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SUTTON: A bittersweet end

The last week of the 93rd legislative Session has concluded, and veto day on March 26 is the only day remaining. It's been an honor to serve as the Senate minority leader for the past couple terms, and it's bittersweet to see my time in the Senate come to an end. It's been a long week of goodbyes to the many people who have helped make my time as a legislator successful and meaningful. It's also been a culminating week where all the ideas and values we've professed all session must be reconciled to create a budget we can agree on.

The bulk of this week was spent configuring both the budgets for the rest of the current fiscal year and for fiscal year 2019. Our main priorities for the revised FY18 revenue projections were our workforce, K-12 education, needs-based scholarships and community support providers.

Education will get a $5.4 million increase of one-time money in 2018, and a $7.2 million on-going increase for 2019, and that includes general education, special education and tech schools. Schools should be able to give teachers small raises with this budget. State employees will see just over a 1 percent increase.

The Legislature also voted this week to increase legislator pay for the first time in 20 years, which I opposed. I think the Legislature missed a real opportunity to invest in our kids by not funding the needs-based scholarship. I'm glad to report that community support providers will see a badly needed 2 percent inflationary increase, and most other providers will get a 0.5 percent increase.

While we were able to meet some of our priorities, I continue to be disappointed that the legislative budgeting process is less than transparent due in part to closed-door meetings where only majority party members are included on important decisions. I hope to see improvements in this process in future years so that the needs of all South Dakotans can be considered. While not all of our priorities were met, I am proud to report that we have once again balanced our budget. That is something we should all be proud of.

On the last day of regular legislative business, I was honored to receive a bronze, commissioned by Tony Chytka, from my Senate colleagues. It was titled "Keep Chargin" and was modeled after a picture of me at a rodeo in Jackson, Mississippi, back in 2005. It meant a lot to receive this bronze from my friends on both sides of the aisle. I have worked very hard these last eight years to fight for what I believe is right and good no matter whose idea it was.

As my time in the Senate comes to a close, my promise to all of you is that I will "Keep Chargin" ahead to build a stronger South Dakota. I will continue to fight for a South Dakota where, even though we may sometimes disagree, we do not have to be disagreeable. As Maya Angelou once said, people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. I think that is something that we should all take to heart.

I sincerely thank everyone who has supported me and made these last eight years such memorable ones. I hope I have served the people of my district well and made them proud. It has been one of the best decisions of my life to serve others in public office, and I hope to continue serving the people of South Dakota in any capacity that I can. Please continue to reach out to me with your concerns, thoughts and ideas as we shape our shared vision for our state. Thank you for the opportunity to represent you.