Daugaard outlines plan to reduce state deficit

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Elizabeth “Sam” GroszCommunity News Service

Gov. Dennis Daugaard unveiled his budget proposal Jan. 19, confirming what had been rumored: a 10 percent cut was requested in every department.

The governor said cuts were necessary to end the continuing deficit in the next fiscal year, so that South Dakota can continue to build the economy. Having to battle the deficit each year, he indicated, is demoralizing.

“I believe we can balance the budget without using any reserves,” Daugaard said. The proverbial belt will be tightened and some good programs may be axed, he noted.

“We don’t want to have this discussion year after year,” said Daugaard. “Doing that has resulted in cuts and freezes and dissatisfaction all around8212;let’s take our medicine once.”

With his plan, revising the current 2011 budget and using his recommended fiscal year 2012 budget, the structural deficit will be eliminated, said the governor, and the state will be positioned for long term growth and stability.

“This is the principle on which the whole budget is based,” Daugaard said.

After two years with no pay increase, state workers again will receive no raises. Department heads all have agreed to take at least a 10 percent decrease in their salaries. Daugaard said he has cut his salary by 15 percent.

The cuts, he noted, are not across the board, but programs have been, or will be, examined on an individual basis.

Education, including K-12, universities and tech schools, and social services, as well as corrections, take the lion’s share of the budget. Not taking cuts there, Daugaard indicated, would mean not being able to meet his goal of balancing the budget.

Education has local options, he indicated, with local boards and patrons able to make those decisions based on their needs. Daugaard said the 10 percent cut comes from the $4,800 allocation for each student. The per-student allocation, he said, is only about half of what is designated for each student, making it “really 5.4 percent of the total.”

Democrats were quick to respond that the deficit could just as well be taken care of in three years, rather than one, citing the debilitating cuts to education and health services that would result from the governor’s plan.

Democratic House leader Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton, noted that in the recent campaign, Daugaard “said there was no mess,” and now months later the state is being asked to “dismantle public education” to fix the problem. Hunhoff said the Democrats will be presenting alternatives during this legislative session.

Daugaard repeatedly has said that his plan is not necessarily “the” plan, but “a” plan and he would be open to alternatives. However, he also has said he would not sign a bill that does not rid the state of the deficit in one year.

“The degree of cuts is up for debate,” noted Republican House leader David Lust, R-Rapid City, in a Friday news conference. “However, it is na├»ve to think you cannot have cuts in education and Medicaid.”

In the final analysis, Republican Senate leader Russ Olson, R-Wentworth, said it will be up to the appropriations committee where cuts are made.

The governor commented during a news conference Friday that he would be presenting his budget plan in various cities in the state, plus a record number of people had tuned in to the Internet for his budget address. Nearly 4,100 people watched or heard the address, while the previous record had been 1,500 people.

Under the governor’s plan, it would be the third year in a row that state employees would go without a raise in pay. Daugaard said he regretted that salaries were frozen for employees who work so hard and are diligent.

“We can reasonably expect a brighter message next year if we do this,” Daugaard said.

#1.1918798:2379532081.png:daugaard_DougDreyer_DakotaImages.png:Gov. Dennis Daugaard proposed a 2011 state government budget to a joint session of the legislature on Jan. 19 at the state capitol.:Dakota Images Photo by Doug Dreyer