January 14, 2010

Here we are again already

Our neighbor Lorraine Collins always has an interesting perspective on a wide range of topics. Here's another that should catch your interest -- and perhaps spur a comment or two. Her commentaries appear regularly in the Black Hills Pioneer, and this one appeared in the December 16, 2009 edition. She graciously allows us to share it with on-line readers here.


Maybe it's because as we get older time seems to go by faster, but it seems to me that it was just yesterday, rather than December a year ago, that Governor Rounds was delivering his 2008 Budget Address and asking Legislators to go home and encourage all their constituents to go out and buy something to help out with sales tax revenue. Apparently this didn't work because last week the governor delivered his 2009 Budget Address and said revenues were "flat" while expenses have been going up. But this time, he didn't ask the Legislators to go home and ask us to spend more money, presumably because he knows many of us can't.

According to his speech, unemployment is the highest since1985 and unemployed people don't buy a lot of stuff. The governor said that the number of people on Medicaid has now reached 110,000, with more people enrolling in the program in the last ten months than in the previous four years. It was pretty clear a year ago that we were going to have what's called a "shortfall" in terms of income versus expenses. That is, the state was in the same trouble many of its citizens are every month. And it still is.

As I listened carefully to the governor's address which largely consisted of a blizzard of statistics, I scribbled down various notes which I now have difficulty reading. But by now, there have been editorial comments, objections, amplifications, and suggested alternatives to the governor's proposed budget and I think I get the gist of it. The governor made a point of saying that 49 cents of every budget dollar goes toward education, from kindergarten to graduate school, and that 36 cents goes toward "taking care of people." So 85% of the state budget goes for education and social services, and one would have to be a Scrooge or a Grinch to object to that.

However, he said he could not increase state aid to education at all, although I thought there was a law that says schools are supposed to get an increase every year amounting to 3% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. It wouldn't have amounted to much this year, but it would have been something. It will be interesting to see what the Legislature does with that. Every year there are various proposals to increase state aid to education, to revise the formula or change the rules, and every year we seem to go along more or less as we have been.

In talking about a "structural deficit" the governor said the deficit isn't caused "by our spending being out of control." I guess it isn't, since we rank so low in state support to education that it' s embarrassing. However, Representative Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton, minority leader of the House, said that growth of state government has been at twice the rate of inflation and he thought there should be cuts in the bureaucracy. That might be a good idea, but whether that would make any significant difference in making more money available to education is something I tend to doubt.

The fact is, state just doesn't take in enough money to meet current expenses and the only way we've been able to maintain things as well as we have is that the federal government pitches in more money than we do. It was interesting to note that state revenues for the general fund to support the governor's budget amounted to $1.2 billion while federal funds amounted to $1.9 billion. So I don't think we should complain too much about federal interference in our state.
Governor Rounds closed his speech by remarking "We all believe in the common good." It's a good thing that taxpayers in the other 49 states are helping us out and I hope they continue to believe in our common good, until we can figure out how to come up with more money ourselves.
Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish. She can be reached at collins1@rushmore.com.

Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish. She can be contacted at

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