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Gov. Daugaard stops in Mitchell on State of the State tour

No big ticket legislation, no problem. That's how South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard feels following a handful of legislative sessions in which major discussions ate up much of the three-month period in Pierre. Daugaard took to Mitchell on Thursda...

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Gov. Dennis Daugaard cracks a joke after former State Sen. Mike Vehle complimented the governor on his work in Pierre after delivering a recap of his State of the State address to Mitchell area residents on Thursday morning in the Highland Conference Center in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

No big ticket legislation, no problem.

That’s how South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard feels following a handful of legislative sessions in which major discussions ate up much of the three-month period in Pierre.

Daugaard took to Mitchell on Thursday, two days after delivering his State of the State address, to offer an abbreviated version of the governor’s annual speech. The second-term governor was met by a crowd of locals at the Highland Conference Center in Mitchell, and much of his speech focused on improving existing actions and balancing the budget.

And after helping pass the Public Safety Improvement Act in 2013, a road funding bill known as Senate Bill 1 in 2015 and an increase in teacher pay in 2016, Daugaard is content working toward balancing the budget and making several small steps in a variety of different areas.

“So do I worry that we should have some major change, major improvement?” Daugaard said in a meeting at The Daily Republic offices Thursday. “I don’t. I think in general we’re doing pretty well.”

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While Daugaard suspects the state will have to do what it can to “bridge the gap” with the budget to make it through 2017, he said South Dakota’s economy is in much better shape than other states.

“I look at Illinois and Connecticut and New Jersey and so many states that have such a high hill to climb to try and improve themselves, and in South Dakota, all I have to do is not screw it up,” Daugaard joked at the Highland Conference Center.

Tackling meth addiction

During his visit to the Highland Conference Center, Daugaard covered a wide variety of topics relevant to south central South Dakota, perhaps most prominently methamphetamine abuse.

Several counties in the Mitchell area have dealt with meth-related arrests on a regular basis, an issue District 20 State Rep. Lance Carson hopes to address during the 2017 legislative session. And the issue came to a head when nine felony meth-related arrests were made in Charles Mix County over a 48-hour period in September.

To help address the growing meth addiction problem plaguing parts of South Dakota, Daugaard suggested altering the Public Safety Improvement Act to help lower the amount of meth users in his home state.

Daugaard pitched a three-point plan which includes stopping meth from entering South Dakota, increase meth prevention education and offering help for those addicted to the drug.

“And finally, I’m proposing changes to the Public Safety Improvement Act to encourage treatment and more directly confront the meth problem,” Daugaard said. “For those who are on probation or parole, I’m proposing measures to reinforce good behavior and punish bad behavior.”

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The governor hoped to establish a mandatory sanction of jail time for those who fail a drug test while on probation or parole and allow supervision mandates to be terminated early for parolees and probationers who stay clean of drugs. He also proposed a plan in which offenders who completed all court-ordered treatment for meth in one year can have their possession or ingestion charge dropped from a felony to a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Solving stagnant sales growth

Daugaard also took time Thursday to discuss the keystone of his initial 2017 State of the State, online retailer Amazon’s decision to charge sales tax for items purchased by South Dakotans.

And when Mitchell Area Development Corp. Executive Director Bryan Hisel asked if the local sales tax would be charged by Amazon, too, Daugaard confirmed it would. Items subject to sales tax in Mitchell currently provide 4.5 percent to the state and 2 percent to the city.

Daugaard credited the ability to get Amazon to sign on and charge the tax as early as February to the “streamlined” and straightforward” tax code in South Dakota.

Like the city of Mitchell, the state of South Dakota saw its sales tax collections in 2016 hover around 2015 marks, but Daugaard said imposing a state income tax is not necessary to make up for the stagnation.

“In cases where our revenue’s not growing, nor expenses, status quo isn’t a reduction of lifestyle,” Daugaard said.

Tamping down teacher pay concerns

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When a series of bills were signed into law last year, area schools were left with more money to pay teachers, but some received substantially less than others.

This led to some smaller district officials wondering why they received less than others, a criticism routinely brought up by area lawmakers. But Daugaard, who helped champion the education funding formula change, noted the smallest schools made out the best.

While Daugaard admitted he’d heard concerns, he said schools with more than 600 students received $507 per student, districts with 200 to 600 students received $579 per student and districts with fewer than 200 received $653 per student. Districts did not, however, reach the target goal of $48,500 per teacher in the fall of 2016.

“We knew we wouldn’t reach that average in one year because schools need time to become more efficient and repurpose those dollars into salaries,” Daugaard said. “Still, according to the preliminary school reports, our average salary this fall is $46,937, just short of $47,000.”

Overall, Daugaard gave the state a clean bill of health, and expressed optimism in the rising teacher salaries, strong indicators of future economic growth and the state economy as a whole in 2016.

“South Dakota is really running very well,” Daugaard told The Daily Republic. “It’s a state that doesn’t spend money we don’t have, our financial house is in order, we’re AAA-rated, our pension is relatively well-funded.”

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