State Activities

Over the past 10 years, I have worked tirelessly on a broad range of issues. Due to my business experience and background - I spend a lot of time working with the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and the South Dakota Retailer Association on issues facing businesses in South Dakota. We have made a lot of positive changes over the years; whether it's a sales tax issue or a state unemployment tax issue, we work together to figure out the problem and get the issue fixed.

The largest item I work on every year is the State's Budget. I currently Chair the Senate's Appropriations Committee, and we see a lot of action when it comes to spending reductions, reductions of government growth, government expansions or program additions. Most major issues we work with on a daily basis are trying to keep the efficient programs running well and fix the glitches or find efficiencies. We try not to expand programs unless the demand for such program have been sufficiently demonstrated over periods of years. South Dakota is a relatively convervative state and rarely will you see us take a major risk with the taxpayer's money. Therefore, we take our time to deliverate and make sure all the risks have been identified, qualified and then quantified before jumping in with both feet.

Budget year in FY2015:

This past year, the Legislature took a conservative approach to the budget and worked diligently to continue improving the State of South Dakota. Although the revenue projections were low, the Legislature passed a balanced budget that provided an increase to K-12 teacher pay and healthcare providers. We also worked to improve South Dakota's agricultural industry by allocating money to improve the railroad line from Chamberlain to Reliance. Postsecondary education saw a boost with a tuition freeze for in-state students and an increase in funding for high school students enrolled in dual credit college courses.

Budget year in FY2014:

In FY 2014, the Legislature again balanced the state's budget, provdied an increase to all levels of education, and focused on taking care of its citizens. Despite the recession, the Legislature designated funds to stimulate the economy by passing the Fuilding South Dakota legislation. Additionally, we were able to change the state's criminal justice system to focus on reform for those who need it instead of incarceration, which will save the state money in the long run.

Budget year in FY2013:

Because of the tough decisions made in FY2012 and a slight up-tick in the revenues; the Legislature was able to restore some of the cuts to the programs which had proven their efficiency and effectiveness. This year the Legislature was able to add money back to education and provide bonuses to state employees (who hadn't received a pay raise in over 4 years); in addition we were able to garner additional resources for Contracted Medicaid Providers and get them money for bonuses for their employees as well.

Tough Budget year in FY2012:

The State of South Dakota was facing major structural deficits due to the down turn in the economy. The sales tax revenues had slowed dramatically we were faced with a large hole in the budget. Most states don't have reserves so the solution was to raise taxes. South Dakota made the decision to not utilize reserves (one time money) to solve a systemic on-going spending problem nor did South Dakota raise taxes. South Dakota buckled down and made the tough cuts to balance the budget.

The Legislature together with the Governor put together a balanced budget without taking money from reserves or raising taxes. South Dakota watched other states surrounding our borders face the real prospect of default because of the massive amounts of debts and unfunded pension liabilities.

Surrounding states have promised their citizens something for nothing and created a society where everyone wants to be carried and no one wants to pull their own weight. I am proud to be a South Dakotan because we are not like that! South Dakota's values work. South Dakota's system works. We don't spend money we don't have. We save during the years where we have a little extra money in order to provide during the years where we don't have as much money. South Dakota does this in order for the taxpayers to keep more of their hard earned money.

Hartford Parade


Major Budget Areas of Focus:
When you look at the major funding expenditures for the State of South Dakota; approximately 70% of the State's budget goes to Social Services (Medicaid) and Education.

We have seen un-precedented growth in enrollment and utilization of the Medicaid program over the last several years. Medicaid has an inverse relationship with the economy. As the economy and spending decreases, unemployment increases, the utilization of the Medicaid program increases. The significant expenditure increases began discussions to find a better way to operate and/or deliver services to this population of our State.

The Governor appointed me along with several hundred other folks and tasked us with a goal, "to solicit key stakeholders to provide input and develop strategies to contain and control Medicaid costs. The work group met several times over several years, evaluated data, heard presentations on numerous best practices in South Dakota and nationally, and developed recommendations to help contain costs. We could not come to a consensus on all of the recommendations, the group did achieve common ground on many significant issues.

Developing new approaches to contain the escalating state Medicaid costs presents a difficult challenge for a state like South Dakota that already employs a very conservative eligibility policy and spends less per enrollee than other contiguous states. Compounding these issues, federal law limits the ability of states to cut eligibility and benefits. South Dakota also faces unique challenges as a rural state. Although there is no "silver bullet" solution, many promising initiatives, taken collectively, can serve to address this pressing issue.

The work group continues to focus on programs to address the key cost drivers for the Medicaid program. These include: high-need patients with chronic conditions, pregnant women and children, individuals that over-utilize the emergency department, avoidable hospital re-admissions, over-reliance on institutional care, and managing pharmacy costs.

The recommendations endorsed by the work group constitute a strong commitment to addressing the growing health care costs in the South Dakota Medicaid program. Although there is much work to be done, the task force it confident that, by working together, South Dakota can successfully "bend the cost curve" and continue to provide quality services to the State's Medicaid consumers.


Technical Institutes:

Deb donating her time
I have worked with the 4 Technical Schools encouraging change in both governance and funding mechanisms. This will ensure South Dakota has the tools necessary to develop the quality workforce that will bring economic growth and prosperity to South Dakota. This past legislative session, the legislature instituted a scholarship program for Technical School Students geared towards high needs areas such as welders.

Public Safety:
Public Safety is an issue that is one of the corner stones of government. "To Protect the Public." I worked with a team of folks from the Department of Public Safety, Department of Revenue, South Dakota Retailers, South Dakota Sheriff's Association, Municipalities and Counties to completely overhaul the State's 911 system. This overhaul will provide greater efficiency in the system, dramatically improve critical tools for the first responders and ultimately provide better service to the taxpayers of South Dakota.