Governor Kristi Noem offered a rather uninspired, status-quo budget speech yesterday. She does propose a 4% increase in funding for schools, state employees, and healthcare providers—a step down from the 7% boost last year and the 6% boost the year before that, but still better than the 3% cap state law toothlessly requires.
But the speech offered no big new creative policy initiatives. Her $6M for a quantum computing center (no location yet; evidently, like quantum particles, we can’t know exactly where the quantum center is) just catches us up with universities around the world in exploring this new technology.
Many of her major new investments—expansion of the Jobs for America Graduates program, expansion of Bright Start personal nursing services for moms and babies, additional investment in water and wastewater projects and dam repairs—depend on federal funds. 44.1% of the proposed general appropriations bill comes from federal funds, down from the 47.1% Uncle Sam is providing South Dakota’s budget this fiscal year but still much higher than the 33.2% federal subsidy that South Dakota relied on in FY2019, the last pre-Noem budget. For all of her professed conservativism (she used the word conservative six times and conservatively twice in yesterday’s speech), Noem continues to rely on the federal government to provide over two out of every five dollars that South Dakota needs to keep its lights on.
On taxes, Noem has completely abandoned the repeal of the food tax that she promised toward the end of her 2022 campaign but then failed to push through the 2023 Legislature. Instead, she has fully capitulated to the Legislature’s preference for the general reduction of sales tax from 4.5% to 4.2% and asks the Legislature to extend that tax cut past June 30, 2027.
Democratic leaders note that Governor Noem could have included one simple policy initiative to reduce the cost of eating in South Dakota and boost education: funding school meals for all kids!
Like the Governor, Democratic legislators share a commitment to make our kids and grandkids a policy priority. However, unlike the Governor, we believe this should include free breakfast and lunches for our public school students, assistance for childcare, and accepting the federal government’s offer of a summer EBT program for families. Hungry children struggle to learn. We’re a rich state and can meet this need if it is a policy priority [Senator Reynold Nesiba (D-15/Sioux Falls) and Representative Oren Lesmeister (D-28A/Parade), press release from South Dakota Democratic Party, 2023.12.05].
State-funded school meals doesn’t even take a lot of creativity; as usual, we can find examples of humane policy innovation right across the border in Minnesota. But even that simple reform requires too much effort and humanity from this administration.
Perhaps Noem is simply avoiding setting herself up for failure. The Governor has consistently failed to translate her popularity and electoral mandate into an ability to drive policies through a Republican super-majority Legislature that should yield to her governance like butter to a hot knife. This mild budget address suggests Noem prefers to avoid embarrassment this year and let the Legislature drive the budget.