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Gov. Kristi Noem's proposed 2022 budget includes 6% pay raise for state workers

The Republican governor gave the annual budget presentation in Pierre on Tuesday, Dec. 7, just over a month before lawmakers will convene on the Statehouse again to open up the 2022 legislative session.

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South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, alongside South Dakota Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch, left, and Lt. Governor Larry Rhoden give an applause to Chief of Finance Liza Clark while Noem delivers her budget address on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021 in the house chambers inside the state capitol in Pierre. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced her proposed 2022 budget on Tuesday, Dec. 7, laying out a spending plan that would see a 6% pay increase for state workers, including teachers and corrections officers.

But while she reported $215 billion in revenue had been placed on the state's credit card, Noem also warned of "a giant handout" from Washington, D.C., money she plans to spend on teacher pay, dam repair and child care grants.

"That money isn't appearing out of thin air," said Noem, who enters the final year of her first gubernatorial term and has announced her candidacy for next fall's election. "Those are taxpayer dollars, too, and it's money that is being borrowed from the future."

The piggybank Noem and lawmakers will pull from this year will largely resemble the funding pot from last year, when a boost in state revenues, largely padded by federal coronavirus spending under the Trump administration , allowed the historically lean Legislature to spend on big-ticket infrastructure items, such as a new entertainment complex at the state fair.

The Republican governor drew some applause lines from the gathered legislators in the Statehouse during a speech just shy of an hour on Tuesday when hitting themes similar to those she's repeated all year, such as the state's management of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said South Dakota's hands-off approach to the virus has drawn workers to the state, including law enforcement recruits to Rapid City and Sioux Falls.

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Noem also promised to make the targeted investments in the very things earmarked by the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and the $1 trillion infrastructure package .

Among the highlights in Noem's proposed budget includes $200 million into workforce housing grants, $100 million to boost nonprofit child care, and $660 million in clean water projects.

But the biggest investment — and one that could go toward shoring up record retirements projected for public employees over the coming five years — will be an across-the-board 6% pay increase for state workers, including teachers and corrections officers.

"We can't invest in our workforce without supporting the hard workers that we already have here," said Noem, calling the public pay increase "unprecedented."

The prospect of spending big on infrastructure, including clean water projects and housing, is a departure from earlier this year when Noem told Fox News' Sean Hannity that she lamented that early drafts of the bipartisan infrastructure deal went "into housing and pipes and different initiatives." Biden signed the infrastructure deal last month.

On Tuesday, Noem said she was initially sympathetic with people who encouraged her to "refuse the money." But the former congresswoman added, "giving that money back means that money goes to another state," naming states with Democratic governors, from California to Minnesota.

Following Tuesday's speech, Rep. Ryan Cwach , a Yankton Democrat, said he tried to rectify the speech's announced investments away from its campaign-stump rhetoric.

"Gov. Noem gets compared to Donald Trump a lot, but today she sounded a lot like President Biden," said Cwach, ticking off her investments in infrastructure, workforce, child care and wage increases.

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Among smaller investments penciled into Noem's budget include $6.5 million to repair dams, a $70 million upgrade to the state's public health lab, which has drawn yeoman status during the pandemic, and $10 million to expand campsites at Custer State Park.

The governor's budget address is merely a projection of spending, which will need to be approved by appropriators. Last year, the governor largely received what she had proposed to the Legislature, which is a Republican supermajority, including a record investment in rural broadband expansion, repairs to a railroad west to the Black Hills, and a new bison corral at Custer .

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