PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Some legislators want the state attorney general to stop grants Governor Kristi Noem is awarding to upgrade broadband service in parts of rural South Dakota.
The 15 lawmakers are Republicans, as are Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg and the governor.
They are asking Ravnsborg to issue an official opinion whether the governor needs a special appropriations bill for the $5 million.
Noem pursued the funding through an amendment to the current year’s appropriations bill that lawmakers passed.
A special appropriation requires a two-thirds majority in each chamber of the Legislature. A general appropriation requires the lower threshold of a majority in each chamber.
That’s a difference of 11 ayes in the 70-member House and six ayes in the 35-seat Senate.
The governor announced the broadband grant recipients last month. The applications went to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development led by Commissioner Steve Westra, a former legislator.
The 26-section supplemental appropriations bill made a variety of changes for many state programs.
One instructed the state treasurer to transfer $5 million from the state general fund to the rural broadband fund for the purpose of expanding rural broadband.
The bill’s final sentence said the law takes effect June 28. The new fiscal year starts July 1. That suggests Ravnsborg has less than one month to reach a conclusion.
His opinion wouldn’t have the force of law. A civil suit could still be filed in court.
The Legislature approved the legislation, SB 180. The Senate voted 26-3 for it. One of the senators requesting Ravnsborg’s opinion is Lance Russell of Hot Springs, who voted against it. Another is Phil Jensen of Rapid City, who was excused.
Thirteen House members also put their names on the letter to Ravnsborg. The House vote was 58-1 for the bill’s passage. The lone nay came from Rep. Tony Randolph of Rapid City, one of the group that now wants Ravnsborg’s opinion.
House members on the letter who were excused from the vote are Taffy Howard of Rapid City, Julie Frye-Mueller of Rapid City, Steve Livermont of Martin and Sam Marty of Prairie City,
Others House members whose names are on the letter had voted for the bill.
They are Thomas Brunner of Nisland, Drew Dennert of Aberdeen, Chris Johnson of Rapid City, Isaac Latterell of Tea, Tina Mulally of Rapid City, Carl Perry of Aberdeen, Tom Pischke of Dell Rapids and Kaleb Weis of Aberdeen.
The group’s letter said:
“We contend that this budget transfer is a violation of Article XII, Section 2 of our state constitution based on the fact that this is not an ordinary or current expense of state government.
“South Dakota has never appropriated funds prior to this for rural broadband and as such, we consider this to be an extraordinary expenditure for the state of South Dakota. Prior to this time, all expenditures regarding this have been entirely from the private sector.
“We are requesting that you address the constitutionality of this budget transfer and stop the disbursement of funds until this matter can be properly addressed in the 2020 legislative session via a special appropriation bill if that is still the intention of the interested parties,” the letter concluded.