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Lawmakers want more budget info from governor

PIERRE — There is a saying in politics that information is power. The Legislature will be trying for more of both in the 2014 session that starts next week.

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The Executive Board pre-filed two measures that would require the governor to submit his budget package earlier and to provide an updated 10-year financial plan with it each fall.

Lawmakers are also waiting to see results from three sets of financial inquiries involving the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

One likely proposal will be an attempt at some form of legislative oversight for business-assistance programs such as Future Fund grants that have been solely in the governor’s control.

There could be other changes sought, such as requiring state financial records to be kept longer and perhaps permanently in digital form by the state auditor’s office, and giving the state attorney general more authority over the contracts and lawyers for state government agencies.

Currently, the attorney general doesn’t have direct oversight for the hiring of outside lawyers by state agencies.

There’s also no requirement that state contracts entered by state agencies are reviewed by the attorney general’s office.

Those situations came into public focus during the past few months in regard to activities by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development during the administration of the previous governor, Mike Rounds.

So far neither Gov. Dennis Daugaard nor any legislator has pre-filed bills that directly address those practices.

But the Legislature’s general mood appears assertive and determined. The legislation already filed by the Executive Board attempts to address lawmakers’ long-standing perspectives they are out-gunned on financial matters by the governor’s budget office.

Senate Bill 11 would require the governor’s Bureau of Finance and Management to consider the recommendations of the Legislative Planning Committee as part of a long-range financial plan that would be delivered annually to the Legislature.

SB 11 says the plan “shall provide awareness of options, potential problems, and opportunities” and “contain all pertinent information for the next years” including at a minimum analysis of financial trends, assessments of problems or opportunities and actions to address them, and “a long-term approximation of revenues and expenditures that uses alternative economic, policy and planning assumptions.”

The measure carries the names of all 15 legislators, Republicans and Democrats alike, who are on the Executive Board.

All 15 of their names are on Senate Bill 10, which attempts to accelerate the budget creation process during the months prior to each regular legislative session.

Each office’s budget requests would be due to the Bureau of Finance and Management no later than Sept. 1 rather than the current practice of Oct. 15. BFM in turn would submit the requests including the explanatory material to the Legislative Research Council no later than Sept. 1 as well.

The governor’s budget recommendations to the Legislature also would be delivered some three weeks earlier under the plan.

Currently, the recommendations are due to legislators no later than the first Tuesday after the first Monday of December. The proposal calls for changing that deadline to the second Tuesday after the first Monday of November.

Those changes have strong consent within the legislative ranks. Lawmakers aren’t sure yet what to do about the reviews and audits of GOED’s finances and management practices dating from the Rounds era that are currently under way.

They were ordered in November by the agency’s current commissioner, Pat Costello, with the backing of Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Costello contracted with two private accounting firms for parts of the work, but missing records have complicated several of the reviews and slowed progress.

He also contracted with the state Department of Legislative Audit, which is under control of the Legislature, to conduct a special multi-year look at the office including its vendors.

That report is expected to be delivered Jan. 24. Its contents likely will help guide the Legislature’s next moves.