Friday's doom and gloom turned a little rosier today with new forecasts for incoming state revenue. The Joint Appropriations Committee determined that receipts from taxes and other revenue will come in about $14 million higher than what Gov. Daugaard originally predicted.
So, at this moment, the mood for funding education in South Dakota seems less bleak. And, there are signals that the governor may be loosening his grip on the 10 percent cut.
Whether that means education will end up facing an 8.6 percent cut or 6.5 percent or 5.2, remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, in the eternal quest for truth in governing, we're wondering about this information from Sen. Jim Hundstad, District 2. He seems to think that there is more money floating around than we've been led to believe.
House Minority Leader Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, District 18, says the point Hundstad is trying to make is that South Dakota is cash rich and getting richer. However, he says, "the governor's office would argue that we still need to limit spending to annual income."
Hunhoff also points out that we have about $800 million in reserves and trust funds, and even the earnings are not being used: "We're certainly not bankrupt like California and some other states, and we could easily come up with a three-year plan to ease out of the structural deficit. But, the governor has refused to do so, however parts of his budget cuts are actually shifts of expenses to future years."
State Rep. Spence Hawley of Brookings has been looking into the reports of extra money stuffed in the state's mattress. He says it is true that the general fund balance grew in the last few months, but that stems from the fact that the state has been using federal stimulus fund dollars for education payments instead of taking the money out of the general fund. That means the checking balance will start to decrease as expenditures will be larger than incoming revenue.
Still, Hawley says, "I'm not saying that I'm agreeing with how the state spent the stimulus III education dollars. It was a slight of the hand between general fund education dollars and the stimulus money. It was meant for the schools to get extra funding, which they never received."
It is difficult to divine the politics from the truth and the statistics from the spin. Most unfortunate is that the future of our children gets left hanging in the balance.
Hunhoff says, "I think the governor's staff is at least partly playing to a national fixation on cutting government, even though our situation in South Dakota is very different from Washington and most other states."