It made its debut a January ago with the arrival of the Daugaard administration. But it seems to have lasted about as long as the Green Bay Packers were the defending Super Bowl champions.
If 2011 was the year of hard budget cuts in state government, 2012 is clearly the return to the easier times of spend and spend some more.
There are the 5 percent one-time bonuses and the ongoing 3 percent raises that Gov. Dennis Daugaard seeks for state government employees. There are the bonus monies he wants for public school districts and Medicaid services providers. There are the teacher performance bonuses and the extra pay for math and science teachers that he’s proposed.
Then there is the grant program the governor wants for large business projects. South Dakota Democratic Party chairman Ben Nesselhuf has forced a statewide vote this November on that program.
There’s the tax change that rural electric cooperatives want, which would take away some of the future revenues for school districts. That measure sailed through the Senate last week without a single senator on either side of the issue talking about what the school districts should do.
There are plenty of individual legislators’ spending bills, too.
Why are things so different this year?
The question comes to mind as we approach Wednesday, which is day 17 of the 2012 legislative session. It marks the start of the second half of the shortened 33-day session this winter.
A possible reason for the sudden interest at the Capitol in spending more money — that is money we don’t even know we’ll have — might be the sales-tax increase that will be voted upon by South Dakotans statewide later this year.
The proposal that is on the November ballot would increase the state sales tax to 5 percent from 4 percent on most purchases.
The additional proceeds, which are expected to be in excess of $175 million annually, are supposed to be split 50-50 between Medicaid and public schools.
In rough terms that would be about a 15 percent increase in state government’s general-fund budget.
You have to wonder whether insiders have seen results of public opinion polling that suggest the tax increase will pass.
The other oddity is that few legislators seem to be taking the weather, as in drought, very seriously.
The latest U.S. drought monitor that was released Thursday rated 65 percent of South Dakota as abnormally dry, while 18 percent was considered to be in a moderate drought and 2 percent in a severe drought.
A year ago 99 percent of South Dakota had no abnormally dry or drought conditions.
Every one of the 43 locations tracked in the South Dakota crop weather report showed precipitation through Jan. 31 was behind normal since Oct. 1. In half of the locations, it was one inch or more behind.
As the report notes, “With most of the precipitation falling as snow on frozen ground, little soil moisture regeneration can occur.”
Why is this serious? Look at the numbers for a few locations as fairly typical examples.