Lawmakers approve largest state budget ever for 2005

Susan Smith

Susan Smith

PIERRE (CNS) – For 115 years South Dakota has managed to annually ba1ance its budget and 2004 was no exception.

After mulling over the money for 34 days, the Appropriations Committee presented a $2.9 billion budget to lawmakers on the last day of the main run of the session Feb. 27.

“The revenue estimates went up, the economy of America got better,” said Sen Paul Dennert, D-Columbia, an eight-year veteran of the Appropriations process. “I’m here to say that we’re looking great and in good shape.”

Lawmakers heard good news from state fiscal analysts this month. Sales tax revenues have grown 6.9 percent in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2003 and the state took in $52 million more than expected, Sen. Marguerite Kleven, R-Sturgis, said.

About $1.9 billion of the budget is federal funds matched by $971 million in general funds. That includes a three percent increase to cover operating costs for hospitals, nursing homes and adjustment training centers. Lawmakers also approved an increase for those receiving temporary relief for needy families.

“We help those who can’t help themselves,” Rep. Jim Putnam, R-Armour, said.

Determining funding for the Dakota Opportunity Scholarship Program was an issue lawmakers debated until the final day of the 2004 session, but they finally approved enough money to give the state’s incoming college freshmen a $5,000 scholarship over four years.

Each year students qualifying for the program will get $1,000 until their fourth year when they’ll receive $2,000. Lawmakers allocated enough money for two years of the program.

The money made a statement to high school students, Sen. Duane Sutton, R-Aberdeen, said.

“Not only do we want to help pay for your college education but we want you to stay here after you’ve completed that college education,” he said.

Funding to create a science authority to manage conversion of the Homestake Mine in Lead to a national underground science laboratory was listed as one of the year’s successes.

“This document is a financial roadmap for the citizens of South Dakota,” Sutton said. “We’ve done some great things through the process.”

The Legislature adjourned its main run following approval of the budget. The Senate approved the general bill on a 32-3 vote. The House voted to pass the bill 68-1.

Lawmakers will return to Pierre on March 15 to address any vetoes of bills by Gov. Mike Rounds.