PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota is set to receive over $3 billion in new federal funds from the American Relief Plan, but at least one legislative leader doesn't seem overly thrilled about the incoming check.
"On behalf of my wife, I'd like to thank our great-great-grandchildren for footing the bill on this thing," said House Speaker Spencer Gosch, R-Glenham, during a meeting of the Legislature's executive board on Thursday, April 22.
As some laughter ensued on the bipartisan committee, Gosch clarified: "Sorry, my mind is blown right now."
The federal COVID-19 stimulus passed last month by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden will deliver billions to states, local communities, and schools, as the nation emerges from the devastating pandemic.
While South Dakota's elected leaders have largely assumed a posture that the pandemic is in the past and that the state "never shut down," Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert reminded the committee that many in the state — through job loss, health problems, or strained finances — are still hurting.
"Keep in mind," said Heinert, D-Mission, "There still are South Dakotans who are struggling and the feds are trying to do what they can. Whether we agree with all of it or not, think about who we represent."
The executive board voted to appoint a 10-member committee to help guide spending of the funds while federal rules still emerge.
Senate Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, told the committee a working group — rather than a special session — would be a more nimble way to navigate the process of interpreting the massive federal spending bill.
"This is so we don't have to have a special session every 30 days," Schoenbeck said.
The state's elected leaders finished the 2021 legislative session with bullish attitudes last month, spiking the football on a number of infrastructure projects — from $100 million for broadband grants to $20 million to refurbish a rail line west to the Black Hills — that were largely undergirded by federal stimulus funds.
Schoenbeck said they should learn from last year in planning a roadmap for passing the following-year's budget.
The federal spend — which was opposed by Rep. Dusty Johnson and Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds — not only will send assistance to individuals directly but also some $1.5 billion to the state. That includes $400 million to the Department of Education, $80 million to the Board of Regents, and $144 million to the Department of Social Services.
There's even an added incentive to South Dakota to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, with the U.S. Treasury offering to pick up 90% of the tab on expanded coverage for two years. South Dakota remains one of roughly a dozen states to not adopt Medicaid.
At the conclusion of Thursday's meeting, House Speaker Gosch announced that — contrary to wishes expressed by Gov. Kristi Noem and other legislators — the Legislature will not convene for a special session to take up medical marijuana legislation or a disputed "fairness in women's sports" bill that both reached impasses last month.
"It seems likely that we will not be having a special session in June," Gosch said.