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     Politics: “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” President Franklin Roosevelt.

Isn’t it amazing how well our “underpaid” lawmakers can perform?

The 2018 session in Pierre is over, except for March 26 when legislators return to consider Gov. Daugaard’s vetoes.

The 35 senators and 70 representatives successfully balanced another state budget, approving $4.7 billion in spending.

Not all of that is South Dakota tax dollars, of course. In fact, less than half, $1.6  billion, comes from the general fund. The federal government kicks in $1.7 billion, which is nice of Uncle Sam. The balance comes from fees and other government charges, which in many cases are paid by taxpayers, as well.

Too many numbers make my eyes glaze over, but I’m impressed with how the governor and Legislature carved up the pie. For instance, nearly half of the general fund – 49 percent – is used to fund education in South Dakota. Social and human services take 35 percent, and law enforcement, 10 percent. That leaves about 5 percent for the rest of state government.

I cannot argue with the priorities. And, given the careful fiscal policy of lawmakers, it was a mild surprise that K-12 and special education received a 1 percent increase, and state employees can look forward to a 1.2 percent pay hike in fiscal 2019.

But enough praise already.

Our lawmakers aren’t perfect, as evidenced by the pay raise of 97 percent that they gave themselves. Salaries will go from $6,000 a year to $11,800. Keep in mind that each lawmaker also receives a daily expense stipend of $142 and a mileage reimbursement.  Yes, it’s been many years since lawmakers received a raise, though during that time the per diem has been adjusted, as has mileage expense.

The argument that the raise would encourage a broader cross-section of South Dakotans to seek legislative office is not supported by any rational thought or facts. Moreover, the makeup of the Legislature is not nearly as narrow as pay-raise advocates claim.  The raise, compared to that given the other 13,900 state employees, was excessive; did I mention that it will cost taxpayers $656,000?

Even more astounding was the vote tally. The House voted in favor 50-16 and the Senate, 28-6.

It isn’t that a case couldn’t be made for an increase.  But doubling salaries with tax dollars nearly always is ill-advised, and so is building in automatic annual increases.

To describe the pay raise as over-the-top would be kind.

March 21, 2018