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Noem Pays Normal State Wages with Coronavirus Relief Funds, Manufactures Fake Surplus

The Bureau of Finance and Management warned legislators last summer that the coronavirus pandemic could cause South Dakota to see up to a $40-million budget shortfall:

The South Dakota budget could see revenue shortfalls between $16 million and $40 million during the next year due to the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers were briefed on Wednesday.

While Gov. Kristi Noem announced last week that the state budget that wrapped up June 30 had a $19 million surplus, revenues were bolstered in part from federal relief money for addressing the pandemic. Economic analysts warned that as federal stimulus programs expire, sales tax revenue could decrease in the coming months. The Republican governor has said that a special legislative session may be necessary to adjust the budget [Stephen Groves, “South Dakota Budget Analysts Predict Revenue Shortfalls,” AP, 2020.07.22].

But laissez rouler les bons temps—for the price of just a few hundred lives, we are in for a record-setting surplus:

It’s not unusual for the state to end the year with leftover funds that carry over to the next year’s budget. Between 2013 and 2019, South Dakota averaged an annual surplus about $16.7 million, the highest single-year amount during that time coming in 2013 when the state banked $24.2 million.

This time around, that figure could be between $150 and $200 million, and no less than $70 million, based on revenues projections from the Bureau of Finance and Management.

“It’s huge,” said Sen. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, of the pot of surplus money at the state’s disposal [Joe Sneve, “What to Do with State’s Upcoming, Record-Shattering Surplus? Noem’s Plan Yet Unknown,” that Sioux Falls paper via Aberdeen American News, both paywalled, 2020.12.06].

This amazing surplus comes not from effective state leadership—Governor Kristi Noem spent much of last week campaigning and rodeo-pageanting in Texas—but from the massive socialist federal response to the coronavirus pandemic and our state’s misappropriation of that money to cover our regular budget expenses instead of providing additional pandemic relief to South Dakotans harmed by coronavirus:

“These are one time dollars that are a result of using the coronavirus dollars, that we are allowed” under the terms of the CARES Act, said longtime Yankton legislator and appropriations committee member Jean Hunhoff, who will begin a new tenure in the Senate in 2021 after terming out of the House of Representatives for a second time.

“A majority of those dollars went to salaries” she said [Sneve, 2020.12.06].

Possibly $200 million dollars that should have gone to meeting the increased public health needs of South Dakotans instead gets left on the table as another faked feather in Kristi Noem’s campaign cap.

And stunningly, Sneve reports that the state has spent only $427 million of the $1.25 billion in CARES Act relief dollars. If that number is right, if we add our looming state surplus to our incredibly unspent coronavirus relief (and really, it’s all federal CARES Act money, because we wouldn’t have a surplus if the feds hadn’t sent us that $1.25 billion), then South Dakota is actually sitting on possibly over a billion dollars that could be put toward helping save South Dakotans’ lives and reduce the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

I modify my October proposal to provide put these moldering dollars to good public pandemic use:

  1. Send $200 million to the schools to hire the teachers, tutors, and ed tech specialists they need to offer safe, robust hybrid and online education.
  2. Allocate $200 million to cover the hospital bills of every South Dakotan afflicted with coronavirus. (I double this funding from my earlier proposal because of the exponential growth of cases our state has allowed to happen without serious Executive intervention over the last two months.)
  3. Spend another $100 million to provide more educational technology to support current pandemic adjustments and invest in ongoing online education capacity.
  4. Send $100 million to schools and local governments for personal protective gear and building improvements to protect public health.
  5. Allocate all remaining CARES Act dollars to a workers-stay-home fund: lockdown all non-essential businesses for one month and pay their workers $600 a week to cover their bills until we have crushed community spread of coronavirus.

A surplus (especially a fake stimulus achieved by not using federal emergency assistance to address the targeted emergency) is nothing to cheer about until we do something good with it. And we shouldn’t be cheering until we have followed Melbourne, Australia’s example and eradicated covid-19. Let’s put our remaining CARES Act dollars to work the way Congress intended.


  1. jerry 2020-12-06 11:37

    Think of the Medicaid dollars the rodeo grim reaper saved with the nursing home deaths. More corruption possibilities. republican politics is all about bait and switch.

  2. bearcreekbat 2020-12-06 11:50

    South Dakota has an unfortunate history of refusing to spend money earmarked to help people in need in South Dakota. In 1980 Governor Janklow refused to use about $500,000 earmarked for the South Dakota’s poor population to help them with winter heat. According to Janklow, the State’s poor didn’t need the help, and the State had decided to permit the reversion of these funds to the federal government.

    With the help of Black Hills Legal Sevices, a public interest law firm serving poor people, plaintiff Julie Grueschow, sued the State. She obtained a federal injunction preventing the reversion of the funds, along with orders to provide adequate notice of the funds availability to the targeted poor population, as the Janklow Administration had not provided notice to the State’s poor of the availability of the help. That case was Grueschow v. Harris, 492 F. Supp. 419 (D.S.D.), aff’d 633 F.2d 1264 (8th Cir. 1980).

    Incidently, the Republican Congress during the Clinton presidency managed to prohibit federally funded legal aid programs like BHLS from challenging illegal Federal and State governmental action, such as the energy assistance lawsuit. BHLS was merged into Dakota Plains Legal Services, Inc, a few years ago and these days DPLS provides legal help to the poor in a variety of matters, I think excluding anything to do with challenging unconstitutional or otherwise illegal conduct, such as violating of statutes or regulations, by the government.

    In any event, Noem’s current misuse of earmarked federal dollars is not an original idea in this State. Unfortunately there a few, if any, accessible resources still around for legal help in challenging these decisions in court.

  3. jerry 2020-12-06 13:20

    bcb, Do you know why the US Government hates Venezuela? Because they helped the Native people and the poor with heating oil to save them from the cold. Here is a trail to the past.

    “American Indian journalist Jodi Lee Rave of Lee Enterprise Newspapers was recently lambasted in a letter to the editor to a Rapid City daily for having the temerity to laud the donation of funds for heating fuel for the very poor Indian nations of the Northern Plains.

    The criticism was initiated by the fact that the donor was the Citgo Petroleum Corp. based in Houston and headed by the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, the man reviled by many Americans for referring to President Bush on the floor of the United Nations as the “devil.””

    Yes, republicans hate our Native people and almost equally, our poor and disabled, toss in the veterans as well. The only thing they deem appropriate is the middle finger. She is a plague that sucks the oxygen and the blood from good folks.

  4. Mark Anderson 2020-12-06 15:53

    The time of the con president is ending. Kristi will practice it until her run for president happens. You really can’t predict how the alternate universe pubs will go along with her but it sure will be fun to see reality stretched that far. They like it better than drugs, the Qs are more fun than they were on Star Trek.

  5. Buckobear 2020-12-06 18:52

    Kristi’s end of her run for preznit (gag!) needs to end in two years with her non-reelection as gubner.
    We can do soooo much better in our state-wide and national choices. Perhaps the prayed for Covid vaccine will also include a dose of sanity (assuming that our gubner and ledge allow it to be administered here).

  6. John Dale 2020-12-06 22:57

    “crushed community spread of coronavirus”

    Coronavirus is the common cold. We have to crush the common cold before the lockdown ends?

    What happened to COVID-19?

    I’ve been watching for this pivot. I saw it in MN recently, also.

  7. jerry 2020-12-06 23:26

    The pivot of your dreams, “Zimmatic 300′ Towable Center Pivot Irrigation System” This is a keeper, and in Minnesota. Lucky you.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-12-07 06:09

    John, the common cold does not kill 1,000 South Dakotans in less than one year. Please stop spreading falsehoods about the most serious public health emergency this state has faced on our lifetimes.

  9. Jenny 2020-12-07 09:25

    Where are you getting your medical information, John?

  10. mike from iowa 2020-12-07 09:52

    Coronaviruses are similar to common cold. Covid-9 is a mite deadlier.

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