- Associated Press - Friday, March 10, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The South Dakota Legislature approved a roughly $4.55 billion state budget Friday, giving small funding increases to education and health care providers for the upcoming fiscal year.

The House voted 63-4 to pass the budget as the 2017 legislative session’s main run came to an end. Earlier Friday, the Senate voted 33-2 for the measure that sets state spending for the 2018 budget year, which starts July 1.

The Republican-held Legislature dealt with lower-than-anticipated state tax collections caused by low inflation, less spending in the farm economy and e-commerce transactions that avoid sales taxes. Lawmakers last month settled on state revenue targets significantly lower than those Gov. Dennis Daugaard included in his December budget address.

The budget for the next fiscal year includes roughly $1.59 billion in general state spending, nearly $30 million - or about 1.7 percent - below the governor’s December budget plan. The approved budget includes minor 0.3 percent increases for education and providers, and roughly $1 million in additional money for the state employee health plan.

“Obviously, it’s not much, but it’s certainly better than nothing, and so we lived up to our end of the bargain, which for a while we didn’t know if we could do,” said House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, a Republican.

Daugaard in December had sought 1 percent increases in those key areas for fiscal year 2018, but state revenues continued to decline.

Mary McCorkle, president of the South Dakota Education Association, said that about a week ago, the teachers union thought state funding for education might be flat. She credited lawmakers with financing even a modest increase.

“I think that’s a message that even though times in our state are tough and the revenue is not what we would all like it to be for the good of the state, that education is important and in those tight times, they are doing the very best that they can do to move us forward,” she said.

The budget calls for spending roughly $1.63 billion in federal funds and $1.33 billion in other state money such as highway funding. The Legislature focuses mostly on how to spend the roughly $1.59 billion portion of the budget financed with general state taxes.

Absent from the budget debate Friday were strident partisan attacks, and the measure passed overwhelmingly in both chambers. Democratic Rep. Dan Ahlers said lawmakers didn’t get everything they wanted this year, but he said they did “move the needle forward.”

Lawmakers are set to return to Pierre on March 27 for the session’s final day to decide whether to accept or override vetoes that could come from Daugaard.

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