Governor Dennis Daugaard yesterday during his budget address called for spending $30 million of some unexpected revenues on a newly formed economic development fund called Building South Dakota. This is essentially a pre-payment of BSD's costs to the state, which would have taken years to pay off, including interest. I really think this is a bad idea. For one thing, in this environment of ultra-low interest rates, with long term borrowing still available at very low single-digit rates, I don't think it's a great idea to pay off anything, much less an untested agency that may prove to be of little or no value. That's the businessman inside of me speaking.
Looking at it from my taxpayer's perspective, I think there are more pressing needs for the money and that it should be distributed accordingly. Without going into ancient debates, the Governor's draconian cuts in both education and healthcare, made when he first took office under undeniable budgetary duress, have yet to be made whole, even with the respective 3% increases they're slated for next year. As the spouse of a lifelong public school teacher (now nearing retirement and working as a sub), I see firsthand the shortages of teachers and facilities that could stand some serious improvement. For example, oversized kindergarten classes squeezed into tiny bungalows are just not going to make it when it comes to teaching 5-year olds some important skills. Bussing kids from one end of town to the other because of classroom shortages is a terrible use of funds that should go directly into the classrooms. I urge you, Governor Daugaard, to consider some of these pressing needs before you make a final commitment to coughing up $30 million to Building South Dakota.
On the healthcare front, getting money to healthcare providers in sums that can take them back to the levels prior to Daugaards sweeping cuts doesn't seem like too much to ask in the way of prioritizing it ahead of an economic development fund. At some point I'll take this up in fuller measure as part of a Medicaid expansion post--but for now I can tell you that medical professionals seem solidly in favor of restoring those cuts, per what I hear and see from associations and individuals.
As to the fund itself, why should it get a free pass with full funding upfront when just about every other segment of the state's agencies and dependent institutions has to compete for money at every budget session? Building South Dakota sounds like a good idea, but so did the Governor's Office of Economic Development at one time. The GOED fiasco itself should be fair warning that economic development agencies need careful scrutiny and oversight--and what better way to exercise that sort of control than by making agency directors come forward every year with a score card attached to their request for annual funds? No way can I see handing over a big chunk of cash at the outset and telling those folks to have at it. Make BSD fight for its money like every other agency.
So how about it, Governor Daugaard? As a friend and faithful supporter I'm hoping you'll re-consider on the full funding of BSD decision and put that money into circulation where it'll do some good--among the people of South Dakota.