Legislature passes halfway point

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The 2018 Session is past the halfway mark, and we are starting to drill down into the more contentious issues.  District 24 legislators will be available at a crackerbarrel on Friday morning in Onida and Saturday morning in Highmore to answer questions and discuss legislative issues.

One of the key drivers for any legislative session is the budget bill.  On Monday, members of the Appropriations committee received projected revenue estimates from both the Legislative Research Council staff and the Bureau of Finance and Management.  By having both the legislative branch and executive branch independently develop their revenue estimates, legislators have two sources of information for developing what we hope will be an accurate estimate.  One is based on economic forecasting and the other is based on historical analytics.

Both revenue projections are somewhat more optimistic than the Governor presented during his budget address in December.  Instead of showing lower-than-expected revenues, both indicated slight growth in the state’s income stream.  Keep in mind that these estimates are for the Fiscal Year which starts July 1 and runs through June 30, 2019 – sixteen months from now.  With agriculture as a key driver in the state’s economy, a drought year or continued low commodity prices could impact the actual numbers.

One of the issues I have been working on with agricultural groups over the past few months is a project brought forward by SDSU to replace facilities that are badly out-of-date, renovate the Berg Agricultural Hall, and build a new “Precision Agriculture Center” to provide a place for SDSU’s research and teaching in precision agriculture.  SDSU is the first university in the nation to offer a degree in Precision Agriculture, and several major corporate donors have stepped up to help with this project.

The Precision Agriculture center would incorporate plant science with agriculture and biosystems engineering to provide updated laboratory, class lab, and classroom space.  Speaking from experience, I can attest to the fact that the old Ag Engineering building on campus – the site of a very painful calculus class a number of years ago – really has served its time.

The original proposal for the Precision Agriculture project was estimated to cost $70 million but has been reduced to $55 million.  SDSU is proposing to use $7.5 million from internal funds, and $16.6 million in corporate donations.  That leaves a $30.9 million hole to fill.

SDSU leaders were in the Capitol last week to provide extensive details about the proposed project and answer questions from legislators and ag lobbyists.  An ad hoc work group will continue meeting to search for funding options to pay for the project.

You can follow the progress – or lack of progress – of the session on the Legislative Research Council website at sdlegislature.gov. You are also encouraged to email me at Mary.Duvall@sdlegislature.gov.

I appreciate your comments and suggestions on these and other issues.

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