South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has outlined some of her plan to spend nearly $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds. Now the state Legislature has to pass her plan, modify it or come up with an alternate plan on its own.
You read that right: nearly $1 billion. And there will be more coming when the federal infrastructure bill starts handing out money.
Most everyone agrees that this should be considered “one-time money,” although the federal government seems to ignore the fact that it doesn’t have the money to hand out — and may hand out more. The money will be borrowed from whomever will buy more Treasury notes or bonds.
Regardless, it’s a windfall for a state whose economy is in pretty good shape, with extremely low unemployment, many jobs available and record tax revenues. We can and should spend the money on long-term items that will pay off for years to come.
Although we haven’t seen the details, the governor’s proposal intends to invest in many infrastructure projects that address drinking water, sewage, broadband internet and emergency services. There is also money allocated for health care and tourism marketing. More details are sure to come out during the governor’s annual budget address in early December.
Since the responsibility for appropriating money lies with the Legislature, we’re wondering what our legislators from District 8 should pursue. The first thought we had was to finish the Lewis & Clark water system, for which Madison has been paying for more than two decades but doesn’t have water yet. We also wonder if there are road safety projects that should be done, including strengthening or widening rural roads and bridges which were not designed for today’s larger agricultural loads.
Clearly, more high-powered broadband capacity would help Dakota State University and local businesses, and it could help recruit new businesses to move to Madison to hire DSU graduates. There are probably some rural electricity upgrades that could be undertaken to reduce the chances of power outages during winter storms.
But breaking from the governor’s proposal, we’d also like to see a big environmental allocation here, principally to buy land adjacent to rivers, streams and lakes to plant buffer strips to improve water quality. It fits the profile: a long-term project that needs money and will pay off for the next generation of South Dakotans. In a generation or two from now, the viability of any area of the country may well depend on abundant clean water, and South Dakota can set itself up to be the best if the money is spent wisely.
In any case, please make your views known to our three District 8 legislators so they can go to Pierre in January with your priorities in mind.
— Jon M. Hunter