Rounds' plans generated plenty of pre-speech talk

PIERRE -- Overheard while sitting at a bench under the Capitol dome here Thursday morning: "What have you heard?" a woman, possibly a lobbyist, asked a man sitting nearby. His reply came accompanied by an audible sigh: "There's no money." Whether...

PIERRE -- Overheard while sitting at a bench under the Capitol dome here Thursday morning:

"What have you heard?" a woman, possibly a lobbyist, asked a man sitting nearby.

His reply came accompanied by an audible sigh: "There's no money."

Whether it was among the people milling about the Capitol, at a tourism conference across town or among some -- but not all -- lawmakers, there was a definite buzz Thursday in Pierre, generated by Gov. Mike Rounds' predictably grim budget address in the afternoon.

It was the second go-round on this year's budget for Rounds, whose financial predictions, made in the annual budget address back in December, were tattered in the weeks since by the failing economy.


When the usually optimistic governor called for a second -- and perhaps unprecedented -- address six weeks after the first, South Dakotans knew there was bad news on the horizon.

Thursday before the full Legislature, he quickly got down to the business at hand.

"We haven't seen a downturn in the economy like this in recent history," he said.

He proposed numerous slashes to offset a budget shortfall of more than $80 million, among them pulling funding to the State Fair and, as some predicted, cutting 76.5 full-time positions within state government. It's uncertain if that means a true 76 bodies, since the cut could conceivably be at least partially accomplished through attrition of current vacant positions.

Still, any talk of job cuts grabs attention.

And this comes the same week the governor informed state employees that he is proposing they receive no pay raise in the coming year. That means that considering inflation and, say, possible increases in benefits and so on, state employees could effectively earn less -- especially if gas prices jump again -- than last year.

Again, talk like that is an attention-grabber and definitely hits home.

Rep. Quinten Burg, D-Wessington Springs, said he "definitely" sensed a buzz at the Capitol prior to Rounds' hour-long speech.


"Some of these cuts are quite dramatic," he said.

Prior to the speech but after a briefing, Burg said the governor's proposals are "maybe deeper than they need to be" and said there may be some one-time monies available to help offset the cuts. Plus, he said, it's important to see what will happen at the federal level before anyone panics.

"And really," he said before the Rounds speech, "I think some of the message today is almost panic."

After Rounds spoke to the Legislature, Burg said "I don't think it's going to fly. ... I think the Republicans are more unhappy with him than we are."

Across town and several hours earlier, the subject of state government cutbacks was broached by an attendee at a panel discussion that featured four media members from across the state. The man asked how the media panelists would cover state job and budget cuts if they happen close to home.

The query caught some panelists -- well, at least this one -- a bit by surprise.

As the day proceeded, many lawmakers were likewise uncertain of the depth of the governor's plans.

"(The budget) has changed three times since yesterday," Rep. Lance Carson, R-Mitchell, said prior to Rounds' speech. "We have been told there are no sacred cows. ... We're in a drastic state right now."


Afterward, Carson said, "there were a lot of surprises."

Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton, is in his first term after a hiatus from the Legislature. A former state senator who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1998, he wasn't too surprised with the reactions of folks at the Capitol Thursday.

"Every day, there is a buzz out here," he said. "Legislators have been immersed in this since Day 1."

Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

Over time, he has been a board member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.

As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.

In the past, Wenzel was sports editor for 14 years at The Daily Republic of Mitchell, S.D., before becoming editor and, eventually, publisher.

Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103.
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