Revenue at center of discussion

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Newspaper editors and publishers hosted Democratic Party leaders at a press conference Thursday as part of Newspaper Day at the Legislature. On hand from the Democratic Party were, from the left, Sen. Billie Sutton, Burke; Sen. Troy Heinert, Mission; Rep. Spencer Hawley, Brookings; and Rep. Julie Bartling, Gregory

By Dana Hess

For the South Dakota Newspaper Association

State revenue, or the lack of it, was at the center of Thursday’s discussion between legislative leaders and newspaper publishers and editors.

The gathering that brought legislative party leaders together with more than 30 newspaper representatives was part of Newspaper Day at the Legislature sponsored by the South Dakota Newspaper Association.

As the state faces a $34 million budget shortfall, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are looking forward to the resolution of a U.S. Supreme Court case that may require online businesses to remit sales taxes to the states.

Senate Majority Leader Blake Curd, R-Sioux Falls, said that no one knows the “magnitude” of the funding that may become available to the state if it wins the Supreme Court case. Curd said the effects of extra funding may not be felt until fiscal year 2020.

“We’re hopeful to see a successful resolution to it,” Curd said of the court case.

A lack of funding has stymied efforts to set up treatment programs to handle people affected by the state’s growing meth epidemic.

Curd said funding will continue to be needed because of “humans’ innate interest in altering their perception of reality.”

He lauded the state’s efforts to choke off the supply of meth, driving up the price and making it tougher to get. He added, however, “Every time we do that, they seem to make it cheaper.”

Curd said the increased revenues from taxation of internet sales may could be used to bolster meth treatment programs.

“With more revenue comes additional possibilities,” Curd said.

More revenue is needed, according to Rep. Kent Peterson, R-Salem, assistant majority leader, because “our judicial system can’t handle what this could lead to.”

Stagnant funding is felt in corrections as well, according to Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, assistant minority leader and chairman of the corrections commission.

Heinert said the state needs more money for prevention, treatment and counseling, all of which are less expensive than incarceration.

“If we are serious, then we need to find the money for it,” Heinert said, noting that existing treatment facilities are located in Rapid City and Sioux Falls. “There’s nothing in rural South Dakota.”

Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton, D-Burke, said there are currently untapped funding sources like the Governor’s Future Fund and the state’s budget reserves.

Rep. Spencer Hawley, D-Brookings, Minority Leader in the House, said he’s bringing a bill that would set up a blue ribbon commission designed to look at revenue in South Dakota. He said the commission would be much like the governor’s task force that looked at teacher salaries.

“We need to have a broad discussion on revenue in South Dakota,” Hawley said. “We do not have enough revenue to run the state at the level we should be doing.”

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