|January '14--Things are fantastic!|
|December '14--Things aren't so great.|
Governor Dennis Daugaard's State of the State address last January was brimming with smugness. Its self-laudatory tone included phrases like: "We succeed and excel;" "Objective outsiders have recognized our state for excellence;" "Best business climate;" "Lowest cost of living in the nation;" "Personal income growth is among the highest in the nation;" "Our strengthening economy;" "We can be proud of our success in many areas;" . . . it goes on. I doubt that the Chamber of Commerce could have written a more enthusiastic puff piece for the State of South Dakota, which Governor Daugaard obligingly delivered with the positive gusto necessary at the beginning of an election year.
Given his smashing victory over the hapless Democratic candidate Susan Wismer, Daugaard's over-the-top summation of our state as a latter day economic utopia didn't really have to go that far overboard. He'd have won going away without all the rhetorical histrionics. And now that the year is closing out, he might've saved himself the awkwardness of explaining that things haven't quite turned out as well as he expected. Among other disappointments, his administration's projections for economic growth included some startling writedowns. Employment growth, non-farm income, housing starts--they were all slashed substantially from expectations.
These were all laid out in a rather glum recitation of his failed suppositions during Daugaard's budget address a couple of days ago. Most tellingly for our state's budget next year, sales tax growth was below forecasts, which means some unexpected belt-tightening is in the works. Daugaard doled out the news without explaining why his unabashed optimism and his administration's subsequent projections weren't confirmed by reality. All this is especially concerning, considering that national growth rates far outpace those in our state that "succeeds and excels." For example, this year's 1.2% job growth rate in SD is less than half that of the United States as a whole. Not real consistent with a state that has the "best business climate" in the country, is it?
Probably the one most bothersome contrast between Daugaard's puff piece last January and an expensively looming reality this December is the one about our road conditions. Last January Daugaard said, "South Dakota's 8,000 miles of paved state highways rank a 4.4 out of 5 for quality and our state bridges rank 91 on a 100-point scale." I don't know what "ranking" Daugaard was using at the time, but now that the subject has come up, I note that Daugaard's self-assuredness doesn't square with reality. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers put out a South Dakota "scorecard" that said 20% of our bridges are "structurally deficient" and that 61% of our roads are in "poor or mediocre" condition. Meantime, we find out a few weeks ago that we're facing a nearly half billion dollar road repair bill in this state. So where's the optimisim about our road conditions now, Governor?
I understand that economic projecting is as much an art as it is a science, but I believe that Governor Daugaard owes us some explanations about this much of a miss, especially as it contrasts so glaringly against national economic growth patterns.