NOTE TO READERS: This is the fourth in a series of stories about the four constitutional amendments, two referred laws and one initiated law that South Dakota voters will decide on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
PIERRE – Constitutional Amendment P, which would require the governor to propose a balanced state budget, is like wearing a belt in addition to suspenders to make doubly sure your pants stay up.
The South Dakota Constitution already prohibits state government from going into debt – although construction of buildings and other state government projects routinely occurs via bonds issued through special finance authorities.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard wants a new provision in the constitution that would require a governor to propose a state budget where the spending or appropriations may not exceed the anticipated revenue and existing funds available.
The new section of the constitution also would prohibit the Legislature from appropriating more than the anticipated revenue and available existing funds.
The Legislature agreed last winter with the governor’s request that the proposed amendment be put on the 2012 general election ballot for voters to decide.
The House of Representatives voted 66-3 and the Senate 30-3 to do so.
Of the four measures placed on the ballot by the Legislature, Constitutional Amendment P is the only one that voters haven’t recently rejected in some form and it’s the only one that has drawn a “con” statement for the ballot pamphlet from an opponent.
Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, won his court case in early October to require that Secretary of State Jason Gant add Adelstein’s “con” statement to the ballot pamphlet which had already been printed.
State law requires the secretary of state to provide “pro” and “con” statements in the pamphlet but doesn’t set a deadline for final acceptance of the statements. Absentee voting had already started before Adelstein submitted his “con” statement to Gant.
Circuit Judge Mark Barnett decided that those voters who hadn’t yet cast ballots should have the opportunity to hear both sides regarding Amendment P.
Barnett purposely stepped aside from what should be done for M, N and O – which lack “con” statements – because, he said, those weren’t part of the challenge brought in the Adelstein case.
During one of the legislative debates, Senate Republican leader Russ Olson of Wentworth said South Dakota has a long tradition of balancing its state budget but a financial rating agency last year didn’t like that the constitution doesn’t have a specific requirement.
Adding the new piece, Olson said, “cements our hard-working South Dakota values into the constitution.”
Adelstein however said the amendment isn’t necessary. The constitution already prohibits a default by state government and requires a special tax to be levied in case of financial emergency
“Right now we have a tighter situation than the amendment would provide for,” Adelstein said.