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2012 Legislative Wish List

December 30, 2011, 9:55 PM by Perry Groten

2012 Legislative Wish List
SIOUX FALLS, SD - While many people are drawing up resolutions for the New Year, South Dakota lawmakers are coming up with a list of their own. Members of both parties are offering-up priorities they want to see passed in the upcoming 2012 session, which is less than two weeks away.

South Dakota lawmakers will leave for Pierre in just a few days feeling much more upbeat than last session. That's because instead of staring down a severe budget shortfall, this time around, lawmakers are looking at boosting funding for several programs.

"A sigh of relief. I think a sigh of relief that we've had a good year, a sense of excitement that we may have some possible positive things moving forward," Senate Majority Whip Shantel Krebs said.

Democrats expect the 2012 session to be a "rebuilding" year for the state.

"Hopefully, we can assess where we're at now and figure out how to catch up and dig ourselves out of this hole," House Minority Leader Bernie Hunhoff said.

Rising tax revenues will give lawmakers more funding flexibility in 2012, especially for education spending. Republicans say Governor Dennis Daugaard's proposal for a 2.3 percent increase for school districts is a good starting point.

"I think there's a general, positive feeling out there that we owe education especially what he proposed. Not only that, above and beyond," Krebs said.

But Democrats say the Republican-controlled legislature cut education funding too close to the bone last year and that it will take more than one session for schools to get their fair share.

"If the state doesn't fund education properly, one of two things happen: either the schools suffer or the property taxpayers pick it up. A little bit of both has been happening," Hunhoff said.

Both parties agree that economic development should be a priority for 2012, especially in training workers for high-tech jobs.

"We do need to focus on some areas such as industries that need workers.  We need to work on our engineer environment.  We need to work on the nursing environment, environmental sciences environment," Krebs said.

"We're practicing what I would consider 1950's job creation. We're just trying to recruit big companies to locate a factory here by grants and loans. And I guess there may have been a time when that worked, but I don't think any economic development expert today says that's the way to go," Hunhoff said.

Signs of a strengthening economy add to the high hopes this session now that Democrats and Republicans alike can replace the budget axes that divided lawmakers a year ago with a spirit of cooperation between parties in 2012.

Lawmakers also hope to boost the pay of state employees who haven't seen a raise in three years. But Krebs thinks the governor's additional plan for a one-time bonus for state workers that could total $12 million will run into opposition in the legislature.

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