South Dakota lawmakers look to form alliance with Noem as session begins


Workforce needs, the budget and tax cuts will be on the minds of South Dakota lawmakers when the Legislature convenes Tuesday for a two-month session.

republican Governor Kristi Noem Will address the GOP-controlled Legislature on the opening day of the session. Last month, he Presented his vision for the budget The Legislature has passed, and now it is up to lawmakers to craft a plan for the next fiscal year, along with other measures.

Republican House Majority Leader Will Mortenson South Dakota's shorter session – 38 days spread over about two months – "helps keep us focused on only the most important topics."

"I often tell my caucus that we only have two things to do, pass a budget and get things out there," Mortensen said.

Republican majority leaders largely support Noem's agenda, partly due to South Dakota's strong fiscal position. In the first five months of the fiscal year, from July to November, state revenues exceeded the Legislature's 2023 forecast by 11%, or $115 million, according to the State Bureau of Finance and Management. Compare.

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Republican priorities are new prison construction, college affordability, workforce needs, and the sustainability of long-term care in rural communities. They expect to make do with less money after years of COVID-19 pandemic-era federal aid.

Democrats are focusing on child care needs, pre-K education and teacher pay.

Noem has pushed for a tight budget amid rising inflation and has proposed a plan of about $7.3 billion for fiscal year 2025. He has called for a 4% raise for the state's "big three" priorities K-12 education, health care providers and state employees.

Budget writers will review the 4% proposal in the context of the entire budget, Mortensen said.

"I'm encouraged that the governor focused the vast majority of our ongoing dollars on key priorities," he said.

Noem has also proposed making the temporary sales tax cut permanent. A four-year reduction was approved in 2023.

Republican state Rep. Chris Carr has filed a bill to change that, citing years of state revenue surpluses.

“Government collects taxes to provide certain services. When those services are provided, any extra dollars should go back to the people because it belongs to them,'' Carr said. Sales tax is South Dakota's main driver of state revenue.

Mortensen predicted that House Republicans would unite for a permanent sales tax cut.

senate majority leader casey crabtree That said, Senate Republicans will likely consider other potential tax cuts, including property taxes.

"I think the conversation is about what we cut and how much we cut going forward," he said.

The workforce needs are great, Mortensen said. More than 20,000 jobs are advertised online in South Dakota and the unemployment rate was 2% as of November 2023, according to the state Department of Labor and Regulation.

Mortensen sees the ability for college to keep youth in South Dakota and attract others from outside the state as "absolutely critical to the future of our state."

Senate Minority Leader Reynold Nessiba said Democrats, who hold 11 of the 105 seats, are working on bills that "really directly help working-class people."

He listed proposals to extend the period for people to file workers' compensation claims if they are injured on the job and to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, as voters did. in neighboring nebraska In 2022.

LGBTQ and voting rights advocates expressed concerns about the lawmaker's potential actions.

Samantha Chapman, advocacy manager for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, called the recent legislation restricting gender identity "an abuse of the way our government works, constantly passing bills that disenfranchise a small portion of our population." are causing harm." rights."

Crabtree said that when those issues are discussed, "you'll find that common sense prevails."

Rick Weiland, co-founder of Dakotans for Health, said he was trying to raise the bar for ballot initiatives potentially being passed by the legislature, citing the defeat. 2022 solution It called for requiring 60% of voters to support certain spending or tax measures for the initiative to pass.

Republican state Representative John Hansen, who sponsored the measure, said in the 2021 floor session that some funding issues deserve more support than a simple majority vote.

"I think every time they try to tamper with the will of the voters and tamper with direct democracy, they get themselves into trouble," Weiland said.

He is leading efforts to put two measures on the 2024 ballot: One granting abortion rights in the state constitution, and second to repeal the state grocery tax.

Noem is in her second term as governor. Once seen as a potential 2024 presidential candidate, he has accepted former President Donald Trump's re-election bid, Supported him in a rally last year,

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