March 4, 2008

Pew suggests SD planning stinks

South Dakota has never shown much interest in long-term planning or performance measurement. Quite a few other states are in a similar boat, but many of them make up for it, at least in part, by using specialized agencies or departments to do performance audits and evaluations. This effort is non-existent in South Dakota and has little chance of developing. Leaders here don’t think this is much of a problem” --

Pew Center Report Card for South Dakota

The folks conducting this nationwide evaluation of state government performance didn’t have a lot of good things to say about South Dakota. The state does have a hefty “rainy day fund” of about $1 billion and many of South Dakota’s governmental functions run smoothly – but that’s about it. The report was released yesterday (3/3/08) in Washington, D.C. by the Pew Center on the States, a project funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Our state garnered a B- when a similar study was done three years ago. In the latest Pew report, Grading the States 2008, we’ve slipped to C+ and some folks in Pierre don’t see much of a problem. Of course, we’re also at the bottom of the barrel with teacher pay, and that hasn’t given government insiders much heartburn either.

Not surprisingly, South Dakota fails miserably in the “Information” category. We're at the bottom of the barrel with a D+. The report notes that "around the world and across the nation, growing demands for public sector transparency and for public access to services 24/7 are spurring a new level of creativity in meeting citizens’ legitimate needs, as well as improving internal business processes...Grades in the Information category in 2008 ranged between As in five states (Michigan, Missouri, Utah, Virginia, and Washington) and D+s in New Hampshire and South Dakota." The Information category has little chance of any substantial improvement any time soon. Governor Rounds, abetted by the legislature, trashed a good open records bill this session (SB 189). It might have enriched the public records that could have become available online.

Kudos, however, are appropriate for a strong reserve fund, which officials say is for major emergencies only, such as natural disasters. Pew acknowledges that our state has one of the best-funded pension systems in the country, that we maintain low debt loads and that we have “a budget comfortably in structural balance.”

That said, the tenor of the report is not very encouraging. And long-range planning is the major culprit. Pew says transportation is one area “that cries out for long-term planning.” The report cites an $11 million hit that the state took in 2007 when the federal government required South Dakota to boost Medicaid payments. A new fly in the fiscal ointment is the lawsuit brought by some 59 school districts, charging that the education system in South Dakota is underfunded.

Pew reports that if there's a major judgment against the state in that case, well……that might be enough to cause some of the smugmugs in Pierre to begin thinking about some serious long-range planning. But don't count on it. The states with the highest scores in this report have made accountability and innovation a priority. In most categories, South Dakota hasn't been accused of either.

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