Sunday, December 31, 2006

Setting Priorities

I have been spending much of the past few weeks away from blogging in order to catch up on work and family time but with a new year and new legislative session on the horizon I thought it would be a good idea to throw out some priorities that we all should consider for the upcoming year. With the upcoming legislative session almost upon us and a possible scandal to deal with regarding Dan Sutton it is time again for everyone to wonder if our legislators will actually focus on the needs of our state.

Last year the prime targets included telling residents how they live with and what they should do with their bodies and pretty much ignored our education system. Voters decided that a higher tax on cigarettes would protect our young from smoking but ignored a bigger problem facing young people. Alcohol was directly involved in the deaths of 13 young South Dakotan's this year but no-one is calling for higher taxes on that vice. 10's of thousands in our state have either inadequate or lack any heath care coverage at all, our teachers are 51st in the nation in pay and our state has the highest percentage of families with both parents working outside the home in the country.

These are only some of the many issues that have been all but ignored in the past few years so here is hoping that our legislators make a New Year's resolution to focus on the real needs of our state this year and leave the moral issues to individuals and their respective beliefs and personal choices.

Finally I wanted to thank those of you that have been regulars here in my very small part of the blogosphere these past few months and I hope to see you all here again next year. Have a safe and happy new year!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Somebody Call The Waaambulance

Governor Rounds is still mad about getting his hand slapped by South Dakota voters and he wants everybody to know it.

We all remember Initiated Measure 5, which sought to restrict the use of the government owned aircraft and even though supporters spent almost no money during the campaign, it still passed easily.

Well Rounds continues his complaining in an op-ed piece in yesterday's RCJ.
For me personally, it complicates the scheduling of many events that governors are requested and expected to attend. Being on duty 24 hours a day, including many night and weekend events, it becomes even more difficult.

Because there are no exceptions to the state law, I cannot go to church if I use the state airplane for government business in another town on the weekend. I cannot swing by the hospital on the way back to the airport to visit a friend who is sick. I cannot attend a charity event unless it is official state business only. Simple conversations about family become illegal because I am on state business.

Unfortunately, the biggest impact is not on me. It will be on any state employee who uses any kind of state vehicle.

If a state employee does something of a personal nature on a trip, even if it is unintentional, they are in violation of the new law. If they stop at a drug store for aspirin, that is a violation. If they missed lunch and stop at a grocery store for a late snack, that is a violation.
Nowhere to be found in his rant is the fact that the new law basically only changes the penalties and changes the wording so that state owned aircraft (which was previously not specifically mentioned) is now included. This would make his claims on how it affects other state employees nothing more than a scare tactic as they were already required to follow these restrictions.

From the Secretary of State's explanation: (underlined portions are the only changes to the current law)
For purposes of this section, any aircraft owned or leased by the state may be used only in the conduct of state business. None of the exceptions listed above are applicable regarding the use of any aircraft owned or leased by the state or any of its agencies.

A violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor. The violator is also subject to a civil action by the State of South Dakota in circuit court for the recovery of a civil penalty of not more than one thousand ($1,000) dollars plus ten times the cost incurred by the state for misuse of the vehicle. An action for the recovery of a civil penalty or compensatory damages shall, upon demand, be tried by a jury.
Here is the rest of the state law which remains unchanged:
5-25-1.1. Vehicles owned or leased by the state may be used only in the conduct of state business. No state officer or employee, except the Governor, law enforcement officers of the South Dakota Highway Patrol, law enforcement officers of the Division of Criminal Investigation, and conservation officers may use, or permit the use of, any state-owned motor vehicle other than in the conduct of state business. Nothing in this section prohibits any use of any state vehicle, if, in order to provide for the most efficient use of state equipment or personnel, supervisory personnel issue written instructions to any state employee to use a state vehicle for transportation:

(1) Between the employee’s permanent residence and work station; or

(2) Between the employee’s temporary residence or eating place and work station if assigned to a locality other than the employee’s permanent residence.
Not being a lawyer, it sure sounds to me like Governor Rounds is just blowing smoke up our you know what in an effort to conceal the fact that he got his hand slapped by the Argus and others in our state who were fed up with his unfettered use of government owned aircraft. But if any lawyers out there can show me where in the above voter approved changes in the state law supports his claims, I'd be happy to be corrected.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Totally Ridiculous

More conservative wingnuts drooling over Tim Johnson's condition including his bouts in and out of consciousness and this time they are drawing a parallel to Terry Shiavo.
I can't help but notice that Johnson's minor interaction with the world is enough to keep him in the Senate, but such wasn't enough to keep Terry Schiavo alive.
So now they think that the situation with our esteemed Senator whom is in a drug induced coma due to his life saving brain surgery is somehow related to a completely brain dead woman and are openly wondering why he should be allowed to retain his seat. And liberals are heartless?

I for one am wondering how all these folks would feel if their employers let them go after undergoing major surgery even before any long term prognosis on their ability to perform their job had been determined. But then again common sense and compassion are traits that aren't necessarily things that are used when it comes to politics.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Definition of Irony

It seems that one of the companies hired by our government to build the useless border fence on our southern border with Mexico has their own illegal alien problem.
A fence-building company in Southern California agrees to pay nearly $5 million in fines for hiring illegal immigrants. Two executives from the company may also serve jail time. The Golden State Fence Company's work includes some of the border fence between San Diego and Mexico.

As Alanis Morissette would say, "Isn't it Ironic".

Monday, December 18, 2006

Sorry Ajay

I guess Stephanie Herseth's former Chief of Staff (wink, wink) Ajay Bruno has blown his chance to woo the South Dakota Congresswoman.

The fictitious character that tried to stir up controversy during the elections by saying that Herseth was pregnant and waiting to announce the pregnancy until after the election, was almost right, she did announce something after the election. Herseth and former Texas Congressman Max Sandlin have announced their engagement at Herseth's birthday party last week in Rapid City.

Congratulations Stephanie!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dispelling The Myths

The Associated Schools Boards of South Dakota has released a paper which dispels many of the myths being forwarded by many in Pierre when it comes to education funding.
Historically, South Dakota has funded education on a what-is-available basis – which mirrors a pre-No Child Left Behind mentality to public education where school districts used funds to provide educational opportunities to South Dakota’s children. No Child Left Behind, though, changed the role of public education from an opportunities-based operation to an outcomes-based system. In public education today, states set high standards for yearly progress, and schools are expected to deliver results.

South Dakota’s school finance system, however, has failed to recognize this dramatic shift in philosophy. In order to achieve the ever-rising expectations, the debate on education funding must shift focus to allocating resources needed to meet the needs of every student. Doing so sets public schools up for success and delivers a brighter future for South Dakota’s students.
Some of the more interesting low-lights from the report include the fact that even though the state is devoting more money to education than they have before, the actual share of state revenue dedicated to education is on the decline especially when it comes to K-12 education.

Almost half of South Dakota's 167 districts (77) have had to opt out of the state's property tax limitation which results in over 21 million in local funding towards education that the state doesn't match.

No state in the nation contributes less per student than South Dakota even though South Dakotans pay approximately the same share percentage wise in property taxes as the surrounding states.

For South Dakota to just come close to the average in teacher salaries of our surrounding states, we would have to invest over $46 million. Even when using South Dakota's adequacy study which takes into account cost of living we would still need to invest over $32 million just be be on par with our neighbors.

After seeing the total waste of time and money spent on the research done by the State Aid Study Task Force and then seeing Gov. Round's annual education band-aid funding recommendation, this report finally gives some perspective to the crisis we have in our schools. Now the question is what will our legislators do about it next month? Given their recent history, I am not holding my breath...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Prayers Go Out To Senator Johnson

Just got in from work and saw the story on Senator Tim Johnson and his health problems on "Countdown" so I just wanted to post something in the middle of my self-imposed blogging break to express my sincere hope for a complete and speedy recovery for our Senior Senator.

First reports were that Johsnon has a stroke but his office is now saying he didn't. No matter what the issue, my thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

GOP Darling?

South Dakota Senator John Thune seems to be a favorite son of the DC GOP. First he was urged, but turned down a run at the chairmanship of the NRSC and now he has been tabbed as the chief deputy whip under Senate Whip Trent Lott.
In his first term in the Senate, John has demonstrated outstanding leadership skills, and I want to put his clout to work in developing the whip strategy to get the votes for our priorities," Lott said in a news release. "John will be actively engaged in our leadership team."

Thune will be the chief whipping boy over the other regional whips whom were also named by Lott and they include Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Rounds' Favorite Word For Education Funding

One Time...

Looking over the slides provided on the state website, one thing comes to mind. I doubt very seriously that the districts suing the state will have much hope for calling off their lawsuit anytime soon.

On the heals of the totally useless State Aid Study Task Force, Governor Rounds outlined his plans for the FY2008 budget and it again is filled with his favorite term when talking about education funding, "one time".

Rounds did bring up his DOA proposal from last year that seeks to make available $4 million in state matching funds for districts to use to to compensate educators involved in what he terms as "education improvement projects". This is the same project he proposed last year to a group of 400 educators that died because the districts believed that it would take away their control.

The only extra school funding proposed again this year is the mandatory 3 percent increase plus a few dollars for technology and special education programs.

One interesting side note from the governor that is a member of the "small government" GOP is that the discretionary spending increases budgeted for next FY includes 2.5 times more money for state employee compensation (10.4 Mil) than it does for K-12 teacher compensation (4.0 Mil) and remember that 4 million is contingent on the teacher being involved in one of those "education improvement projects".

Now that Rounds has put his budget cards on the table, it will be interesting to see if the state legislature will do anything to change that "one time" label that is so prevalent in our school funding agenda these days. 3 percent a year funding increases barely cover inflation costs and funding new programs and teacher salary increases is hard to do with "one time" money.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Weekend Chaff

Blogging here over the weekend was pretty light as I spent my time working on a couple of new sites but the news didn't stop happening.

It looks like former South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle's exploration into running for President has ended with a whimper as he has decided not to run. Daschle joins another prominent Democrat, John Kerry whom has also decided that a run at the White House is not in the cards. Not that Daschle or Kerry stood much of a chance but their announcements leave only Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack active in the very early stages for the Democratic nominee.

Former Rapid City Journal reporter and Mt. Blogmore contributor Denise Ross has joined the blogosphere with her blog titled Hog House Blog which is in reference to the term used in South Dakota politics to describe what happens to orphaned legislation.

Finally a small but ominous milestone for this site. My regular readers may be far and few between but the spammers are here in force as over the weekend I reached 3000 spam comments caught by Akismet, the Worpress spam plugin I use. So if anyone wants to know where to go to buy Viagra or for some reason needs information on the latest porn, just ask as I am sure there will be a comment related to those and many other topics in my morning spam parsing routine.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

I Suspect He Won't Be Getting A Christmas Card

From President Bush that is.

Eric Foner opines in today's Washington Post that Bush just might go down as the worst President in history.
Changes in presidential rankings reflect shifts in how we view history. When the first poll was taken, the Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War was regarded as a time of corruption and misgovernment caused by granting black men the right to vote. As a result, President Andrew Johnson, a fervent white supremacist who opposed efforts to extend basic rights to former slaves, was rated "near great." Today, by contrast, scholars consider Reconstruction a flawed but noble attempt to build an interracial democracy from the ashes of slavery -- and Johnson a flat failure.

More often, however, the rankings display a remarkable year-to-year uniformity. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt always figure in the "great" category. Most presidents are ranked "average" or, to put it less charitably, mediocre. Johnson, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Richard M. Nixon occupy the bottom rung, and now President Bush is a leading contender to join them. A look at history, as well as Bush's policies, explains why.
And here's where I think Foner gets his name taken of the Bush Christmas card list.
Historians are loath to predict the future. It is impossible to say with certainty how Bush will be ranked in, say, 2050. But somehow, in his first six years in office he has managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuse of power of his failed predecessors. I think there is no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history.

Exposed

Carrying on with the airport security theme that is somewhat near and dear to me, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is getting ready to be the test bed for the newest in security equipment and it might be a bit unsettling for the modest among us.


backscatterThe new backscatter technology is similar to the x-ray technology already used in all airports across the country but with a twist. Passengers will pass through the machine just like they do now with the metal detectors and the unit will x-ray the body looking for weapons and explosives.


For the exceptionally modest, the TSA has had the software modified so that the "sensitive" areas of the body will be blurred out and the viewing station will be placed in a remote location so that only a security officer will be able to view the image.


What makes this unit more advanced than what is currently installed is that it can also test for and detect plastic and liquid explosives that have been in the news a lot lately. The unit which is already being used in prisons and by drug enforcement agencies is schedule to be expanded to more airports in 2007 but if you are wondering about when it could make its debut in Sioux Falls, I wouldn’t hold your breathe waiting for it to happen anytime soon.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Worth The Wait?

The supposed reason why our legislators failed to provide long term funding for our schools was that they were waiting for the report, 18 months in the making, from the State Aid Study Task Force. Well the wait is over and the 70 page report is now finished. What does this "magic report" that we have all been waiting for contain? The self described "toolkit for legislators" contains pretty much a whole lot of nothing.
  • Is there any recommendations for changing the aid formula? No.

  • Is there anything to help address appropriate use of existing funds? No.

  • Is there any enhancement ideas to make the way we currently dole out state aid more equitable? No.

So now we are back to square one and the highly anticipated report that our legislators were using as an excuse for not addressing school funding is finished. What will our fearless leaders use as an their reason for not addressing funding this January? Dan Sutton? Abortion? I could go on and on but don't you think that a long term funding plan should come out of this upcoming session?

If it doesn't, I sure hope that everyone in South Dakota takes their legislators to task. No more excuses...