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PIERRE – The United States' soaring inflation has Gov. Kristi Noem calling for across-the-board raises for South Dakota educators and state employees, who she says are struggling to make ends meet in President Joe Biden's economy.
The first-term Republican governor in her 2021 Budget Address to the South Dakota Legislature on Tuesday outlined her vision for spending hundreds of millions in state and federal dollars, and used the opportunity to paint a bleak financial picture facing Americans because of what she characterized as poor decision making in Washington D.C.
More: South Dakota's next budget includes $60M boost for water projects from federal stimulus
“We can’t invest in our workforce without supporting the hard workers that we already have here. That includes our teachers. It includes state workers. And it includes healthcare providers who take care of the rest of us,” she told a capacity crowd in the chambers of the South Dakota State House. “But like all Americans, they’re suffering under the strain of horrifically high inflation stemming from the Biden Administration’s policies.”
That’s not stopping her from using the billions in stimulus received by South Dakota in a pair of trillion-dollar spending packages expected to pass out of Congress this year to not only bolster wages for state employees and teachers, but also for a litany of high-dollar projects expected to be transformational for local economies.
Noem wants lawmakers to back a $30-million investment into Dakota State University to help the Madison-based university expand its cyber-security training program. And those dollars will also aid DSU as it looks to expand and realign its cyber-security training facilities, which is expected to include a location in Sioux Falls.
"Cybersecurity is an emerging, cutting edge industry. But companies go where the talent is. Let’s train South Dakotans in cybersecurity," she said. "Let’s give those companies a reason to locate in our state."
That project has economy boosters excited.
Matt Paulson, founder of the the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship and Start Up Sioux Falls, said the establishment of a cyber-security training campus in Sioux Falls pairs well with other science and technology initiatives undertaken in the city in recent years, including the University of South Dakota Discovery District.
"With ongoing cyber security threats from abroad, this is a great development for the state that will help keep more cyber security professionals in South Dakota to protect our digital infrastructure," he said. "This investment will help attract other cyber security companies to the region and possibly create a new industry in South Dakota."
DSU President José-Marie Griffiths declined to share further details about any potential plans to build in Sioux Falls with the Argus Leader, saying the university is still in planning stages. However, she said a formal announcement is expected to be made some time in January.
"We’re focused on the program key, which is for DSU in Madison," she said.
Another $17 million in the governor’s budget proposal would be dedicated to boosting workforce training capacity at all of South Dakota’s technical colleges which would match the state’s investment.
She also wants the state to put financial support behind nursing program expansion at both Northern State University and Black Hills State University.
Much emphasis has been placed on investing in infrastructure projects, specifically with the use of American Rescue Plan Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by Biden this fall, Noem is calling for more than a half-billion in water project spending and tens of millions more in dam and flood repairs. And those dollars will leverage local investments that will total more than $1.5 billion worth of projects.
Noem's budget also calls for $100 million for daycare grants and to offset costs for start-up daycare centers. Another $600-million will be directed toward workforce housing.
Those two spending proposals would send much needed aid to South Dakota communities who've seen their housing shortages exacerbated since the start of the pandemic when new residents began flocking to the state.
"There is much good, practical programming in this budget, from wage adjustment to daycare incentives to helping spur workforce housing," Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken said. "I am excited to dive in further but at first blush, this budget hits the critical needs I am hearing about daily."
Even Democrats were lauding Noem's vision for the 2023 budget, who've been pushing to see the governor use federal dollars to address daycare, workforce and housing shortages.
House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, D-Sioux Falls, though, said more credit needs to be given to the federal government.
"Gov. Noem gets compared a lot to Donald Trump but today she sure sounded like Joe Biden," he said. "And we really appreciate a lot that is going on in this budget. We have to acknowledge that the money is coming – and she did in a negative fashion – but yet she's going to take credit for all these good things that are going to happen in the state of South Dakota."
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This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Noem's budget includes funding for teachers, mental health and workforce
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