South Dakota Session Preview: Making peace, with cash

When South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) delivers his State of the State address Tuesday afternoon, he’ll have good news: Changes to the state’s unclaimed property laws that took effect last year has meant a big cash windfall for a small state, and that means more money for schools.

Daugaard unveiled a proposed budget in December that would spend the $70 million windfall to pay for future obligations like high-interest bonds and the state’s economic development fund.

That frees more immediate money for state schools, which suffered big cuts during the economic recession; Daugaard wants to give schools a 3 percent budget increase, almost twice the 1.6 percent schools were supposed to get to cover the costs of inflation (State schools say they want a 3.8 percent increase to restore their funding to 2010 levels).

The extra money likely means a relatively easy budget negotiation process. Daugaard will also unveil a new plan to attract workers to South Dakota, a plan expected to include new spending for career and technical education. As South Dakota experiences growth associated, in part, with the energy boom in the Bakken oil fields to the north, the state has found it doesn’t have enough employees to fill jobs.

But high-profile social issues will threaten to break the peace.

Conservative lawmakers are expected to push to roll back and limit Common Core education standards. Daugaard, like most Republican governors, backs Common Core standards, making changes or curbs unlikely to succeed.

Daugaard doesn’t support expanding Medicaid to cover tens of thousands of low-income South Dakotans. Democrats and a small number of Republicans support expanding the program under the Affordable Care Act, but it’s unlikely to move without the governor’s backing.

All eyes will be on House and Senate Republicans, who hold big majorities but who don’t always get along with each other. The Sioux Falls Argus-Leader’s David Montgomery explains:

Two years ago, the state Legislature — and particularly the House of Representatives — was riven by high-profile disputes inside the Republican caucus. A number of conservative Republicans feuded with their own party leadership. After efforts to mend fences, the 2013 session was much more peaceful, and featured noted examples of lawmakers from different parts of the political spectrum working together on bills.

An Argus Leader analysis of voting patterns in the Legislature confirmed that a group of conservative representatives have tended to vote the same way as each other, and differently from their party leadership, during the past several years.

Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.

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