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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Madison Chamber Candidates Forum: Parsley vs. Olson

Whoo-hoo! I'm back from the candidates' forum sponsored by the Madison Chamber of Commerce. Sorry I couldn't live blog—no public signal available at the Madison High School auditorium (boy, I pay thousands of tax dollars, and all I get is this free public education).

But here are my notes on the candidates' responses. I'll hold back from commentary tonight (although it's really, really hard!) and just give you the straight answers, as best as I was able to transcribe them. I'll post commentary tomorrow, along with videos of the candidates' opening and closing statements tomorrow. Enjoy!

First up: Q&A with District 8 State Senate candidates Republican Russell Olson and Democrat Scott Parsley.

Question 1: State revenues may be affected greatly with the current economic conditions. What state programs could afford to get less money if we have to tighten belts?
  • Olson: It's important to look for efficiencies. Last year I introduced HB 1240 to make DMV self-sufficient for first time since inception. We don't always have to cut funding.
  • Parsley: First, we need to not panic: we can't be sure where things are going. Governor Rounds has come out to say we may need cuts, but the state investment manager says don't panic. One area to cut: state government has grown at rate of 5-5.5% over past few years, faster than other areas of gov't in SD. Let's tighten belts there! We can also help agencies become more self-sufficient without raising fees on users.
Question 2: What differentiates you from your opponent?
  • Parsley: Olson talks about education. He says he voted for a $21 million dollar budget increase for education that his fellow District 8 legislators Gassman and Sutton voted against. Thing is, they voted against it because it offered a 2.5% increase, and that's not enough. I agree: that's not enough! We also differ on action on renewable energy and developing incentives. I've worked with the governor and drafted legislation that has actually passed and is helping.
  • Olson: The main thing is experience. I've actually served for two years in the Legislature, responded to e-mails, attended cracker barrels, taken calls from constituents on nights and weekends. Parsley's experience in Pierre and Washington is as a lobbyist and special interest. Lobbyists tell people how to vote; legislators listen and serve.
Question 3: Everyone running says they want to increase funding for education. How would you do it?
  • Olson: That's the “million-dollar question”; in tight economic times, we have to find ways to do more with what we have. I'll introduce an energy bill to allow schools to use capital outlay to pay energy bills (fuel, electricity). For example, in Chester that would free up $67K in general fund that could be used to raise teacher pay.
  • Parsley: I disagree with Russ: it's a “billion-dollar question.” Using reserve funds to pay for fuel? Those are local tax dollars, not state dollars. That approach doesn't do anything to increase the state's share of education. The state has trust funds set up to fund education. We currently pull 4% from the education enhancement fund. It has an extra $100M. There are other trust funds we could use for education. Maybe it's time to reprioritize. State Treasurer Vern Larson just reported the state has lots of funds available.
Question 4: Economy down, poverty up: what measures do you support to help people in need?
  • Parsley: We have more two-income families, more uninsured children than any other state in country. We need to look at how we're spending money now, reprioritize to provide (for instance) good nutrition and health care for kids so they can do better in school.
  • Olson: We have to educate citizenry on prioritizing their spending. We truly have a group of people who are uninsured and can't afford health insurance and good food, but there is a group in our state who don't give nutrition and health insurance priority above plasma TV, cell phones, cable. Take care of family first, luxuries second.


  1. Good job, Cory. Thanks since I wasn't there.

    One comment. Parsley said that Olson wanted to use "reserve" funds for fuel. This is not what Olson said. Olson will introduce a bill this session to expand the items that the CAPITAL OUTLAY funds can be used for, including fuel.

    The capital outlay fund is funded simply by a levy based on valuations, and since valuations are rising greatly, the capital outlay funds are also growing greatly, faster than the general fund. Olson has been approached by school administrators to introduce this bill to increase the number of things that capital outlay funds can be used for, including fuel.

    Yes, these are local dollars, but they are being collected anyway in greater amounts than they used to be. By using some of the excess capital outlay dollars, this frees up more general fund dollars to use for higher teacher salaries or other programs, which people agree should remain under local control.

  2. Parsley is right about one thing. State government has grown faster than any other area. I can't remember when there were layoffs or cutbacks at the state level. It seems once you're hired, you're safe and it keeps growing ahead of inflation and never is held back. Would it hurt to make a 3% across the board reduction in state spending next year instead of a 6% increase? There has to be departments that are not as relevant today compared to when they were created years ago. I'm still voting for Russell, but I liked Scott's point.


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