Governor says more money means raises now could be possible for key South Dakota groups

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Kristi Noem 2

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Governor Kristi Noem said in her State of the State speech Tuesday that South Dakota’s economy might be strong enough after all for the Legislature to give pay raises for school teachers, Medicaid services providers and state government employees.

That was a reversal from the budget situation the second-year Republican governor described to lawmakers in December, when she said money was too tight to pay more to any of those groups. State law requires that public schools receive increased aid at the rate of inflation up to three percent.

“Since my budget address, revenues have been slightly better than expected. What this means is that we may have extra flexibility to achieve the things we want to accomplish together,” Noem said Tuesday.

She continued, “My number one priority with additional, on-going money will be to provide increases for K-12 schools, for providers, and for state employees.”

Afterward, Noem told reporters that her administration and lawmakers would continue to receive data during the next two months. Legislators in past years typically have waited until the final days of the session to complete state government’s budget. This year the main run ends March 12.

Noem said her administration has received two additional months of data since the budget speech. The dollars were somewhat better than expected: “Not dramatic, but it has been more positive,” Noem said. She added, “I trust that process to work.”

Noem began her speech Tuesday by telling lawmakers the popcorn on their desks was courtesy of “the First Gentleman” — her husband, Bryon. She also gave out the popcorn before her December budget speech.

Her remarks covered a variety of newsworthy highlights:

On further advancing government transparency, Noem said she’s working with the South Dakota Municipal League and local governments to find ways to get their meeting materials online, similar to what state government agencies does for boards and commissions.

On President Trump’s trade deal with China, she’s traveling to Washington, D.C., to be on hand Wednesday when he signs it. “This new agreement is a win for South Dakota producers,” Noem said.

On protecting South Dakota’s status as the top place in the nation for hunting pheasants, the governor said, “With neighboring states trying to steal away our hunters, I’m calling on all of us to recognize this threat and join me in doing what it takes to improve and expand our habitat.”

On the state Game, Fish and Parks Department’s expansion of the HuntSafe program, which now has 32 schools certified to teach it, up from eight in 2018, Noem said she’d “love” to see every school offer it.

Noem said her administration is working on simplifying South Dakota’s 101 occupational licensing systems and has directed that low-interest business loans be made available for multi-family workforce housing.

On legalizing industrial hemp, Noem said things have changed. She laid out her requirements for the legislation to get her signature. She used her veto to block a legalization bill last year.

The governor asked for funding a new position in the South Dakota Department of Education to coordinate a broader ‘Jobs for America’s Graduates’ program. She said five high schools currently offer it.

Lawmakers chuckled as Noem transitioned into talking about her administration’s controversial “Meth. I’m on it.” advertising campaign against the illegal drug. “We have people’s attention now, and we have a rare opportunity,” Noem said. The first phase of the anti-meth campaign is done and she now wants to increase treatment programs, she said.

Noem said she looks forward to telling senior White House staff Wednesday about challenges facing Native Americans in South Dakota.

The governor recognized two Sturgis police officers for pulling an unconscious man from a burning house and four law-enforcement officers who carried three survivors through snow after the Chamberlain plane crash. Lawmakers gave them a standing ovation. Noem said she’s creating the Governor’s Award for Heroism to honor the six.

In closing the 45-minute speech, she paid tribute to state Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson, who must retire next January, and thanked her family, including her husband.

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