With the election two weeks away, candidates vying for the District 17 positions in the state legislature answered questions from voters during a public forum in Vermillion Oct. 23.
In the race for the two available District 17 House of Representative seats, only two of the three candidates were in attendance at the forum — Democrats Ray Ring and Marion Sorlien. Both candidates seeking the single state Senate position, Republican John Chicoine and Democrat Tom Jones, were in attendance.
The Vermillion Area Chamber of Commerce and Development at City Hall hosted the forum. Tom Sorenson, the Associate Dean at the University of South Dakota School of Law, served as the forum moderator.
Members of the community submitted questions via paper slip for Sorenson to deliver to the candidates. About 40 area residents attended the event, the majority of them being senior citizens.
State fiscal policy was a subject of much discussion among candidates for both the House and Senate candidates. Following a question regarding South Dakota’s current financial status, Ring expressed his disapproval with the state’s current amount of money in reserves funding.
“This is a problem the legislature has not dealt with for a long time,” Ring said. “(The legislature) is squirrelling away this money without spending it. Its an idea that we have to have this huge rainy day fund, except then when we did have the rainy day, we didn’t spend money out of the rainy day funding.”
Sorlien, a fellow Democrat in the State Representative race, said 11 percent of the budget is set aside into reserve funding, an amount she believes came at the unnecessary expense of education funding.
“Its kind of a trick to put it into reserves because now (the legislature) gets to dole funding out one year at a time. That doesn’t make sense to me. I think it’s a power play and while I don’t know the in’s and out’s of the budgeting, I think that needs to be stopped,” Sorlien said.
Jones believes the legislature went too far in the cuts it made to balance the budget in 2010. Jones was a District 17 State representative for two years prior to his decision to run for the Senate seat.
“Two years ago at the state legislature, we were told we had a $127 million deficit and therefore we had to do a 10 percent cut across the board,” Jones said. “So we cut education, we cut health care, we cut nursing homes and then all of the sudden this year we have an $87 million surplus. This is the worst we’ve ever seen in the history of South Dakota where we misbudgeted.”
Jones’ opponent, Chicoine justified the cuts by saying the state has new sources of revenue to make up for the loss of funding.
“For example, this sale tax proposal passes, it will bring a lot of money into education, an increase of about $700 per student. That will bring it up to $5200 per student, which is the most the state has ever funded education,” Chicoine said.