2018 SD Legislative Sessions – Dan Ahlers Week 9 Update

dan_ahlersGreetings from Pierre. We have completed the final week of session. I will cover the new Precision Ag Center at SDSU as well as provide a breakdown of the additions to this fiscal year and the state budget approved for 2019.

In this final week, the legislature approved a $55 million precision agriculture project at SDSU. SDSU will become the nation’s first university to offer a B.S. degree in Precision Agriculture. Precision Agriculture combines engineering, mathematics, agronomics and environmental analysis to improve traditional agriculture methods. GPS guidance systems in tractors during the 1990’s were the early stage of precision agriculture. An example of today’s precision agriculture combines GPS-based soil sampling, software and variable rate technology to maximize the distribution of fertilizer. Farmers, ranchers, foresters, etc. can use these tools to optimize yields and profits while protecting water, soil, livestock and wildlife.

Each session, we amend the current fiscal year’s budget. Sometimes we make cuts because revenues fall short of projections. Other years, we may have a surplus. During surplus years, we can choose to put the money in reserves or address other unmet state needs. In 2018, we added an additional $5.4 million in one-time money to education. An additional $2 million was approved for the Precision Ag Center at SDSU. We approved money to start the application for the State Veterans Cemetery near Sioux Falls. We also put $4.7 million toward state employee health insurance reserves. The Governor proposed an increase to a group of Medicaid providers to get within 90% of cost in 2019, so the legislature appropriated an additional three months of funding in 2018. We also included an additional $2 million in one-time money to all providers. Finally, we appropriated additional money in 2018 to increase starting wages for correctional officers and employees at the Human Services Center in Yankton. These facilities have experienced high turnover and overtime pay due to non-competitive wages.

For fiscal year 2019, we focused on three main areas: Medicaid providers, state employees and education. For providers, we approved a 1.5% overall inflationary increase. The newspapers reported a 2% increase, but that is not accurate. Our Medicaid providers are classified by a tier system. Providers like Avera and Sanford Hospital will see a .5% increase, while nursing homes will see a 2% increase to their reimbursement. State employees will receive a 1.2% salary policy increase. The legislature prioritized state employee salary policy early in this session. The departments have had a difficult time filling many positions throughout state government. This problem is due to wages not being comparable to the industry median. Finally, education will receive a 1% inflationary increase. This increase will apply to special education, education and technical schools. Newspapers reported that the legislature increased taxes again to give money to teachers. This statement was also inaccurate. The increase given to schools is not required to go to teacher salary. However, those schools that did not make their teacher salary accountability last year will need to use this money for salary in order to make accountability this year. With respect to taxes, the mil levy changes for property tax correspond with the increase in state general fund dollars. These levy adjustments happen each year with changes in state aid.

Thank you for electing me to represent you in Pierre. Your calls and emails during session were valuable in my decision-making process. Please continue to share your input on any issue or concern. Throughout the summer, I will continue to work on constituent issues. Sometimes these issues can be resolved without legislation. Otherwise, I use your input to create legislation for the next session. You may email me at dan.ahlers@sdlegislature.gov.

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