- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 13, 2018

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota lawmakers projected Tuesday they will have more money available than previously anticipated when they craft the state budget this legislative session.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations set state revenue projections that are millions of dollars higher than those in Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s budget from December. Sen. Larry Tidemann, co-chair of the panel, said officials would like to fund increases for education, Medicaid providers and state employees if the dollars can be found.

“Those are the three main ones to take care of at the present time,” the Republican from Brookings said.

The panel adopted a $1.64 billion target for the upcoming budget year 2019, up about $18.8 million from December. Lawmakers also set a roughly $1.59 billion current-year ongoing receipts target, which is more than $16 million higher than December.

Committee member John Wiik, a senator, said the numbers are cautiously optimistic.

New figures show revenues for the first seven months of the current budget year are $18.2 million higher than Daugaard projected in December. That includes roughly $7.6 million in higher-than-expected sales taxes receipts, which is the state’s main revenue source.

Lawmakers will revise spending for the current 2018 budget year and craft the budget for the upcoming fiscal year before the legislative session ends in March.

Daugaard’s December budget plan would add more than $20 million in education spending, nearly all from K-12 enrollment growth, but schools wouldn’t see an inflationary funding increase per student under the plan. It also called for leaving most state workers without raises for the second straight year.

Eric Ollila, executive director of the South Dakota State Employees Organization, said state workers would like to see a cost-of-living increase and legislative investment in the state health plan. He said that a 1.7 percent inflationary increase for state workers would cost roughly $6.2 million in state general funds, plus additional money from other sources.

“If we come out of this session with the same result as last session, … I’m certain we’ll be seeing increased employee turnover, and that harms the effectiveness of state government,” Ollila said.

The employee advocacy group is pushing a bill this year that would write cost-of-living increases for state employees into South Dakota law. The Senate State Affairs Committee is scheduled to debate the bill Wednesday.

Daugaard has said officials wouldn’t be able to execute such a law.

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