Senator Corey Brown: 2012 session viewed with optimism
“Cautious optimism.” If I could choose two words that I think will define this year’s legislative session, it would be those two.
This past year, there were a number of difficult decisions that were made to tackle the financial challenges the state faced, while trying to ensure that we put South Dakota on solid financial footing for the future. There were sacrifices that had to be made. However, we have seen a number of signs that the effort was largely accomplished.
Standard & Poors upgraded South Dakota’s credit rating because of the solid fiscal decisions that were made. In the long-term, this will allow the state to receive more favorable interest rates, saving millions in bond interest payments.
When the state finished its fiscal year on June 30, we finished in the black. South Dakota closed out FY 2011 $8.3 million in the positive.Although we are just half way through the current fiscal year, the revenue projections are meeting or exceeding expenses. Although these numbers are positive, I do think it is a clear indication that we need to continue to be cautious as we move forward.
On Dec. 6, Gov. Daugaard presented his FY 2013 budget proposal to the legislature and the citizens of the state. I would characterize his proposal as cautiously optimistic – the same term I used at the beginning of this piece. By and large, there are no further cuts that will be made this year because of a lack of revenue. In fact, the stronger than projected revenue numbers will allow for some strategic investments in areas like K-12 funding, Medicaid, and state employee raises. While most of these proposed increases are not extravagant, they are moving in the right direction.
During this session, I will be serving as the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Appropriations. This is the committee that is tasked with overseeing the budget and the Governor’s recommendations. We will spend many hours this next session receiving testimony from the various state agencies and the public at large. As always, I am very interested in receiving feedback from the residents of District 23. In addition I will also be serving as the Assistant Majority Leader in the Senate.
This past summer, the legislature was tasked with re-drawing the district boundaries from which our state representatives and senators are elected. Every 10 years after a census is completed, we must reconfigure the districts to better reflect the population shifts that have occurred. I had the privilege of being on that committee and it was an education. It was fascinating to see just how dramatically the population in South Dakota shifted over the past 10 years.
Our current District 23 is comprised of Campbell, Edmunds, Faulk, Hyde, western McPherson, Potter, and Walworth counties. When the state’s new population was divided by 35 (the number of districts) that meant that each new district would have to have 23,262 people (+/- 5 percent). Unfortunately for District 23, when you looked at our current population we were short by over 20 percent — shorter than any other district in the state.
District 23 was redrawn with relatively minor changes considering the huge population shifts. The new district looks similar to the current one, with a few differences. All of McPherson County will be included. The district loses Hyde County and adds Hand County. And finally, there is a small portion of Spink County around Tulare that is added.
First and foremost, my most important job in Pierre is to make sure the residents of District 23 have a strong voice. The time I spend in Pierre is to represent you. Followed behind that, I want to be cognizant of how legislation affects our state as a whole. Fortunately, I am part of a terrific team. Representatives Hoffman and Cronin have been great to work with and I look forward to that same relationship this next session.
One of my priorities, especially sitting on the Appropriations Committee, is to ensure that we keep the state on firm financial footing. We will have a balanced budget and we will not spend more money than we bring in. I also want to make sure that when we do spend money, we are investing in the right areas for the future of this state.
In terms of specific legislation, there are a few things that I plan to focus on. One is an effort to upgrade our 911 capabilities in South Dakota. Other parts of the country have already begun to transition to “The Next Generation 911” capabilities. While the effort is complex and there are many details, a few of the highlights include the ability to fully utilize the capabilities of today’s ‘smart’ phones. Whether it is GPS location information, or the ability to send pictures and video from the scene of an accident our infrastructure in many parts of South Dakota is not adequate for today’s technology. I am hopeful we can set up a reasonable structure to pay for the change and hopefully reduce future costs, while ensuring the best possible response to those in an emergency.
I also think that there will be continued efforts to make the government more open and transparent. Every taxpayer in this state should have the right to know how and where tax dollars are being expended. I will be a strong advocate for these proposals.
It has been a privilege to serve this district and I am excited to have the opportunity to do that again this year. My family and I wish all of you the best for the New Year!