PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Gov. Kristi Noem used her second State of the State speech to lay out her vision for growing the state’s economy, touting the potential of a home-grown cybersecurity force and a continued focus on programs to broaden the state’s agriculture industry.
As lawmakers mull a tight budget this year, the Republican governor kicked off the legislative session by calling them to consider the “next generation.” She said her solution to the state’s perennial budget crunch is to grow the state economy.
The Republican-dominated Legislature broke into applause when she said she would not be raising taxes.
Noem acknowledged that the state is highly dependent on agriculture and that last year’s flooding was especially tough on farmers. She said that President Donald Trump’s recent progress on a trade deal with China was good news for the industry. The governor plans to be in Washington, D.C. tomorrow for Trump’s signing of the deal.
House Majority Leader, Lee Qualm, R-Platte, is a farmer and said the last year was the toughest that he's ever seen with low commodity prices and record-level amounts of precipitation. He acknowledged that Trump's actions on trade negotiations have hurt his farm business this year, but felt it was the right move to get a better trade deal with China.
The governor reiterated that she does not think that industrial hemp in the state is a “good idea,” but said she would not veto a hemp bill if it tightly regulates the crop. She said she hopes it passes early in the session.
Qualm is sponsoring the hemp bill and said he hopes it passes the House before the end of next week.
The governor also pointed to an opportunity for the state to develop a cybersecurity industry with a research network being developed at Dakota State University. She called on the state’s universities to continue to develop the next generation in agriculture technology like developing new ways to turn crops and livestock into usable products.
The tourism industry has also grown for the past nine years, according to the governor. She said it was important that the state preserve pheasant habitats to continue to attract hunters to the state.
The state’s economic growth has lagged behind the nation’s this year and the Legislature is working on how to balance a tight budget.
Noem said she wants to find “extra flexibility” in the budget to fund pay raises for teachers, state employees, and medical providers. The governor did not recommend pay raises to match inflation in her December budget proposal, but said that since then, revenue has been slightly higher than estimates. The state would need to find about $16 million for each percentage point that it raises pay.
In a press conference after her speech, the governor said she wanted the Legislature to prioritize the pay increases if revenues were high enough. She acknowledged that state law requires the funding increases but said she would let the Legislature decide on the issue.
Democrats said Noem's message on attracting businesses to the state is not new and would not be effective if the state doesn't prioritize funding for education and social services.
"Businesses aren't going to come here if we don't fund education properly," Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert, D-Mission said. “These issues go hand-in-hand.”
The governors also touted some of her accomplishments from the last year, including funding the expansion of broadband to rural areas and pushing initiatives for greater transparency in state government.
Legislators chuckled when Noem mentioned the controversial “Meth. We're On It.” campaign. She acknowledged that some people did not like the tagline. Noem wants the Legislator to fund addiction treatment and law enforcement to address meth.