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District 20 House: Rozum says there's work left to be done in Legislature

District 20 state House candidate Tona Rozum, R-Mitchell. (Chris Huber/Republic)

Tona Rozum said she wants a second term representing District 20 in the state House of Representatives because she doesn't want to leave a job unfinished.

"There's a lot of work yet to be done," Rozum said.

Rozum and fellow Republican incumbent Rep. Lance Carson are running against Democrats Dave Mitchell and James Schorzmann for two state House of Representative seats representing District 20. All four are from Mitchell.

District 20 includes Davison, Aurora and Jerauld counties. That's a change, as Jerauld County was added to the district when new lines were drawn.

The two candidates who receive the most votes will win two-year terms in the state House.

State government had to make some tough decisions in the past two years, Rozum said, and she admits she was concerned about some of the choices as federal stimulus dollars were spent and the state faced major budget questions.

"We had to get rid of the structural deficit," Rozum said. "The end result of that worked out better than I would have anticipated."

That's despite more hurdles to pass after Gov. Dennis Daugaard took office in 2011.

"Who would have known we were going to face a horrendous flood?" she said. "And we have had a tremendous problem with pine beetles. I know it's not a big issue here, but it is in the Black Hills."

There was a problem with Medicaid reimbursements, and education funding has been a hot topic as well. Rozum, who has worked as a teacher, said she wants to help resolve these problems.

"I don't know when, if ever, I thought we ever started teachers at the right level," she said.

While Mitchell teachers make on average $44,000, they start at $33,000, Rozum said, her fingers flying on a calculator as she talked.

"I think that needs to be significantly higher," she said. "We need to make it a competitive wage that will not only attract but retain quality teachers. But it's the same old problem. We don't have enough money."

The state devotes 48 percent of its budget to education, 38 percent to taking care of people through Medicaid and social services, and 10 percent to protect the public through law enforcement and corrections. That leaves 4 percent for the rest of state government, or about $53 million.

It's up to the Legislature to work with the governor and state agencies to best decide how to distribute the money, but on many issues, its hands are tied.

Rozum said she is interested to see what happens with Initiated Measure 15, which calls for raising the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent. That would raise $180 million annually for K-12 education and Medicaid.

"I'm going to let the public decide that one," she said. "I'll tell you what I don't like about 15, and that's the way it's written. I am glad it's going to a vote, even though I don't like the way it's written, because the Legislature is not going to take it on."

Rozum noted that sales tax must be paid on equipment that is seven years old or newer and is brought into the state to be used. That doesn't seem fair to her.

She is also concerned about a sales tax on food but said a tax credit for people at a certain income level may be the answer.

Constitutional Amendment O, which would alter how the state cement plant trust fund is distributed, deserves support, Rozum said.

"That absolutely has to pass," she said. "The problem now is it's paying out a flat $12 million. It's dipping into principle."

She also favors Referred Law 14, which would create a Large Project Development fund from which grants would be issued to certain economic development projects.

"You can't have a two-legged stool," Rozum said. "You've got to provide for economic development."

She is a Mitchell High School graduate who studied biology and physical education at Dakota Wesleyan University. She taught in both the Mitchell School District and at DWU.

Rozum said she will raise and spend about $7,000 in the campaign. She has sent out postcards and bought radio and newspaper ads. The Davison County Republican Party paid for billboards and also gave her some other money.

Rozum said will also support a ban on driving and using handheld devices. Statistics show 25 percent of traffic accidents nationally occur while the driver is using such a device, she said.

Rozum served nine years on the Mitchell City Council.

"However, there's no comparison," she said. "There are the other council people and the mayor. In Pierre, there are 105 legislators and the governor. You have to build credibility and trust."

She has spent more than 20 years as a local financial adviser. The company is now known as Stifel Nicolaus. She and her husband have also owned businesses in the city.

She has also been a South Dakota Department of Transportation commissioner, a South Dakota Community Foundation board member, Dakota Wesleyan University trustee, Dakota Discovery Museum board member and Avera Queen of Peace board member.

Rozum, 67, and her husband John have been married for 45 years. They have three children and seven grandchildren.