The highlight of Episode 003 is Spencer Dobson’s interview with local art professor Sara Christensen Blair on the importance of the National Endowment for the Arts and the bonkers-ness of the President’s proposal to zero-fund it.
Before that, Spencer and I talk about Senate Bill 54 and campaign finance, fundraising robocalls from the shady “Progressive Priorities PAC” (a reader informs me of another such robocall tonight!), federally subsidized air travel in Aberdeen, Pierre, and Watertown (remember: our Republican Congress critters cheer that socialism more eagerly than I do!)… and classrooms without windows.
Keeping with the spirit of only spending more money on things than can kill us, the Trump budget increases funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semi-autonomous division of the Department of Energy charged with helping us use nuclear materials to keep America safe.
The Trump budget doesn’t mention the boreholes (term must hit too close to home for the President), but it does specify $120 million for the Department of Energy to “restart licensing activities for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and initiate a robust interim storage program.” Nuclear energy writer Rod Adams says the Trump Energy budget is spoiling for a fight rather than promoting comprehensive nuclear policy:
This phrase [on restarting Yucca], describing a spending item that represents just 0.4% of a $28 Billion DOE budget, opens up a new chapter in an argument that is as certain to cause political controversy without hope of resolution as either abortion or immigration.
…There is little or no good news in the draft budget blueprint that provides support advancing nuclear energy development. The nuclear weapons management complex and the clean-up programs seem to fare well, but there is no follow-on for the expired SMR program, ARPA-E is eliminated instead of expanded to cover nuclear, the Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program is eliminated, and there are reductions in basic nuclear research conducted under the auspices of the Office of Science [Rod Adams, “Trump Budget Blueprint for DOE Designed to Revive Yucca Conflict Instead of Advancing Nuclear,” Forbes, 2017.03.18].
I wonder if the Trump Administration has even noticed the $36 million DOE wants to spend on the Borehole project, or the deep distrust with which the project has been received in New Mexico and South Dakota. But hey, if the President can’t be bothered with the details of our main nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, we can’t expect him to understand the details of new nuclear waste disposal technologies.
The Trump budget not only ends programs to study and combat climate change but also fails to provide more resources to fight wildfires. The budget blueprint sticks with the status quo, saying the President’s plan “Budgets responsibly for wildland fire suppression expenses. The Budget would directly provide the full 10-year rolling average of suppression expenditures.”
That’s not out of line with prior budgets, but it doesn’t address a problem that Western lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been trying to solve in recent years: “fire borrowing.”
It’s precisely the use of the 10-year average that has been criticized by Western governors, congressmen and the U.S. Forest Service for causing fire borrowing — meaning that the Forest Service runs out of money in its fire budget and has to take money out of other forest management activities to pay for firefighting. That in turn has meant the agency has been able to devote fewer resources to, among other things, fire prevention.
A 2015 Forest Service report warned that the agency was at a “tipping point,” and the excess costs of fighting recent mega-fires were crippling its ability to manage forests.
“This trend of rising fire suppression costs is predicted to continue as long as the 10-year average serves as the funding model and presents a significant threat to the viability of all other services that support our national forests,” the report concluded [Bryan Clark and Jeff Robinson, “Trump’s Budget Could Impact Eastern Idaho,” Idaho Falls Post Register, 2017.03.16].
There’s a bipartisan solution to wildland fire funding—provide more funding!—but the Trump budget ignores that solution and cuts other funds that could help:
The most popular solution — called a “cap adjustment” — favored by many including Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, is to set aside a bit under $900 million that the Forest Service could access in years where fire costs are especially high, leaving untouched at least some funds meant for forest management. The proposal has sparked several bipartisan bills with a growing list of supporters, and Barack Obama included it in his 2016 proposed budget.
But the cap adjustment isn’t in Trump’s budget outline. And with a 21 percent cut proposed for the Department of Agriculture, of which the Forest Service is a sub-agency, and a 12 percent cut proposed for the Department of the Interior, of which the Bureau of Land Management is a sub-agency, there would be less non-fire budget to borrow from [Clark and Robinson, 2016.03.16].
Senator John Thune has griped and moaned about the quality of federal wildfire efforts. Perhaps it’s time he put his money where his mouth is and propose some practical amendments to the budget to help the Forest Service fight fires and keep South Dakota from burning up.
Eliminates funding for the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, which was originally conceived of as a temporary program nearly 40 years ago to provide subsidized commercial air service to rural airports. EAS flights are not full and have high subsidy costs per passenger. Several EAS-eligible communities are relatively close to major airports, and communities that have EAS could be served by other existing modes of transportation. This proposal would result in a discretionary savings of $175 million from the 2017 annualized CR level [White House FY2018 Budget Blueprint, 2017.03.15, p. 35].
“We do appreciate running government as efficiently as possible, those are our values … (but) I would argue that this program is vital for rural America,” said Laurie Gill, the Republican mayor of Pierre, South Dakota.
…Without the subsidies, airlines would no longer service their communities, local officials said. In Pierre, that means people who live in the state capital would have to drive more than three hours to reach the nearest airport with scheduled flights, Gill said.
Hunting, one of the underpinnings of the local economy, might also suffer, she said. Hunters across the country are drawn to the state during pheasant season [Joan Lowy, “Trump Would End Subsidies for Rural Airline Service,” AP via Aberdeen American News, 2017.03.16].
Hughes County, including Pierre, voted for Trump 63.31% to 29.96%. Codington County, including Watertown, voted for Trump over Clinton 66.54% to 27.20%.
“This is the America First budget,” says White House Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney of the budget blueprint just released by our ill Duce. Yet the Trump budget blueprint shows an obsession with others, with outsiders, and an obliviousness to the general welfare we achieve through good government.
The President introduces the budget saying that his “Government… puts the needs of its own people first.” Yet he defines needs as safety, “because without safety, there can be no prosperity.”
Thus begins a fearful, outward-looking budget that lists these five priorities, in this order:
My Budget Blueprint for 2018:
provides for one of the largest increases in defense spending without increasing the debt;
significantly increases the budget for immigration enforcement at the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security;
includes additional resources for a wall on the southern border with Mexico, immigration judges, expanded detention capacity, U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Border Patrol;
increases funding to address violent crime and reduces opioid abuse; and
puts America first by keeping more of America’s hard-earned tax dollars here at home [Pres. Donald J. Trump, introduction to FY2018 budget blueprint, 2017.03.15].
“There’s a lot of programs that simply cannot justify their existence and that’s where we zeroed in,” Mulvaney said. One of those programs, apparently, is Sesame Street: Mulvaney confirmed that the administration will seek to eliminate the federal government’s involvement with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which directs funds to public radio and TV stations. The CPB receives $445 million annually in federal funding, which Trump wants to drop to nearly zero in the coming years [Russell Berman, “President Trump’s ‘Hard Power’ Budget,” The Atlantic, 2017.03.16].
The President gives the Department of Homeland Security more money to go chase bad guys, but it takes $667 million away from the grants FEMA gives to states and local governments to cope with disasters. In other words, if a problem calls for helmets and guns, Trump is there, but if the disaster just calls for sandbags and shovels or just planning ahead with preventative measures, well, states, you’re on your own.
The Trump budget blueprint uses forms of the word eliminate 61 times. It uses the word help 20 times.
The Trump budget spends more money on hurting others and less money on helping Americans and our neighbors.
The Trump budget builds more fences and security alarms by hocking our furniture and slashes our grocery budget. The Trump budget leaves us sitting on the floor eating Ramen noodles in a better-barricaded house that’s harder to get around in and harder to visit.
This budget blueprint puts fear first, not Americans and not American ideals.
Assuming Donald Trump doesn’t throw us into default, the federal government will provide just about 36 cents of every dollar South Dakota state government spends. Our sales tax, property tax, bank income tax, and other taxes will provide just about 35 cents; our fees collected by state government kick in the remaining 29 cents.
Over seven budgets, Governor Daugaard and the Legislature have made some progress in reducing our dependence on federal funding. Daugaard got 41.65% of his first budget from Uncle Sam, while supplying only 31.84% of the budget from state general funds. Daugaard decreased the federal share and increased the state share to the point that, in his FY2015 and FY2016 budgets, the general fund was larger than federal funding. Federal funding jumped back into the lead in the current budget and holds that lead in FY2018:
each fund as percentage of total state budget
My FY2017 includes the $37.6 million net cut in the current budget imposed by Senate Bill 32. The FY2018 budget actually spends $33.4 million less than that reduced FY2017 figure, a 0.73% cut, thanks to decreases in federal and other dollars outweighing the increase in general fund dollars. Let’s hope that 0.73% decrease gives Senator Nelson and his fellow smaller-government advocates some solace.
* * *
Looking strictly at general funds, we can see that the FY2018 budget is the first time that Governor Daugaard will invest a larger share of the state’s general funds in K-12 education than his predecessor did in his last term:
K-12 State Aid
K-12 as percentage of general fund
Even in the current budget, flush with the Blue Ribbon sales tax boost for teacher pay, South Dakota is spending a smaller percentage of its general fund on K-12 education that it did in the 2011–2012 school year.
Six years ago, Governor Daugaard whacked K-12 education with a 10.92% cut in state aid in his first budget, the FY2012 correction of the Rounds deficit. The overall FY2012 budget slashed federal funding but increased general and other funds. As we can see in the table below, general fund spending rose 0.14% in the FY2012 austerity budget. State aid to K-12 education thus seems to have borne a disproportionate amount of that year’s austerity.
Change in general fund over previous year
Change in K-12 state aid over previous year
annualized rate of increase since FY2011
Since then, Governor Daugaard and the Legislature have helped K-12 make up for that lost ground. They have increased K-12 spending at higher rates than the state general fund increases in four out of six budgets, including the FY2018 budget. All together, the seven Daugaard budgets have increased state aid to K-12 education at an annual rate of 4.86% while increasing total state general fund expenditures at an annual rate of 4.64%.
We should not be surprised: Stace Nelson has voted Nay on 80% of the state budgets presented to him (Aye in 2011, Nay in 2012, 2013, 2014, and now 2017.)
Senator Nelson complained about the budget process at Saturday’s Scotland crackerbarrel:
That was a brand new bill yesterday. Voters didn’t have a chance to look at it. I didn’t have a chance to look through it thoroughly. Any legislator that says they looked through that bill thoroughly in the little bit of time we had might not be telling the whole truth [Sen. Stace Nelson, in “SD State Senator Stace Nelson Unhappy with Budget Process,” WNAX, 2017.03.13].
SD’s $4.5 BILLION annual budget bill at about 2:20PM during the last two hours of session on the last day of session. Printed copies of the proposed new budget bill showed up on desks around 12:40ish, but we were still in and out of session debating bills. Before any legislator had any time to properly read, review, and verify the brand new annual budget bill with the budgetary information of the last 3 months, or the public to even do so, the bill was passed out of both chambers and everyone was gone by 4:37PM…. It was 31 pages long with vague accounting information that has to be cross referenced in order to see where the money is going. Let that sink in [Sen. Stace Nelson, in Todd Epp, “Legislative Procrastination on a $4.55 Billion Budget Is What a Teenager Might Do,” KELO Radio: Token Liberal, 2017.03.12].
Epp notes that rookie Representative Greg Jamison concurs to some extent with Senator Nelson about the relative rush and opacity of the state budget process, especially compared with the lengthier, more open budget process Jamison experienced as a Sioux Falls city councilman.
I understand why Senator Nelson would feel frustrated about the most important bill of the Session popping out of committee on the last day, leaving just enough for pat backs and vote before banging the gavel and running home. I agree in general with Senator Nelson about the need for transparency on every bill. No bill should emerge with amendment from committee a go to a floor vote unless legislators and regular citizens have had at least 24 hours to review the amended text.
I also share Senator Nelson’s frustration in trying to interpret the budget. The appropriations bill presents only the figures for the coming fiscal year. That’s all Senate Bill 178 really should say—a bill is the language to be enacted as law, not an econ/civics textbook. But it would be nice to have some notes attached to the bill allowing legislators and the rest of us to drill into the numbers and view comparisons to past years’ budgets.
However, I must defuse Senator Nelson’s critique with two responses, one technical, one practical.
We should note that the budget bill passed Friday was only technically a new bill. The first budget draft was posted on February 3 as Senate Bill 175. On Friday, March 10, the committee tabled that bill and put up a new budget in Senate Bill 178. However, 72% of the line-item dollar totals and 97% of the full-time job totals remains unchanged from the original draft. Thus, the great majority of line items in the budget presented to the full Senate and House for final votes on Friday had been available for review for 35 days.
The 52 line-item totals that did change cut the original $4.6-billion budget by just 1.1%. The five FTE changes in the new budget cut the original state workforce proposal from 13,862 to 13,858.8, a decrease of 0.02%.
Beyond the relative magnitude (parvitude?) of the changes, we should consider the work that produces the budget now and ask what work Senator Nelson wants the Legislature to do.
If we really want to open the budget for a department-by-department, line-by-line, employee-by-employee debate, we may need to throw out the Legislative Budget Handbook and make everyone an Appropriator. Divide the Session in half: get all the silly bills and resolutions—guns, gays, God, Trumpism—out of the way in the first five weeks, then dedicate the last four weeks to nothing but the budget. Seat each legislator on one of a dozen subcommittees, each assigned two or three department budgets to hash out. Those subcommittees pass their recommendations to Joint Appropriations, which pieces everything together into a complete budget package, which goes to the Senate and House floors for at least one full week—and it will take that long—of tedious dollar-by-dollar debate as legislators throw spreadsheets at each other.
To certain individuals, that may sound like a lot of fun. But would Stace Nelson want to give up four weeks of stroking the South Dakota Gun Owners to work on nothing but numbers?
Just be careful what you wish for, Stace: keep talking about your desire to study the budget more in-depth, and your Pro-Tem pal may stick you on Appropriations next year!
Senate Bill 32 is the annual vehicle for revising the current state budget. The Joint Committee on Appropriations yesterday dug through the couch cushions and found $58.3 million of spare change. SB 32 cuts $53.6 million from the budget, raids $4.7 million from existing funds, and adds $16.0 million to a variety of line items, yielding a net cut in FY2017 spending of $37.6 million. SB 32 also cuts 51 full-time equivalents (22 from the closed STAR Academy, 17 from Department of Social Services) and adds 14 (12 at Northern State!) for a net FTE cut of 37.
Here are some of the major budget changes department by department. Remember, these are figures just for the remaining four months of this fiscal year:
Department of Executive Management loses $482,000.
The Legislature won’t give teachers any more money, but it won’t take any more money from retailers. The House yesterday shot down House Appropriations chief David Anderson’s effort to turn carcass Senate Bill 106 into a last-minute tax hike on retailers. Rep. Anderson proposed reducing the credit retailers get for collecting sales tax. Senate State Affairs was willing to send that idea to the floor for debate, perhaps not as an endorsement of this tax hike, but at least, as Rep. Anderson suggested, as a vehicle for other revenue enhancements and budget-balancers.
The full House was having none of that. SB 106 went down 26–41. That’s one less vote against taking money from retailers than the votes on SB 35 (just minutes before the SB 106 vote) that erase the Schoenbeck Amendment that guarantees a certain amount of sales tax goes to raising teacher pay.