South Dakota has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, which is a blessing and a curse, and the reason Governor Dennis Daugaard spent much of his State of the State Address Tuesday focusing on work force development.
Daugaard provided updates on several South Dakota programs during his speech but he talked the most about training skilled workers.
“South Dakota works because South Dakota’s people know how to work,” Daugaard said.
Daugaard outlined efforts to train qualified workers in high-need fields like welding and information technology. Part of his proposal is to pour $6.5 million into career and technical education in the form of grants and scholarships.
“These programs give students experiences so they understand these aren’t ‘dirty jobs’ but opportunities to work with the latest technology,” Daugaard said.
Democrats agree work force development is the biggest issue facing the state but they also say schools haven’t had enough money to fund these programs recently because of the cuts made in 2011. House Minority Leader Representative Bernie Hunhoff is supporting a 3.8 percent increase in state funding for school districts this year to get schools back to those funding levels.
“We need to restore that funding because K-12 schools are clearly our best economic development tool. We need to get them funded properly so they can provide those type of programs,” Hunhoff said.
Hunhoff says expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act is also a work force development tool. It's something Daugaard has decided not to pursue because of the shaky roll out of the health care law.
“It’s a critical component of work force development. We’re going to have folks who can’t afford insurance here in South Dakota but are in the workforce who will probably leave the state to a state that they can get health care insurance; that’s a critical part," Hunhoff said.
And over the next 37 days, Democrats and Republicans will work on this issue and several others as South Dakota’s 2014 legislative session begins.
“What’s the state of our state today?” Daugaard asked. “The state of South Dakota is strong and I know the best is yet to come. Let’s all work hard this year.”
Economic Development Office Investigation
Daugaard also talked about the audits he ordered after it was revealed this fall that there was financial misconduct in the state economic development office prior to his administration. He says those audits will likely be done by the end of the month and the information will be shared with lawmakers and the public.
“This is a serious matter and it deserves serious attention from state officials,” Daugaard said.