Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Feb. 27, 2014
Approve adding more machines
South Dakota's video lottery industry is leaking revenue just like Deadwood gaming, and, like Deadwood, the industry is looking for salvation in a couple of bills before the Legislature.
Last September, the state lottery commission heard a report that video lottery revenues had fallen by $48.3 million in the last five years to $176.4 million in net income in 2012. Because half the proceeds from video lottery terminals goes toward reducing property taxes that, in turn, help fund public education, the state is faced with cutting services or replacing revenue from other sources.
The commission recommended changing the 50-50 split on net income on some machines and increasing the casino machine limit to 15 terminals from 10 machines.
This year's Legislature considered three bills that could affect video lottery income.
- House Bill 1246 would have increased the bet limit from $2 to $5. The bill was defeated, 40-28, in the House of Representatives.
- Senate Bill 180 would increase the machine limit to 15 per casino, providing the machines are newer versions that get more play and more revenue. The bill passed the Senate, 20-12.
- A third bill targeting video lottery was introduced that offered the ambitious proposal of decreasing the state's dependence on gambling revenue. House Bill 1227's sponsor Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, said the state was addicted to gambling revenue and video lottery can lead to crime and hardship from gambling losses. "We need to wean ourselves off unhealthy, undependable revenue sources," he said.
The House Taxation Committee rejected the measure.
In 2006, voters rejected an initiated measure to repeal video lottery by a 2-to-1 margin. Until voters change their minds on video lottery, the Legislature should leave it alone.
As to the measures to improve video lottery revenues: Increasing the bet limit was a bad idea. Video lottery is addicting enough to some players without adding the siren song of potentially higher payouts. We are glad to see the bill defeated.
SB 180 was a better plan to allow more machines as a way to enhance revenue, while providing an incentive for casino owners to modernize their machines. It is our view that SB 180 should be passed by the Legislature.
Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, Feb. 25, 2014
A Distrust That Is Well Earned
When it comes to the state of education in South Dakota, nobody really trusts the State of South Dakota.
This message came from District 18 legislators this past weekend when they spoke at a local forum. They cited a clear distrust that exists between the schools and the powers in Pierre.
This distrust is richly earned.
It's small wonder, then, that legislation introduced in Pierre this winter that would make adjustments to state funding (particularly in regards to the allocation of fines and other charges that currently bolster school coffers) has been looked upon warily by the school districts, which have been burned — and squeezed and dismissed — before:
— At one time, the school districts were holding their own financially, even in the face of declining enrollments. But a property tax freeze and a subsequent mandate for schools to spend down their reserves (which, to be fair, some schools had overly stocked) put the districts in the position of going to the voters to opt out of the freeze. Nearly half of the districts in the state have had to go through this process; as Yankton residents can tell you, these opt-out efforts haven't always been successful.
— When the Great Recession hit in 2008, money was tight everywhere. Despite state law that declares that school funding must increase annually by 3 percent or the cost of living, whichever is lower, Pierre froze spending on public education one year, then cut it by more than 8 percent the next year. Since then, education spending has returned to the levels mandated by law, but the years of lost money still have not been addressed — in effect, establishing a new, lower economic bar — and are still being felt.
— In 2010, South Dakota applied for and received $26.3 million in one-time stimulus money from the federal government that was intended specifically to hire new teachers or help retain those that were laid off. What did South Dakota do with that funding? According to a CNN report, then-Gov. Mike Rounds "intends to reduce state (school) aid by the $26.3 million that districts will receive from the federal government and spend it on other state needs." In effect, the state pocketed the money, because, according to CNN, citing a Rounds spokesman, the governor didn't want the schools to grow reliant on one-time money. (Apparently, the state utilizing this one-time revenue influx for other uses was a more acceptable danger.)
— Last month, a bill was brought before the state Senate to endorse the idea that South Dakota is suffering from a teacher shortage, due in large part to the fact that the state's teacher pay is dead last in the country. In the Senate, this declaration — nonbinding but an integral gesture to at least acknowledge the problem — was unopposed during debate, then the measure silently failed. To some people, the episode screamed volumes about the regard education seems to hold in some corners of the capitol.
There is no trust in state government among school officials because recent history and human nature suggest there is no good reason to trust it.
"It's alarming to me that, in a small state like South Dakota, the trust level isn't there," Rep. Bernie Hunhoff said Saturday. "They don't trust us to do what we say we are going to do."
Frankly, it's possible that lawmakers believe they can play these games with education money because a majority of South Dakotans now do not have children in school and thus do not have an emotional investment in education. This situation can, conceivably, present opportunities to conduct such maneuvers without fear of serious backlash or political consequence.
So, if that speculation is true, we all share the blame.
Nevertheless, the distrust that is now evident in the educational arena should be alarming to everyone — from school officials and educators to parents with kids in school and to anyone who cares about the future of this state. And most of all, it should be worrisome to our lawmakers.
Currently, there is little evidence that such cancerous distrust will be replaced with something more constructive this session. The writing again seems to be on the capitol wall.
And that is a sad indictment of the state's mentality toward education.
Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Feb. 22, 2014
College mistake shouldn't haunt life
Most of us had some sort of indiscretion in our past, and it's quite likely it occurred on a college campus.
In today's world, with instant access to every piece of information on a person's life, those youthful mistakes could mean the difference between getting a job or acceptance into a prestigious graduate program.
A partnership at work in Vermillion could give underage students who make a mistake in drinking alcohol a chance to make things right and keep the misdemeanor conviction off of their record.
Student leaders at the University of South Dakota are working with law enforcement officials in Vermillion on a promising new approach to handling first-time underage alcohol offenders.
Details are being worked out, and the Clay County State's Attorney has yet to sign off on the project, but the progress being made is encouraging nonetheless.
Young people arrested for underage consumption — whether they are college students or not — would get an option to bypass criminal prosecution on the charge. The youth, instead, could opt to come in twice a day for 30 days to take a Breathalyzer test and undergo counseling or other education options instead of being charged, prosecuted and potentially fined.
The idea is to try to change the behavior. If the person fell short of the testing and counseling requirements, he or she still could face prosecution.
Law enforcement officials say that alcohol and the fear of being caught drinking sometimes causes people to do dangerous things. Some attempt to flee a police raid on a house party by driving under the influence. The fear of the initial charge ultimately can cause a more serious mistake.
The diversion program's supporters are being realistic — estimating that maybe a dozen students a year would opt for such a program at first. But that's a good starting point.
We believe Vermillion is an excellent community to pioneer this endeavor. The police already have agreed to work with the students in setting it up, and the numbers involved make it much easier to process and assess than in a metropolitan area such as Sioux Falls.
We like this idea, and we applaud the partners working to put it together in Vermillion. Student leaders on other state campuses already have shown interest in replicating the idea in their communities.
Clearly, there still are questions to be answered. For instance, the program must be affordable so that young offenders of all economic levels would have the opportunity to take part.
But we urge the Clay County State's Attorney to agree to institute this program — even for a test year. Look at the numbers and tweak the program as needed after that.
It is a sensible way to deal with misdemeanor offenses that someday could come back to haunt young people as they begin their adult careers.