In order to develop its legislative platform, the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, through its Issues Management Council, conducts research, hears presentations and surveys its members about issues affecting business. These efforts, combined with actively following and monitoring legislative activity since the close of last session, guide our efforts toward developing the platform for the upcoming session. The platform is reviewed, edited and approved by the Issues Management Council and forwarded to the Chamber Executive Committee for review and adoption. Due to a unique Chamber Board calendar this year, Board approval may not be feasible before the start of session, but the platform may be affirmed at the January 2018 meeting.
SB 235 of the 2013 Legislative Session established the Building South Dakota Fund and during the 2014 Session, one-time funds were used to forward fund the new program. We will continue to monitor the use and impact of this program and we will closely analyze any legislation that impacts this program and other economic development efforts in our state.
South Dakota has limited programs, when compared to other states, to help compete for and leverage business growth and development. One such program that is locally controlled and administered is tax increment financing which can be vital to a project happening, re-locating or moving forward in South Dakota. The Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce supports the appropriate use of TIFs for projects when it is needed to address blight, build infrastructure, encourage workforce housing expansion, promote economic development and/or make public improvements. Further, we support local decision-making in the administration of TIFs.
The Chamber recognizes that a safe, efficient and responsive transportation infrastructure is critical to economic development and commerce in Sioux Falls and throughout South Dakota. The Chamber encouraged the 2015 Legislature to address the funding needs of our state and local highway and bridge systems leading to the enactment of a comprehensive funding program for these systems. The Chamber supports the evaluation of our highway and bridge systems on an ongoing basis. The full impact of the new funding approved in 2015 including local flexibilities should be carefully reviewed before new funding is considered. We also support retaining the requirement of local county effort for match funding.
The Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce believes our economy is best served by allowing free and open competition in the marketplace in an environment that encourages business development and expansion. Laws that preclude or give advantage to one business structure or arrangement over another ultimately lessen competition and reduce our area's attractiveness as a business location. Barriers to business investment and capital formation impede growth and economic diversification. Appropriate rules and regulations, may be required for a viable free market, but government intrusion should not inhibit or restrict business unnecessarily.
The Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce opposes unnecessary intrusions into employer/employee relationships. We support voluntary agreements between management and the workforce establishing compensation, benefits, hours and working conditions.
While the state budget is always an important issue, recent years' revenue challenges beg stronger attention to highest order priorities. The current prediction is a $34 million shortfall in the FY 18 budget and the Chamber supports spending reductions and the one-time use of cash to minimize the impact on high priority areas.
For FY 19, we continue to support a balanced budget even when it means difficult decisions. Changing some sales tax exemptions may provide additional revenue, but each one will be considered carefully before it is endorsed. We continue to see no need for an income tax or major tax increases.
The future of Sioux Falls and South Dakota depends on educating our citizens and developing our workforce to remain competitive on a regional, national and international scale. It is vital to foster an educational system that works in tandem with the business community and government to address and support workforce development initiatives. We look forward to evaluating any workforce development proposals that may arise during the Legislative Session.
To support our state's citizens and to meet our workforce development needs, the Chamber supports the allocation of public monies to ensure funds for an equitable, effective and efficient system of pre-K-12, technical schools and higher education.
K-12 FUNDING: The Chamber supported the Governor's plan to increase the state sales tax by Â½ cent and dedicate those funds to increasing teacher pay (plus some property tax relief) and we would oppose efforts to rollback increased funding for K-12 education. Further, we encourage the School Finance Accountability Board and the Legislature to ensure that in the future school districts are held accountable for meeting teacher pay and cash balance targets. Quality education is essential for the business community to attract new employers and employees and to educate a growingly diverse workforce. We will follow all proposals affecting K-12 funding closely and consider the impact on our members and area schools. Changes to the formula or other aspects may be introduced, but we believe more time is likely needed before significant changes should be considered that move funding between districts.
K-12 EFFICIENCY: The Chamber fully understands the challenges of operating a K-12 system in a largely rural state that is sparsely populated. For their well-being and the well-being of our state, children throughout South Dakota must be assured a quality education as our Constitution outlines. Still, we encourage organizational changes to improve efficiency and permit reinvestment into core priorities like teacher salaries and educational programming. We recognize that some districts that are sparsely populated need additional resources per student to ensure a quality education. However, some districts choose to remain small and additional financial subsidies in those instances should be critically reviewed. We encourage the use of technology-based instruction to enhance access to master teachers and course topics that are not available in our smaller districts. We discourage school districts from utilizing recruitment and busing to lure and transport students from one district to another. If at all possible, school districts should not be financially incented to recruit students. In short, efficiency and organizational decisions need to be made to reflect changing demographics and to meet the needs of our K-12 learners.
TECHNICAL INSTITUTES: As demand for a technically-skilled workforce continues to grow, South Dakota's technical institutes require the ability to respond programmatically to that demand and the funding for workforce-related programs. Costs continue to rise particularly in regard to serving students in high-cost program areas and tuition in South Dakota is simply not competitive with surrounding states. The Chamber supports increased investment in the workforce of tomorrow, which is critical for continued economic development. The Chamber also supports continuing progress to enhance local control of our state's technical institutes to ensure they best serve South Dakota.
HIGHER EDUCATION: The Chamber acknowledges that a highly educated citizenry is critically important to many individual businesses and to competitively position our community for future economic development. We support increased funding for the Regental system and encourage consideration for funding options for the University Center in Sioux Falls to address tuition and service inequalities and new mission opportunities. Further, we encourage more local governance and input into the University Center to better align its programs with the needs of residents and the business community.
WORKFORCE HOUSING: The Chamber followed the work of the Workforce Housing interim committee. Programs that enable or incent the development of workforce housing should be equally available to communities of all sizes. We believe that tax increment financing should also be available as a tool for workforce housing that meets appropriate criteria.
DRIVERS' LICENSE EXAMS: The Chamber would support legislation to examine or implement drivers' license testing in languages other than English. A pilot program or a summer study would help enumerate costs and challenges. As one of only a few states that have not yet implemented multi-language tests, we hamper our workforce development efforts.
COUNTY FUNDING: With the progress made during the 2016 session, the Chamber's concerns about resources available to counties to address, in particular, increased behavioral health and criminal justice costs were partially addressed. We believe that these improvements benefit the counties and that we need some time to reevaluate need. We are aware of and concerned with the impacts of Marsy's Law on county budgets and would support efforts to repeal this amendment and incorporate it into state law.
CITY SALES TAX FOR INFRASTRUCTURE: The Chamber has consistently supported a proposal to permit municipalities to impose a sales tax for infrastructure purposes, provided there is an affirmative vote of the municipality's residents and the tax is tied to specific projects for a set period of time. We believe this type of local control proposal is the best way to determine the need for such a tax and measure the willingness of local citizens to impose a tax in their community.
PROVIDER FUNDING: The Chamber recognizes the role the non-profit community plays in providing essential services to our most vulnerable citizens and supports appropriate funding for them. We strongly encourage the state's reimbursement rates to align with providers true costs associated with those essential services.
In the June special session, the Chamber encouraged a compromise to provide access to certain nonmeandered waters in our state. We fully understood that the first years of this compromise would help us identify its strengths and weaknesses. However, the bill was amended to include a June 30, 2018 sunset. We believe the sunset is too soon and would favor extending it or removing the sunset altogether and adjust the law from year-to-year as needed.
The Chamber recognizes the growing diversity of our state's population and we embrace the opportunities that this diversity provides for a culturally and talent-rich community. We will work with residents, our partners, community and state agencies and elected officials to develop efforts to engage and include all individuals in our state who seek to work side-by-side with us to grow our economy. As we work to meet the workforce expectations evident today and predicted well into the future, legal immigration and refugee resettlement are proven and important strategies. We will also resist initiatives which inappropriately sanction or discriminate against individuals or groups.
We have seen in recent sessions bills introduced that put business and property owners at odds with gun advocates. Our Chamber believes in the right to gun ownership and the traditions of hunting and outdoor life so prominent in South Dakota. However, we have also maintained that property and business owners have the right to restrict gun possession on their property if they choose. This issue will likely resurface again in 2018 and we support the rights of property and business owners to restrict gun possession on their property.
Our Chamber believes that South Dakota's longstanding tradition of allowing direct citizen access to the ballot through the initiative and referendum processes should remain. However, South Dakota finds itself in the position of allowing very broad access and relatively low signature requirements making our state an easy target for special interests who want to test issues. We would encourage a review of the rules and requirements surrounding constitutional and statutory ballot measures and support changes that address problems while preserving our tradition of access.
We support, in concept, the goals and work of the Initiative and Referendum Task Force and will consider each of their proposals as they seek to improve the process and help inform voters.