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Lawmakers Finalize Budget Bill, Vote On Friday

March 10, 2011, 5:53 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Lawmakers Finalize Budget Bill, Vote On Friday
PIERRE, SD - The legislature is getting ready to approve a final budget bill that includes relief for schools and Medicaid providers but keeps most of Governor Dennis Daugaard's 10 percent cuts in place.

It fixes the state's $127 million structural deficit while still sparing school districts and healthcare providers from the deep 10 percent cuts. It’s an accomplishment that took the entire legislative session to achieve.

Officials in the governor's office say the final budget that the legislature put together Thursday is a plan that they can approve.

"On January 19, Governor Daugaard laid out a plan for you and he said, ‘This is a plan, not the plan,’" Director of the Bureau of Finance and Management Jason Dilges said.

It would reduce the cuts to schools to 6.6 percent thanks to unexpected tax revenue. It also will reduce the cut to Medicaid providers to 6 percent and tier the cuts so some nursing homes only see a 1.8 percent cut. It was a crucial piece to getting this deal done.

"In my opinion, it was absolutely critical in getting this whole budget package put together," Republican Sen. Deb Peters of Hartford, who serves on the Joint Appropriations Committee, said.

"I had a conversation with someone the other night and they said, ’I didn't realize I'd be celebrating a cut.’ But we were because it was less than the providers thought they would take," Daugaard's Senior Advisor Deb Bowman said.

Attempts to give schools and health care providers even more money by using reserves or cutting state programs like the Cooperative Extension Service were strongly defeated. Senator Billie Sutton of Burke is one of only three Democrats on the Joint Appropriations Committee and tried to help education and Medicaid by using interest from the state's trust funds, but his plans were also rejected.

"I think we fought a good fight trying to lessen the blow so we can figure out some long-term solutions because bottom line is that we're going to be looking at cuts again next year," Sutton said.

And while everyone may not be happy with the final product, it's a compromise that will balance the state's books without cutting every program by 10 percent.

"I think we have a better plan today and I'd like to thank all you folks as well as members of the executive branch that worked really hard on this proposal to come up with a new plan that may be the plan," Dilges said.

It will likely stay intact because both the House and the Senate are expected to approve the final budget Friday morning.

Click on this link link to a story that has the amendments that passed.. 

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