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The Vanilla Budget

Dec 10, 2014

Imagine you are Governor. You won your first term with over 60 percent of the vote. Now you've just won a second term with over 70 percent of the vote. You aren't running or fundraising again. You just want to govern. You have four years, goo-gobs of political capital, and pliant supermajorities in both houses of your Legislature. What do you do?

You seize the moment and govern big, right? You pitch a big vision, tackle big challenges, and propose big reforms that maybe only one governor in a generation gets a chance to pursue.

When Bill Janklow won his second term in 1982 by over 70 percent, he proceeded to turn USD-Springfield into a prison, turn Dakota State into a computer school, and turn South Dakota into home base for Citibank. Like them or not, those policies took vision and courage, and they made a big impact on South Dakota.

Following his own enormous re-election triumph, Dennis Daugaard last week proposed a budget that makes me feel like we're running an old folks' home. Don't shake anything up. Don't upset the inmates. Just leave everything pretty much where it is so none of the residents get confused.

Facing a worsening teacher shortage, Gov. Daugaard proposes a middling 2 percent increase in state aid to K-12 schools.

Facing crumbling roads and bridges and the questionable federal commitment to replenishing the Highway Trust Fund, Gov. Daugaard includes in his budget no new transportation funding initiative.

Facing a sluggish state economy, Gov. Daugaard proposes no great changes in his economic development strategy and picks a fight with Chicago over airport posters.

With a historic chance to aim high, Gov. Daugaard shrugs and offers a budget that Republican and Democratic leaders have called “vanilla.”

There's a time for caution, humility, and a caretaker government. And then there's now, when South Dakota faces real problems and needs a governor to use his popular mandate to lead us to bold solutions, like...

Investments now in health, education, and infrastructure would do South Dakota a lot of good for a long time. Investments like that also put great leaders in the history books. But if his budget proposal means anything, Gov. Daugaard isn't terribly interested in history or bold investment. He'll let a historic opportunity slip through his fingers and let South Dakota and its problems drift along unchanged.

Editor's Note: Cory Heidelberger is our political columnist from the left. For a conservative perspective on politics, please look for columns by Dr. Ken Blanchard on this site. 

Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and has taught math, English, speech, and French at high schools East and West River.


07:36 pm - Wed, December 10 2014
SoDak said:
I tend to disagree. The budget might be "vanilla," but with the miserable state the US is in, it is prudent not to overspend and overextend in South Dakota. We want to be able to function here regardless of what happens on federal level. Eliminating tax exemptions and levying additional taxes on gas and vehicles might put the money in the state's coffers but will definitely take a big pinch out of the pockets of average citizens in our state. Do we want to attract people and businesses to our state or chase them away? As for expanding Medicaid and getting onto the ACA bandwagon, it is pretty obvious that the so-called Affordable Care Act is the most unaffordable plan ever proposed in this country. Health care costs are going up by a higher margin under ACA than they have done in the past, and more and more people who signed up for Obamacare sponsored plans are finding out that they are in deep pickle: they can't afford the premiums, but if they don't buy the insurance, the will be penalized. Damned if you do and damned if you don't! Why would we want to put South Dakota citizens into even deeper subjection to the whims of the feds? The way it is now is already too much.
03:42 am - Fri, December 12 2014
Is the U.S. really in a miserable state? We've had steady job and GDP growth since 2010, not as much as we'd like, but a pretty strong reversal from the disaster of the housing bubble and the recession.

Signing up for the Medicaid expansion doesn't subject us to any more federal whims than we are now with our Medicaid buy-in; it just makes more economy-stimulating money available to cover more people who are going without right now. If the ACA is repealed or federal Medicaid money dries up, we can pull right back out. Is there any practical downside to providing health coverage to lower-income working folks who can't afford it right now, or to bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in healthcare spending that would stimulate the state economy?

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