I appreciate columnist Bob Mercer's keen interest in the looming $200 million budget deficit for the State of South Dakota. The unnamed state bureaucrat he quoted saying my ideas would have to close universities, state prisons, and state courts is totally out of touch with taxpayers and reality.
The two major culprits that have caused our budget problem are:
A. The worst recession in modern history. We had "rainy day" funds, but instead we got a 100‑year flood.
B. Unfunded state mandates. The current the proposed federal health reform law could place up to a $60 million unfunded mandate on the taxpayers of South Dakota.
We will have to factor into future state budgets the hyperinflation which always follows runaway federal spending such as 16 percent during President Carter's administration.
If South Dakota does not have a balanced budget, our State Constitution provides for an automatic statewide real property tax increase until the budget is balanced. This is totally unacceptable to all but a handful of very liberal politicians who would like to force South Dakota into a state income tax.
This means every South Dakota taxpayer needs to be concerned about our state budget. And we need to help Governor Rounds and the state legislators solve this problem.
As a two-term mayor, I learned the principles of balancing government budgets: hold the line on spending, cut spending to match revenue and defer spending where possible until revenues catch up. Growing the economy with more to tax rather than taxing people more is a key strategy. This is not just my opinion, but the prevailing sentiment I found the past several months as I traveled to 137 communities across South Dakota discussing what taxpayers really want from state government. They want better government not bigger government, and for sure they don't want new taxes.
I have suggested starting on the 2011 state budget using the 2005 budget as a base then we can build toward actual revenues available to keep a balanced budget.
I would also suggest a freeze on state hiring, limiting travel and expenses, and cutting across the board similar to how Governor Janklow handled an inherited budget deficit. It worked then and it will work now.
We also need to redouble our efforts for growth, which increases revenue and provides new and better jobs.
The challenge of balancing our budget and providing for state government needs will continue. It is not a one person job. Meeting our challenges is the responsibility of about 800,000 citizens. We need a healthy debate on how we best provide for the basic needs of South Dakota and South Dakotans. I'm happy to have initiated this debate.