2021 S.D. Legislature: Legislators take look at how funding is spent

Steve Haugaard, Speaker of the House

The Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations is meeting this week and will discuss ‘Letters of Intent’ concerning various past and future expenditures. Those Letters of Intent are guidance provided to the receiving agency in an effort to ensure that the purpose of the funding is more clearly understood and carried out. Letters of Intent are often used when funds are allocated to an agency for specific purposes resulting from individual legislative bills.  

Legislation is sometimes expressed in general terms with authority granted to the Secretary of that Department to promulgate rules to carry out the intended purpose. Unfortunately, that practice of granting rule-making authority is too common in our Legislature, and it comes with the risk that the Secretary will establish rules that were not really the intent of the legislature. And sometimes, spending occurs that was not the intended use of allocated funds. When that happens, we might be able to rein in the unintended action through our Appropriations Committee or we can remediate the problem with new legislation in the following sessions. The Legislature cannot micromanage agency action, but we are also responsible to ensure that tax dollars are spent as intended. When government develops the reach that now exists even within our own state we have to rely upon audits and attentive Legislators and state employees to serve the best interests of everyone. So, again, that is why it is important to hear from you.

The Joint Committee on Appropriations will also hear about revenue projections coming in from the past several months. The expectation is that the revenues are going to be far higher than previously projected. That is good news for the State, and it should be an opportunity to correct some of our low-paying state jobs, such as the Department of Corrections.  

The Department of Corrections has been in the news this past week with employee complaints taking center stage. One of the main issues was inadequate compensation, but that is not a new issue. It has been a concern for decades, but we seem to find an infinite number of ways to spend money on special interests or pet projects before we address core responsibilities of state government. Corrections and caring for those with mental illness seem to be easy to ignore until there is a ‘crisis’.

In this case, instead of being proactive in addressing the Corrections budget and working through potential problems we see another example of being reactive. Instead of discharging the warden or the secretary of corrections it would have been in the best interest of the state to quickly address the compensation levels and rely on the warden’s experience to resolve other concerns. A smooth transition and informed plan are what the state deserves.   

Sadly, the entirety of corrections has been ignored for a long time. That is mainly due to the fact that it is not a popular area on which to spend tax dollars and because neither the recent governors nor the legislature have taken the time to develop a long-term strategy. That strategy needs to include a more comprehensive approach to probation at the lower level of offenses and a more comprehensive and hands-on approach to parole services upon release from the penitentiary. Both of those issues have required more funding for many years but that very important responsibility of the state has taken a backseat to expenditures to private entities with well-paid lobbyists.  

Finally, over the past years there has been an ongoing effort to return the remains of Native American children who died while in boarding schools under the supervision of federal caretakers.  he stories of some of these children are known, but for many others their history has been lost. Thankfully, there have been Native American historians who have pieced together the family connections to bring these remains home. I extend my sympathies to those families and those communities who were touched by these losses.

I again encourage everyone to inform yourself as to what is happening in state government by going to www.sdlegislature.gov.


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