We don’t spend money we do have, either. For the fourth year in a row, South Dakota has posted a budget surplus.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard said Monday that state government finished its 2015 fiscal year on June 30 with a surplus of $21.5 million.
The money came from a combination of state agencies spending $11.5 million less than they were budgeted and state revenues coming in $10 million above forecast.
State law requires the surplus to be put into the state’s budget reserve fund, which now has $126.7 million [Bob Mercer, “SD Puts $21.5M into Budget Reserve Fund,” Aberdeen American News, 2015.07.13].
Governor Daugaard says, ‘When I took office, balancing the budget was my number one priority.” No wonder: his predecessor, now-Senator Mike Rounds, left him with a 127-million-dollar structural deficit. Our budget reserve now equals the amount Daugaard had to cut to clean up Rounds’s fiscal irresponsibility.
Governor Daugaard says the state shouldn’t spend money just because it’s there. But wouldn’t it be nice, instead of our spend-averse Governor socking our tax dollars away in the state mayo jar, we took Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s advice and invested that money in education?
$5 million out of the $21.5 million came from unspent K-12 dollars. Bob Mercer notes that that mere quarter of this year’s surplus could provide pay bonuses for K-12 teachers of $500. Divvy up the entire surplus among our 9,200 teachers, and we could give every teacher a $2,300 “stick around, please!” bonus.
But let’s think bigger. First, consider Governor Daugaard’s surpluses:
- 2012: $37.8 million
- 2013: $24.2 million
- 2014: $9.8 million
- 2015: $21.5 million
- Average surplus: $23.3 million.
We could break the current budget reserve into three teacher pay raises: $30 million this year (yes, right now: tell Treasurer Sattgast to cut “Welcome Back” checks for every K-12 teacher and send them to the school districts to hand out on the first day of in-service), $40 million next year, and $50 million in August 2017. Such bonuses would effectively raise K-12 teacher pay $5,430. We’d reach 45th in the nation, between Arizona and Utah. We’d burn up $120 million of the reserve, but two more years of average Daugaard surpluses would put the reserve at $53 million. With one more average surplus, we could easily spot teachers $60 million in bonuses in at the beginning of the 2018 school year and reach 43rd in the nation. And we wouldn’t be spending money just to spend it: we’d be spending money to tackle the teacher shortage that pretty much everyone but Lana Greeenfield agrees South Dakota must address.
Governor Daugaard would gripe that I’m proposing one-time money for ongoing expenses. But this reserve-surplus diversion alone covers four years of teacher pay increases. That’s a longer-term plan than Daugaard or the Legislature have come up with. And after four years of loading our teachers up with bonuses, we’ll have the chance to see if better pay attracts and keeps more teachers. If it doesn’t, fine: replace all the teachers with room monitors and let the kids watch Khan Academy all day. If it does, then our Governor and legislators will have had four years to see the program work and to build the political will to find ongoing revenue to sustain and increase our investment in $10K raises ($92 million total) to reach 28th in the nation… or $20K raises ($184 million) to beat teacher pay in any neighboring state and put an end to our teacher shortage once and for all.
Governor Daugaard will hoot and holler about how we spent less last year than we took in. Now if he would just invest that money so we could all hoot and holler.