The Republican Legislature spent the penultimate day of the 2022 Session kicking sand in Governor Kristi Noem’s fiscal face.
In a profound reversal, the recalcitrant House got the more acquiescent Senate to back away from its earlier support of the Governor’s budget spending power and endorse House Bill 1281, a surprise hoghouse proposal that popped out of conference committee Wednesday and became a great point of contention Thursday. Representatives Chris Karr, Linda Duba, and Randy Gross and Senators Reynold Nesiba, Jean Hunhoff, and Brayn Breitling met Wednesday* to resolve the dollar figure on a proposal to support a NASA grant to involve Sinte Gleska University in a project to develop affordable housing for Indians and Martians. But since that proposal’s Senate twin, Senate Bill 161, was alive and passing without controversy, the conference committee stripped HB 1281 of its Mars-hut research and wrote in a completely new and unrelated plan to require the Governor to get approval from the Joint Appropriations Committee to spend federal coronavirus relief dollars, American Rescue Plan Act funding, or Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act money on new programs and policy changes not specifically authorized in the budget or special appropriations.
The Legislature and the Governor have tussled over this question of Executive Branch authority to spend federal dollars throughout the pandemic. In 2020 and 2021, the Legislature groused a little but mostly surrendered to the Governor’s power to do what she wanted with federal relief dollars. Governor Noem steamrolled House opposition to this principle just last month when she wrote $32 million in checks to daycares. But this week the House got the Senate to stand up to the Governor by using the HB 1281 hoghouse as a budget bargaining chip: Rep. Chris Karr said that if the Senate didn’t pass this restriction on the Governor’s spending authority, his chamber would blow up the entire budget deal.
Governor Noem was not happy. She issued this YouTube video with absolutely zero star power for her out-of-state fans: no horseys, no music, no critical race theory or branding of transgender kids as enemies of the state, just wonky talk about South Dakota budget processes:
She threw in her completely unrelated gripe about Joint Appropriations’ approval of $1.5 million to the Attorney General’s office to pay for more cops and pay cops more. (Maybe she thought mingling killer Jason Ravnsborg’s name with her wonky budget wail would boost her Google juice.) Her A.G. appropriations complaint also appears at the bottom of the “kill points” that she had her lobbyists circulating among legislators. In addition to relying on her regular staff lobbyists, Joe Sneve reports that Noem called a bunch of private lobbyists into her office to rally them to lobby on her behalf against HB 1281’s shackling of her slush-fund hands.
But all the Queen’s lobbyists and all the Queen’s socks couldn’t put legislators back in the Queen’s box. Senate King Lee Schoenbeck declared that this one-year restriction on executive spending authority “does no damage to the republic” and was “the only realistic opportunity on the table” to get the House to agree to the overall budget. Schonebeck’s
court Senate approved HB 1281 32–2. The House that wanted this compromise gave it a weaker aye, voting 52–16 in favor, but both margins surpassed the two-thirds necessary to enact HB 1281 immediately with its emergency clause and to withstand a veto from the Governor.
The Legislature then passed House Bill 1340, the general budget for Fiscal Year 2023, with $5.776 billion in spending, 39.2% of which comes from Uncle Sam. That’s 1.2% more—$70 million more—than the Governor asked for, but it comes now with far more HB 1281 strings attached than she wanted.
*Evidently there were some drafting errors in Wednesday’s version of the HB 1281 hoghouse. The House and Senate convened a second conference committee Thursday morning consisting of Representatives Jamie Smith, Kent Peterson, and Spencer Gosch and Senators Reynold Nesiba, Jean Hunhoff, and Bryan Breitling to produce the final version of this harsh rebuke to executive free-spending authority.