- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Gov. Dennis Daugaard will kick off South Dakota’s 2015 legislative session on Tuesday with a State of the State address that will highlight issues ranging from road and bridge funding to workforce development initiatives.

Lawmakers will gather at the state Capitol in Pierre to craft a spending plan for the next budget year and tackle a host of other issues over the course of the session. Perhaps the most significant debate facing legislators is transportation funding, and there could be tax increases in Republican-dominated South Dakota to secure that financing.

A bill put forward this year after interim deliberations would raise more than $100 million annually in new revenue through a variety of fuel tax increases, vehicle fees and other assessments. The specifics of Daugaard’s plan weren’t available.

“I’m convinced that we have a need to address highway funding this year, and I will have a proposal,” Daugaard told The Associated Press on Monday. He declined to make more details available until sharing the plan with the full Legislature.

Daugaard said he will discuss in his speech to lawmakers his plan to overhaul the state’s juvenile justice system. He also will speak about railroad infrastructure, workforce development initiatives and making a more efficient government by cutting red tape and repealing or simplifying unnecessary statutes. The governor said he plans to highlight the success of a program that allows students to take college courses while in high school and earn credits for both.

Daugaard also will promote the $50 million Build Dakota Scholarship program in which the state matches a $25 million gift from philanthropist T. Denny Sanford. Officials have said the program announced last month will help fill empty jobs and address a worker shortage that is hindering South Dakota’s growth.

“I’m excited about it,” Daugaard said of the address, which will be in the state House chamber. “We’ve got some good proposals, and we’ve got some good history and success to celebrate, too.”

Democrats will continue their call for hiking South Dakota’s teacher pay - the state ranks last in the nation for teacher compensation, according to the National Education Association. They also will keep pushing to expand South Dakota’s Medicaid program to cover more low-income people in the state.

Daugaard said Monday that he still opposes the expansion envisioned in the Affordable Care Act, and in the past he has unsuccessfully asked the federal government to approve a state-specific plan.

Supporters of a straightforward expansion will likely face a similar wall in the Legislature. Republicans hold 58 of the 70 state House seats and 27 of the 35 Senate seats.

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