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Last week’s birthday of the nation was an unusual one for the Garnos family (I’ll explain later). Therefore, today’s column was written on Independence Day, the Fourth of July. It is of reflections of what the day and our American flag mean as the two are inseparable. One is from a National Guardsman and there is one or two from this columnist. Did the day and the flag have any special meaning to you other than it was a great day to barbecue and shoot fireworks?
The number of West Nile virus cases has gone down in the past few years, but that certainly is no guarantee it will stay that way. This is especially true this summer with South Dakota almost smothered by water, the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. Fourteen South Dakotans died in 2003. They were among the 1,039 who were infected that year. There were only 20 people had positive tests for the virus last year, with no deaths reported. What the report will be for this year is anyone’s guess, said Lon Kightlinger, South Dakota’s state epidemiologist.
With the flooding in the Pierre-Ft. Pierre area and at Dakota Dunes, financial difficulties in the state, counties and towns, appear to have taken a back seat. But the difficulties are still there. At the same time these governmental entities continue to work for us. As I see it, the flood and these financial problems are helping to create a new spirit of cooperation in South Dakota.
The discussion of health care reform (Obamacare) appears to be moving into high gear here in South Dakota. Our state’s congressmen and woman seem to have trouble connecting with it. That may be for a good reason. To me, call it what you wish, public or private or a combination of those two plus whatever else Congress might throw into the pot, it still smells a lot like socialized medicine. I’m no expert on health care reform or socialized medicine, but I got awfully close to it once, British style, a long, long time ago. It was an incident that could even be called funny, if it didn’t have a smack of tragedy to it.
High gas prices hurt all of us because it is limiting visitors coming to South Dakota as well as cramping us from seeing the other parts of our beautiful state. In fact, the high gas prices remind me of the ration stamps during World War II that also limited our travel. The only difference is the ration stamps were needed because the gas was going to a good cause. Things are different today.
The census report for South Dakota was recently announced, telling the demographics of aging in our state. The fact is we’re growing older and it is most important that we are aware of it and have an answer of what are we going to do about it. This has a bearing on the birth rate, the economy and the job market in our state.
The campaign by casino owners before the state’s smoking ban went into effect was the ban, if passed, would seriously hurt one of the state’s revenue sources. It’s been six months since the ban became law and the video lottery revenue is down more than 17 percent from the corresponding time a year ago. Because of the loss in lottery revenue in those six months, should some changes be made in the smoking ban law?
As so many of us worry about getting the economy going again, Jim Hagen, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tourism, opens one of the doors that will help make it happen: “Statewide, travel is responsible for more than $1 billion in direct spending, nearly 30,000 direct jobs and $265 million in tax revenue. Simply put, when people travel, the economy grows, jobs are created and the tax coffers are filled,” he said recently.
The 2011 South Dakota Hall of fame class was recently announced, naming 14 individuals to the hallowed hall at Chamberlain. One of these individuals or one or more of the 667 previous selectees named to our state’s official Hall of Fame may be from your hometown or they may have achieved international fame. In either case they are truly heroes in their area of endeavor.
Journalism 101 should note there are two kinds of news–good and bad. One definition of the news is the reporting what is the unusual. Good news isn’t always noteworthy in the minds of some people. Another definition of news is the reporting of current events. I’ll touch on that later in another column. Good news deserves to be read as well as all the murders, car crashes and obituaries that appear in most newspapers.
A South Dakota legislative committee is scheduled to examine the dozens of sales-use tax exemptions this summer. These exemptions total more than $500 million annually in what could be tax collections. That $500 million would be quite a windfall for the state. Did all of those exemptions pass a thorough testing, or just a seat-of-the-pants type of test as to their value for the people of South Dakota? Hopefully, we’ll find out.
It has only been about a month since the South Dakota Legislature closed the doors on the 86th session in Pierre and already there are plans being made to refer two of the new laws to the voters in the state. Both relate to health care in South Dakota. There is also a hint that more referendums may be coming down the pike.
During the last session legislators changed the state’s large project refund. Taking effect in 2013, the new refund program is to be less expensive and discretionary. Unlike the current program, projects won’t automatically qualify for refunds simply by meeting certain spending requirements. Instead, a panel will decide who gets the refund. Opponents call the change the Governor’s slush fund. Are they right?
Valhalla isn’t a word the average person is going to work into a conversation every day. However, Valhalla, has slipped into more conversations over the past several months–ever since some sorehead got all cranky-like because he found out former Governor Rounds was keeping secret a little hideaway in the heart of our Black Hills for his friends and for his personal use. So, along comes our new governor, Dennis Dogood. He assures us there won’t be any secrets while he is on his watch.
As school boards across the state disappointingly sink their teeth into cutting their 2011-2012 budgets as mandated by the South Dakota Legislature and Governor Daugaard, we are seeing a variety of watered down budgets surfacing. With the reduction or elimination of programs in our schools the question must be asked, were they necessarily needed in the first place?
The last day of the 86th legislative session is next Monday. Some are withholding judgment on whether or not the session has been successful until the last gavel falls. In your opinion was it a good, worth-while session or not? I would have to say parts were OK and parts weren’t. But getting the budget into line almost looks miraculous.
South Dakota was once known as the state of infinite variety. Observing the Legislature over the past several weeks South Dakota is more like the state of infinite issues. From playing with the state’s abortion ban to raising car license fees were a couple of examples like this facing us. Still, there is another issue that has been on the back burner far too long. That’s the issue of the millions of tax dollars our state government is losing to Internet and catalog sales.
This is the last full week for the 86th legislative session in Pierre. Will it be a good one? Will our legislators accomplish what they had hoped for, especially in regard to the budget for state government? Some South Dakotans argue little has been accomplished this session, but will we really know until they return March 28 to Pierre after their two-week break. Today we mull over some of the actions that have taken place since January 11 when the session started.
Because of the recession and the smoking ban talk has been to get rid of video lottery because revenue is down as well as the lottery being morally wrong. Some other talk was to increase the state’s share of the lottery’s profits. However, the state’s earnings from video lottery is the second largest revenue for South Dakota’s general fund. The number one source is the sales tax.
The state’s budget is center stage in Pierre, but the spotlight is on cutting its education budget. Gov. Daugaard originally said a 10 percent cut for all departments in state government, but educators responded, “No way!” It appears that now the governor and the educators may be coalescing towards a solution both sides can live with.
From the beginning of his campaign for Governor, Dennis Daugaard declared “No new taxes.” So far, there have been two sales tax bills presented to this session of the South Dakota Legislature. One of these has already been killed in committee and even though several legislators have shown some interest in the other, there is little chance it will go any where. By now it may also be dead. Today’s column is also throwing in a couple of “games” that our readers may find interesting.
Every 10 years South Dakota must rewrite its legislative districts following the 10-year census. This traditionally is proportioned according to equal populations in each district. When it comes to redistricting, odoriferous politics in our state has played a big part in how the areas actually came into being. Political parties aren’t the only challenges to this process: huge legislative districts and sparsely populated areas make for headaches,too.
In a joint session of the Legislature Jan. 19th, Gov. Daugaard said the state’s spending had to be reduced by $127 million in order to balance the budget with the estimated amounts of tax revenue for the 2012 fiscal year. This will begin July 1 of this year. Legislator responses were anywhere from complete opposition to “we’re going to have to bite the bullet to get the job done in just one fiscal year.”
A Rapid City legislator mistakenly wants the state to “privatize” (sell) the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. In fact, he was going to introduce a bill for that purpose. It wouldn’t be the first state-owned institution or facility that had a change in course or sold. The school gets about $14 million a year in direct support from the state and the legislator said that if the university was sold the state would save at least that much annually. But there is more to that proposal that needs questioning.
South Dakota’s 2011 legislative session is now a little over a week old. Making up the budget deficit is still the big issue even though the exact amount of revenue shortage isn’t nailed down yet. Governor Daugaard has said there won’t be any new taxes. There is also rumor that some lawmakers may try to write in a couple of exemptions into the smoking ban law. Some legislators want a state immigration law. And even the abortion issue could surface again. But each issue has its detractors.