Money was on the minds of lawmakers as they expressed concerns over the sequestration and funding within the state.
From discussion of the federal government going into sequestration to a debate on the wisdom of spending the state's reserve funds, to South Dakota's decision to reject Medicaid expansion to a brief explanation of a resolution that could make passing tax increases extremely difficult in the future, money was the dominant topic at the Cracker Barrel in the Northern State University Student Center.
When it came to the discussion on the federal government's sequestration and its impact on South Dakota, two different viewpoints emerged: It will either force a lot of difficult budget decisions, or be used as an excuse to avoid spending money on programs that need it.
District 1 Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton, said that the sequestration talks have provided an excuse for state legislators to resist spending money on worthy causes. Last June, $48 million was put in the reserve fund, Wismer said, but the governor has said the state will not use money from the reserve fund, even though using some of that money would make a significant difference in the state's ability to fund education and health care.
"South Dakota gets an F in effort when it comes to funding education and Medicaid, no matter what measure you use," said Wismer.
District 2 Sen. Chuck Welke, D-Warner, said state government is hypocritical on its stance with reserve funding.
Welke said the state government tells schools that they should dip into their reserve fund to fill gaps, but the state never uses reserve money to help schools.
Reps. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, and David Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, each said the sequestration will force difficult decisions because the cuts will be persistent.
The reserve fund is to be used for emergencies, so it's a bad idea to dip into the state's reserve money to pay for ongoing expenses, said Novstrup of District 3.
"You don't use one-time funds to pay for ongoing expenses," Novstrup said. "Once the reserve fund is drained, then what do you do?"
Someone from the audience asked about the decision to not accept federal money for Medicaid expansion, which reignited the discussion on federal and state funding.
Wismer said she thought the state legislators should have approved the expansion and paid a little bit more money, because it would benefit a lot of people in the state. She said if the plan didn't work, the state government could back out later, but that every state should try to make health care reform work.
Greenfield, of District 2, said that the so-called free money for the Medicaid expansion was not free; it would've have had a tremendous cost due to the administration.
Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, said people need to understand that accepting money from the federal government will come with a great cost to future generations.
He said that because the federal government keeps printing more money, borrows so much money and continues to drive itself into debt, the value of the dollar keeps dropping. States need to step back and send a message to the federal government that it needs to stop spending money.
"South Dakota has to step up and do its part to tell the Federal Reserve and the federal government that ‘You've got to rein yourself in because this is out of control,’ ” Kaiser said.
Near the end of the Cracker Barrel, Wismer brought up Senate Joint Resolution 2, a topic that wasn't asked about, but that deeply concerned her.
The resolution, which may be voted on during the next general election, states that no new taxes, increases on current taxes or extensions on current taxes can be passed without a two-thirds majority in a popular vote or a two-thirds majority from members of each legislative branch.
Although she disagrees with the principle, she can understand the two-thirds majority by legislators, because they are usually well-informed about the issues, Wismer said. What scares her is the idea of putting too much power in the hands of people who might not be as well-informed or could be misled with bogus information.
"Three out of 10 people in the general public would be in control of our democracy," she said.
The resolution was passed by the Senate on a 25-10 vote Feb. 12. It is scheduled for a committee hearing Monday in the state House of Representatives with a vote to be held Tuesday, Wismer said. If the resolution is passed by both chambers, it will be put to a popular vote during South Dakota's next general election.