Three Northeast South Dakota legislators left no doubt they will not support an increase in state funding for Medicaid.
District 5 Sen. Lee Schoenbeck and District 5 Rep. Nancy York, both Watertown Republicans, and District 4 Sen. John Wiik, R-Big Stone City, all spoke against Medicaid expansion during a legislative cracker barrel Saturday.
The cracker barrel is an annual event on the final day of the Watertown Winter Farm Show. The three legislators, along with District 5 Rep. Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, spent an hour answering questions posed by moderator Steve Jurrens of KXLG Radio and about two dozen people in attendance.
Wiik said he is “vehemently opposed” to an expansion, which he called “a guaranteed shortcut to a state income tax in South Dakota.”
South Dakota has received about $1.4 billion from the American Recovery Plant Act, causing some to say a portion of that money should be used to increase Medicaid payments.
Wiik said the upfront money offered by the U.S. Government would cease after the first six to eight years, leaving the state with a permanent expenditure and perhaps an eventual cut in the funding.
“If you ever have to pull back on a health care program, I don’t think it bodes well for any (legislator) who wants to do that,” he said. “We have pretty limited resources in South Dakota outside of federal money. Once that money tapers off, you’re going to see cuts in other things to balance the budget.”
Wiik also said the legislature is building other options for healthcare funding and that his colleagues will continue to do so without taking on more Medicaid costs.
Schoenbeck said he won’t support “more welfare” and said one Medicaid bill in the legislature has “zero chance of passing.” He also said an initiated amendment to the state constitution that would expand Medicaid would need additional appearances before the voters if changes needed to be made to the amendment.
York said some people in South Dakota work to continue their health benefits. With additional protection from Medicaid, she wondered if those people would stop working.
“Wages are up there high enough now where people can be proud of whatever they do and the wages they’re making,” she said. “Government programs should enable people to help themselves, not disable them from being part of society and working for a living.”
The four legislators said the ARPA funding does offer great opportunities in other areas, such as infrastructure and housing. The state water board will have about $600 million to spend on water and sewer projects, including a few that have been submitted by Watertown officials.
“There is a need for this in South Dakota, and every once in a while you get a hold of an opportunity to make something great out of it,” said Wiik, a former member of the water board. “The water board takes their job seriously. They will do a great job with this.”
York urged any city or county officials who haven’t applied for funding to do so as quickly as possible.
“People from a town still waiting for somebody to tap them on the shoulder should go ahead and take the upper hand and get in their application,” she said.
ARPA money ($600 million) for housing would be used for the infrastructure that precedes construction, such as the installation of water and sewer lines. Watertown projects that could benefit are the Benedictine Sisters’ extensive plans for Harmony Hill and another development planned near the current Herzog Addition, located north of Fourth Avenue SW and west of Golf Course Road.
The current bill in the state senate would provide $100 million in revolving loan funds that could be repaid in 5 years.
“This was an example of state government working at its finest,” Schoenbeck said. “The governor came in with her plan. We sat down and we yelled some, we hugged some and we talked some. We called our people to call her people. Her people called our people. It was a full-bore negotiation process.”
He said the funding will pay for “everything 6 inches above the ground and below.”
“Developers, for good reason, don’t like to do that because it takes so long to recover those sunken costs,” Schoenbeck said.
York likes the Senate plan but is concerned about finding enough skilled labor to make it work.
“We can have as much money as we possibly can and have all the plans we want, but if we don’t have guys and gals out there running all the heavy equipment and doing all that digging, we’re not going to get anything done.”
Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposed bill that would ban abortions once a fetus’ heartbeat is detected failed because pro-life supporters couldn’t agree on the language, said Schoenbeck and York.
Schoenbeck recounted how he had brought an anti-abortion bill before the legislature in the early 2000s and it failed for the same reason, leaving hard feelings that still exist today.
“I had taken the position at the beginning that if we introduce any pro-life legislation, it has to be with the full pro-life community behind it,” he said about Noem’s bill. “That was not the case with this bill. They were about split in half. I told house-senate leadership that if we don’t have the agreement of pro-life, we shouldn’t introduce the bill.”
Wiik thought the two houses should have discussed the bill and eventually brought it forward. He said failure to do so was an affront to the governor.
“But I believe every bill should get a hearing,” he added.
The legislators briefly discussed failed legislation on Critical Race Theory, Convention of States attendance and school elections.
“There are 572 bills submitted,” said Schoenbeck. “We don’t have an opinion on every one,” Schoenbeck said.
The most recent issue was the release of federal funds to registered daycare providers, which finally happened on Friday. York said bureaucratic questions about who had the authority to release the funds caused the delay.
“It’s a good thing for the workforce,” she said about the payments. “Daycare providers were going to have to raise their prices drastically because of rising prices on all the things they need to purchase. They deserve the money, and it’s going to be well spent in local communities and help local working families.”
Schoenbeck said the federal dollars were designed to pump money out but not designed to be a well-run project program.
“If you don’t like it you can give the money back and let somebody in New York or California or let the Little Blessings Daycare in Watertown have it,” he said.
The legislative cracker barrels are sponsored by the Watertown Area Chamber of Commerce. The final one will be held at 10 a.m. March 5 in the Codington County Extension Building’s lunch room.