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Friday, March 5, 2010

GOP SD Budget Plan: Big on Cuts, Short on Citizen Participation

Well, at least we won't be arguing over cutting public radio (or will we?)....

Our men in Pierre, David Montgomery and Bob Mercer, provide excellent coverage of the Republican plan to balance the state budget. Montgomery is also fast on the draw covering the bad blood bubbling openly between Governor Rounds and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. Meanwhile, Democrats are hanging back, watching the fun and reminding us that they proposed about two-thirds of GOP's budget ideas last November.

I will agree with Governor Rounds on at least one point:

Said Rounds: “We have been available and have offered every single week to participate and to discuss the budget. We have been told that it was a secret and we have been told that when they were ready they would come visit with us.”

Rounds sharply criticized the Republican budget, saying it was “not the appropriate way to build a budget” and would have a “devastating” impact on the Board of Regents and other programs [David Montgomery, "Gloves Come off for Rounds, Legislators," Pierre Capital Journal: Behind Government Lines, 2010.03.04].

Keeping the governor of your own party out of the loop on your state budget plan sounds almost dysfunctional. What bugs me more is that this budget plan was kept secret from 99.999% of the rest of us, too.

I've talked previously, here on the blog and in academic work, about the importance of citizen participation in government budget processes. Government openness and transparency are perhaps nowhere more important than in the process of deciding how to spend our money. The Republicans' hunkering down behind closed doors to set priorities for everyone in South Dakota diminishes our sense of trust and ownership, just as it does here in Madison, where our city commission, Chamber, economic development corp, school administration... well, heck, darn near every public official approaches policy decisions as if they have to be kept secret and handled strictly by a few privileged insiders.

Other places are finding ways to involve citizens in public budgeting. The city of Porto Alegre, Brazil, started a wave of participatory budgeting experiments in Brazil in 1989. It's not a perfect model—you need to make an extra effort to make sure the process isn't dominated by wealthy folks and to reach out to citizens in poverty who are often shut out of public affairs. But is a messy public process any less perfect than a few puffed up legislators playing budget kings in secret?

Secret and state government don't belong in the same sentence. The budget belongs to all of us. We should have all ideas out on the table from the start, open for discussion by everyone. Yes, that means that when an idea like cutting SDPB comes up, some of us will raise hell. But some of us will also engage in honest conversation and make some progress toward uncovering public sentiment.

We have the tools available to open up the budget and pretty much everything else our Legislature handles to public discussion. Our legislators can and should still make the final decisions. But this Web-thingy makes it possible for them to open up the process for every citizen to contribute and debate ideas. A commitment to democracy makes it obligatory.


  1. Jordan Feist3/05/2010 8:55 AM

    The proposed budget cut to the Tech Fellow program would be devastating. I am a Tech Fellow at USD, and we provide much needed support to faculty. I cannot imagine, while the University Presidents, Vice Presidents, members of the BOR, the State Investment office, etc. are all making very healthy 6-figure salaries that the state would tell our best students that they are the ones who need to take one for the team and give up their jobs. To me, that is unfathomable.

  2. Except during the worst months of the 1980s farm crisis, I have never seen South Dakota's economy stalled out like this. The difference is once things settled down during the farm crisis, which was made worse by the early 80s national recession, you saw the state's economy pick back up. Not this time.

    In a box like this state leaders have just two answers, one short term and the other long term: Cut back expenses to maintain priorities and, most importantly, grow the economy so that when the rest of the nation catches a cold, South Dakota doesn't catch pneumonia.

  3. More transparency of SD Government would be useful. Interesting that a discussion on Charlie Rose last night indicated that more transparency in federal regulation and interaction with banking and brokerages, insurance, etc might be as important to sensible controls of bad corporate policies and behavior as the actual laws.

  4. Just what devastating impact would the Republican budget have on the Board of Regents? I see from the open SD web site the Ex. Director is compensated $323,000 / year. For what? What exactley does he do to earn this? I tried to find out how the other members of the board of regents are compensated but could not find that info. Any pointers Corey?

    Jordan makes a good point about the fat salaries of the execs. combined the salaries of the investment officers, the Ex. director of the BOR and all the major universities is over 2.8 million. Interesting too that all the University presidents are given housing.

    Tim Higgins


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