$5M for education

Yesterday, I testified before the House Appropriations committee and proposed an amendment to move $5 million to education from economic development. This is such an important issue, I wanted to share excerpts from my remarks with you.

“I have an amendment to remove $5 million dollars from your bill and move it from the Future Fund allocation and move it to education. The fact is that the Future Fund ended the year with a balance of over $21 million dollars. The projection we were given in Appropriations, it would still have $10 million dollars next year and then it would have in $9 million dollars in the following year. The Future Fund is a discretionary fund for the governor, and while we support economic development I think the specifics of the economic development should be in the legislative actions and not in other actions.”

“…$5 million dollars was committed based on an expected revenue source that didn’t materialize because the people voted against that bill….the source for that $5 million dollars was a ten-percent cut in education.”

“…now I’m saying this increase in revenue from the citizens should go to where the citizens need it. That is in education and not where the citizens have rejected a proposal. As a consequence, this amendment would move $5 million dollars from this bill and put it to a per-pupil allocation in education.”

“This doesn’t mean that we have completely denuded the Future Fund. Indeed not, from the numbers given to us in this legislature there would be very adequate money for discretionary economic development from the Governor’s Office in the Future Fund…”

“…I would hope that someone would move, or that you go through 1060, that you take this $5 million dollars that was borrowed or otherwise moved from education and put it back where it belongs.”

It’s the City Council, not the amen corner

Note: Thank you to John Tsitrian for submitting this post. Please note that Stan is not taking a position on this issue, either way, at this time.

Why the Rapid City Council has to start its proceedings with a prayer drawn from the Judeo-Christian beliefs in the Holy Bible has never been clear, as I don’t recall ever hearing any of the elected officials on that body invoking God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit as a motivating factor in reaching decisions that are secular in character and design.

Much as tradition and ceremony have their places in public proceedings, the long-standing practice of beginning Council meetings with a prayer has turned into a point of contention among local taxpayers.  With good reason, some citizens who support Rapid City, obey its laws, pay their taxes and generally behave as productive and involved members of the community believe the ritual should be ended.

That they don’t embrace the spiritual and moral imperatives of the Bible is no reflection on their characters, that they find its invocations imposed on a publicly supported gathering to be an unwarranted intrusion of the Church in the affairs of the community is no unreasonable point of view.  That some feel excluded because their belief systems fall outside the parameters of the Holy Bible is a fact.  That some bear malice to any organized creed is an altogether separate reality, but one that exists and should be recognized.

Our community also contains many individuals who have accepted the spiritual elements of the Bible but understand that within the New Testament there is an ongoing theme that two kingdoms co-exist, one a kingdom of mankind, the other the kingdom of God. As they see it, prayers have their places, government deliberations not being among them.   And then, of course, there is a sizable flock who believe that elements of worship should be an essential aspect of human affairs, including those as mundane as City Council meetings.

I guess it’s a reflection of our culture’s evolution that the act of public prayer, with its function of fellowship and commonality, has gone the other way and turned into a divisive institution.  I’ve looked around and sought out methods of resolving this multi-dimensional dilemma and found a few, some of them doozies.

One township allows prayers to God, but won’t let them include specific references to individuals or deities inside this divine umbrella.  They can’t say Jesus, Mohammed, Vishnu, whatever.  Another requires a  disclaimer from an official in attendance disavowing the prayer as not endorsed by the community’s governing bodies. There are others.  The common theme?  A tortured bow to political correctness that probably satisfies few and offends many.

I doubt that there’s a muse or a divine force that can inspire a prayer or oral contemplation of any kind that can reconcile all the differences at play here.  The resolution?  Maybe just a moment of silence would do for now.  I can’t think of any organized lobby or interest group that opposes it, and it certainly has a following among the spiritual.  It’s at the core of the Native-American vision quest, highly prized as a communal moment in every church I’ve ever attended, and passes Constitutional muster, unless there are mandates requiring separation of silence and state that I don’t know about :-).

I hope the Rapid City Council gives it a go, if only on a trial basis.  The existing squabble only stands to get more contentious and distracting.  A little bit of a silent time-out might do everybody some good.

News Flash: SD women can think on weekends

Note:  A post from contributor John Tsitrian

If you want a micro glance at the macro problems that the Republican Party is contending with these days, you need gaze no further than Pierre and a House Bill (1237) that’s currently incubating.  The bill amends a current law requiring women seeking an abortion to wait seventy-two hours between visits to her doctor, a “crisis pregnancy center” and undergoing the procedure itself.

HB 1237 would amend the law in the following way:  “No Saturday, Sunday, federal holiday, or state holiday may be included or counted in the calculation of the seventy-two hour minimum time period between the initial physician consultation and assessment and the time of the scheduled abortion procedure.”

The absurdity built into this bill is the implication that women can’t think on weekends and holidays–the reality, of course, is to add another hurdle along the way for women who seek to terminate their unwanted pregnancies.  The simple political math is that when you add the absurdity to the problem, your sum is all about the reason that the GOP has lost a substantial share of the female vote.

Last November, Barack Obama captured an astounding 67% of the unmarried female vote—and those numbers were enough to explain the popular vote margin.  “Unmarried women were the drivers of the president’s victory,” said Page Gardner, the president of  Women’s Voices Women’s Vote Action Fund.  And to what political forces did so many of those younger unmarried women respond?   Utterances during the campaign that seemed to be adopting extreme and retrograde positions birth control and abortion—which the Democrats were quick to exploit, successfully, as a Republican “war on women.”

Unhappily for the GOP, bills like South Dakota’s HB 1237 are easily lifted from news wires and disseminated by national media and used as yet another example of Republican antipathy to women.  I know that many well-educated, young, single professional women are uniformly rolling their eyes at the news of this pending legislation, and it only reinforces a built-in disgust with what they perceive to be condescending and demeaning Republican attitudes toward women.  Given that the GOP’s roots go down to the bedrock principles of self-reliance and freedom from government intrusion into our personal lives, bills like HB 1237 are a rejection of what Republicanism is all about.

This has to change or I fear that the GOP will suffer a long succession of losses in national elections, giving us the specter of quasi-socialists like Barack Obama for many years to come.  I’m John Tsitrian, I’m chairman of Common Sense Republicans PAC, and I’m determined to bring my Party back to its roots as a truly conservative organization that trusts individuals to make their own decisions about their bodies and their private lives.


State insurance exchanges?

Interesting.  Here’s a poll question asked in December of registered voters in South Dakota (exact wording):

“The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obama Care, gives states the option of setting up a state-run insurance exchange where people who have trouble finding private health insurance can shop for health insurance.  The law also says that if a state does not set up such exchanges, then the federal government will step in and do it.  Do you think South Dakota should go ahead and set up an insurance exchange, or do you think we should let the federal government do it?”

71% said the state should do it, while 23% said they wanted the feds to do it for us.

Support for having the state set up the insurance exchange (which so far Governor Daugaard has opposed), runs 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 in favor across all age groups and income groups.  Republicans favor state exchanges 77-17, which is 20 points better than Democrats, one in four of whom would rather have the feds do it.

Tea Party supporters favor state-run exchanges over the feds doing it, 68-24.

The hidden tax most people pay

There’s a misconception that needs correction.  The notion seems to be that if we deny Medicaid coverage to the working poor, it will somehow save money.

Well, true, it might save taxes — but you and I, my fellow South Dakotans — are going to pay one way or another.  Every person who is right now paying for health insurance, or who pays hospital or doctor bills, is paying for health care that is received by fellow South Dakotans who do NOT have health insurance.

You are paying those costs via higher insurance rates and higher hospital and medical fees, because when those folks finally show up in the Emergency Room, they cannot be turned away.  A problem that might have cost $100 in a doctor’s office visit costs many times more when  it turns into an emergency room visit.

There are 48,000 South Dakotans in this category and the hidden tax (paid via higher insurance rates and provider fees) is $9 million per year FROM HOSPITALS ALONE.  Add in clinics, labs, nursing homes, mental health centers, etc. and the hidden tax gets even larger.

SD Leg could be doing better

My attention was recently called to a poll done by the Dakota Poll (www.dakotapoll.com) that looked at the public’s feelings about the South Dakota legislature.

It’s easily summarized: we could be doing better, especially on funding K-12 education, where the Legislature gets a 68% negative rating and only a 31% positive rating.   South Dakota voters also gave the Legislature a failing grade on helping SD get more high wage jobs, with 70% rating the peeps in Pierre negatively compared to a 28% positive rating.

The Legislature also gets a failing grade for making sure our education system is creating workers who are qualified to compete for high wage jobs, 60% negative to 39% positive.

Just for the record, no, I am not one of the sponsors of the Dakota Poll, though I am friends with some of those folks.   They do full disclosure on their website and also publish every question word for word.  They also publish every number the questions produce, including hundreds of pages of cross tabular data, so you can judge for yourself how much stock you want to put into the data.

So often the Legislature gets sucked into emotional hot button issues or stuff that is essentially trivia.  These poll numbers are reporting on the big stuff, folks!  We’ve got to do better on these key issues if we want to make a dramatic improvement in South Dakota’s future prospects.  Your thoughts?

It’s the know-how, stupid.

There is plenty of money available in South Dakota to do good business deals.  There is also some money around that will take a reasonable risk.  Where people come to think otherwise, it’s usually because there are also a lot of would-be entrepreneurs out there with bad ideas, no business skill, or both.   For them, financing will be hard to find—and should be.

Because the know-how is the hardest ingredient to come by, after many decades of running a business and helping countless others start a business, I came to the realization that the single best economic development policy we can have is a great school system, a great post-secondary system, and a great higher education system.

If money is tight in Pierre and we have to choose, we should choose to fund our schools.  That is where the know-how is created, but there’s another reason as powerful.  A community without good schools has zero chance of attracting a promising business to locate there and has limited chances of keeping the best and brightest of its offspring to keep things going into the next generation.

Visit two similar small towns in South Dakota, one failing and one thriving, and time after time you will see that the difference is that the thriving community had strong leadership and the other did not.

As always, this year the Legislature is presented with a number of proposals to fund economic development, including one proposal that appears to make good on a promise the Governor made to a private company, a promise made prematurely.

That one amounts to something between $5 and $7 million, and I’m going to be using my seat on the Appropriations Committee to try to get every nickel of it redirected to state aid to education.  There are a few other instances also traveling under the holy label of “economic development” where we’d be better off spending on the education of our children.

You’ve seen in my past few posts why I believe that know-how is the most important piece of the economic development puzzle and why I think that when in doubt, money for growing our economy should be spent educating our kids.   What’d I’d like right now is to hear your thoughts on that. Please share them.