MERCER: Could we find $120M a second time?

PIERRE -- Twenty winters ago, Gov.-elect Bill Janklow pushed forward on his campaign promise to roll back property taxes by 30 percent from their 1994 levels.

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PIERRE - Twenty winters ago, Gov.-elect Bill Janklow pushed forward on his campaign promise to roll back property taxes by 30 percent from their 1994 levels.

Janklow and the Legislature delivered the first $80 million percent during his first year in office.

They needed the better part of his next seven years in office to find here and there the final $40 million.

Those numbers come to mind because of the debates now over low teacher salaries in our public schools and rising student tuition at our public universities and technical institutes.

Here is the challenge.


Could we find over the next eight years another $120 million, this time for teacher salaries and student tuition?

Both topics went unaddressed Tuesday when Gov. Dennis Daugaard delivered his budget recommendations to the Legislature.

Eight years would cover the second term of Gov. Daugaard that officially starts next month and the first term of our next governor who follows him in 2019.

In his first term, Daugaard brought much of state government back under better financial control.

He started by asking for 10 percent cuts in 2011, because of the recession, and got them in most areas.

He eliminated weeded out budget gimmicks and eliminated state government's structural deficit.

He brought a different approach to using one-time funds. He paid cash for some construction, paid off bonds issued for past projects and earmarked money for future years for some economic development programs.

On Tuesday, he proposed more streamlining of state government's budgeting.


And he once again avoided calling for state tax increases, although his K-12 funding package as proposed would shift responsibility for some state programs partially onto local property owners.

The trouble facing the governor and the Legislature in 2015 is South Dakota's economy is slowing down.

State government relies in large part on natural growth in state sales tax revenues, and a big chunk of that money also flows to public schools through state aid.

Slower growth in South Dakota's economy means less revenue growth for the state treasury.

So this might seem like exactly the wrong time to issue a challenge of finding $120 million for teacher salaries and student tuition.

But finding $120 million spread across eight years doesn't seem impossible.

Meanwhile, let's start teacher bonuses.

The governor's Bureau of Finance and Management reported Tuesday that $6.9 million won't be needed from state government for state aid to schools in the current year.


This results from statewide enrollment being lower than expected and property values being higher than expected.

Fewer students plus more property-tax revenue means less need for state funding under the cost-sharing formula of 53.8 percent state money and 46.2 percent property taxes.

A year ago, the governor's budget office reported there would be nearly $5.9 million of state funding that wasn't needed for state aid to schools.

State government redirects that money for other purposes.

Why not teacher bonuses? The state Department of Education could send checks each spring, divvying whatever state aid is left - no guarantees - on a flat per-teacher basis.

It's a start.

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