2021 S.D. Legislature: South Dakota, let’s act like the adult in the room

By: 
Steve Haugaard, Speaker of the House

A new Legislative Session begins next week on Tuesday. This year we are faced with a new dilemma in the form of a flood of federal dollars/federal debt. As I mentioned in previous articles, South Dakota received more money per capita than any other state to the tune of over eight times as much federal money as in a typical pre-pandemic year. Much of this “money” has been sent directly to cities, counties and universities. As a result, we, in the Appropriations Committee will need to make more specific inquiries of each of those entities to determine the amount of federal money they have already received before we finalize their new budget requests.

The Governor’s budget proposals include a variety of promises for increases to state employees as well as teachers and others. There were also pledges of tax dollars for new programs that include childcare and housing. These are not the typical ‘limited government’ ideas.  

Given the astounding federal debt, the aggressive investments of China within the U.S., the precarious nature of our economy, rising food and fuel prices, which have led to skyrocketing inflation, and the lack of restraint as to the growth of government, it is time for us as a state to demonstrate to the rest of the nation that we can act like the adult in the room. What I mean by that is during these perilous times we should stand by our principles of limited government, which we would hope could lead to a relaxation of the ever-increasing appetite for taxes. And, if we choose to do the right thing, we might find ourselves setting an example of fiscal responsibility and self-reliance.  

The statement is sometimes made that “If we don’t spend that federal money, then someone else will.” My question in response remains the same, and that is “What do you tell your kids when they say ‘Well, everyone else is doing it.’? And, the adult response is to say ‘Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean that you should do it.’ The point being, live by your principles and everything else will fall into place.  

Now is the time for us to ‘live by our principles’. Selfishly wasting money today at the expense of our children and grandchildren is not the right choice. Anyone taking an objective view of what has happened over the past two years would see that desperate times now call for rational actions.  

I believe that rational actions will best come in the form of fiscal restraint, and in the upcoming Session, that fiscal restraint would come in the form of holding as much of this ‘money’ in trust as we possibly can. And along with that, we need to tighten our belts and focus on our core responsibilities without the giveaways or the creation of new government programs or subsidies.  

The ‘core responsibilities’ I refer to are those that have shown up in the news this past year. They aren’t new problems, just ones that have been neglected for many years. We do need to add staff and increase wages at the Penitentiaries, the Human Services Center, probation services, parole services, courthouse staff, and for community support providers. There is work to be done this year, but it will be primarily in the form of tending to those responsibilities.

We are thankful for a New Year and new opportunities. As we move forward into this Legislative Session I ask that you stay tuned while we begin the long hours of filtering through the budget.  

Your questions and recommendations are important, and I would like to hear from you (steven.haugaard@sdlegislature.gov). You can also go to www.sdlegislature.gov to listen in on the meetings or to see what else is happening in state government. 

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