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OPINION: Education, Medicaid big focus of Legislature

Education and Medicaid will dominate this session. The lack of teachers in the pipeline is a national issue. The low salaries in South Dakota make our teachers easy pickings for the surrounding states. How to fund an additional $67.4 million nece...

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Education and Medicaid will dominate this session. The lack of teachers in the pipeline is a national issue. The low salaries in South Dakota make our teachers easy pickings for the surrounding states. How to fund an additional $67.4 million necessary to raise the average teacher's salary to $48,500 from $40,000 will be a large part of the discussion.

The governor's plan lays the groundwork for the many group discussions that began before session even started. Your solutions are most welcome. The governor has proposed a half-cent increase to sales tax with $40 million going to property tax reduction.

Sales tax is the state's main source of revenue and is being hindered by two major issues: Internet sales, generally not taxed, are growing rapidly, which slows the main source of revenue for education and Medicaid. The fastest growing segment of our population is American Indians needing health care at the expense of the state rather than being served by the federal treaty obligation to the tribes.

Here is what we know concerning Indian Health Services (IHS):

• The federal government, by treaty, agreed to provide health care for all American Indians, regardless of income.

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• Federal money for IHS runs out halfway through the year.

• Thirty-five percent of South Dakota's Medicaid dollars, paid by you, goes to American Indians covering what should be the obligation of the federal government, per treaty.

• Doctors and staff are not available to provide services at IHS, forcing the need to go to outside providers not currently being covered by the treaty agreement.

• The fastest-growing segment of the population is American Indians driving the current $67 million dollars spent annually on Medicaid services to increase.

Why does this matter?

• Sales tax revenue is not increasing at the rate expected while Internet sales grow more each year; this will not change.

• Increasing Medicaid expenses means less goes to education; education and Medicaid make up most of state government expense.

Reaching an agreement with the federal government is critical in the Medicaid discussion. If better health care can be make available on the reservations and the federal government honors its treaty agreement to cover all health care for American Indians, the impact on the entire state will be very positive.

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As the Legislature tackles these and other issues, I encourage District 20 to contact me with questions, concerns and most importantly - solutions. Email me at rep.rozum@state.sd.us or text or call my cell, 999-2190.

I look forward to your input and serving our district and state.

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