added, “A lot of these jobs are jobs you and I wouldn’t take.”
Senate Democratic leader Jason Frerichs, of Wilmot, said people who aren’t state employees but save state government money, such as workers at mental health agencies, shouldn’t be forgotten when other budget adjustments are made in the weeks or years ahead.
“They right now essentially are second-class state employees,” Frerichs said. He praised the work done to pull together the bonus package.
Further approval of spending legislation will probably be on hold until after Thursday, Feb. 23.
That’s when House and Senate members of the Joint Committee on Appropriations are scheduled to receive revenue estimates from their staff and from the governor’s Bureau of Finance and Management.
The joint committee is slated to adopt its estimates the next day, Friday, Feb. 24. Those numbers will form the basis on which the final budget decisions are made in the days after that.
The bonuses seem to be a sure thing, however. As established in the Senate legislation Tuesday, they will require about $12.7 million from general state revenues, about $13.2 million from other specialized state revenues such as university tuition and outdoors licenses, and $5.7 million from federal sources.
The payments would be made on March 30 using a combination of calculation methods.
State government employees who have been on the job for at least three years and make $46,000 or less would get a flat bonus of $2,300.
Employees with at least three years on the job who make more than $46,000 up to $150,000 would get bonuses equal to five percent of their pay.
Bonuses would be smaller for employees with less than three years.
Those with two years would get a flat $1,564 if they make $46,000 or less, while those who make more than $46,000 would get a 3.4 percent bonus.
For employees with one year of service, they would get $784 if they make $46,000 or less, while those who make more than would get a 1.7 percent bonus.
The $150,000 cap again would apply.
The bonus date in the legislation is March 24.
The one, two and three years of experience would be based on that anniversary date.