US Senator Mike Rounds’ Weekly Column: Thanking our VSOs

RoundsPressHeader MikeRounds official SenateThanking our VSOs
By Senator Mike Rounds
Aug. 28, 2015

In my first eight months working as a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I’m beginning to learn just how complicated it can be for our veterans to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to obtain promised benefits and utilize the agency’s wide range of services. While trying to navigate the VA and its benefits, there are a number of resources veterans can tap into for help. Veterans Service Officers, who are employed by counties and tribes in South Dakota, are but one group of individuals committed to providing information, assistance, counseling and referrals to veterans to help them navigate the VA and address a wide array of issues unique to our vets.

Veterans Service Officers, or VSOs, often play a necessary and crucial role in improving the lives of South Dakota veterans and their families. These VSOs are trained by the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs (SDDVA) to provide assistance to veterans, dependents and survivors.  Their expertise and dedication to VA issues has improved the lives of countless South Dakota veterans throughout the years.

I recently had an opportunity to meet with a group of VSOs and staff from the SDDVA at a gathering in Pierre. Many VSOs share my frustrations with the problems plaguing the VA that are preventing our veterans from receiving the timely, quality care they have been promised. Yet every day, our VSOs work tirelessly to push through the VA red tape and make certain that South Dakota veterans receive the care they deserve.

In recent years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has rightly earned a reputation of poor service and poor use of taxpayer dollars. While there are many great physicians and nurses at the VA caring for our veterans, I have heard too many firsthand accounts of mismanagement during committee hearings and through the many calls to my office from South Dakotans struggling to work with VA bureaucrats. Given the many challenges with the VA, advocating for our veterans at the local level is more important than ever.

Our veterans and their families make incredible sacrifices to defend our country and keep us safe. County and tribal VSOs and the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs have a direct and positive impact in making certain they are properly cared for when their mission is complete. I’m very proud of the work our VSOs do to assist and guide our nation’s heroes.  For more information about VSOs or to find your local officer for assistance, you can call the SDDVA at (605) 773-3269 or visit www.vetaffairs.sd.gov.

I will continue my work on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to hold the VA fully accountable to these selfless and brave men and women across the country. Nevertheless, I remain grateful to organizations and individuals – especially South Dakota Veterans Service Officers – who work quietly and tirelessly every day on behalf of our vets.

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Congresswoman Noem’s Weekly Column: Infrastructure Investments: Building blocks for a healthy economy

noem press header kristi noem headshot May 21 2014Infrastructure Investments: Building blocks for a healthy economy
By Rep. Kristi Noem
August 28, 2015

There’s hardly anything our family consumes that isn’t somehow impacted by rail.  From the food we eat to products we use in our homes, the reliability of our nation’s railways is critical.  In South Dakota, that importance is even more prominent.  Nearly every commodity we produce is exported and shipped via rail.  Disruptions or delays have an immediate and costly impact, as we saw early last year.  If our infrastructure crumbles, so does our economy.

Earlier this month, I met with the Rapid City, Pierre, and Eastern Railroad (RCP&E), which covers 670 miles of track stretching from Minnesota to Wyoming and running straight through the middle of South Dakota.  Railroads like RCP&E along with the state government are making meaningful investments to help avoid the backlogs that occurred last year.  I’m optimistic it’s been enough to ensure our rails can run smoothly and on time this year, but as is true for our nation’s roads and bridges, continued investments are necessary.

With nearly every farmer, rancher, and consumer relying on a well-maintained rail infrastructure, investments here should be a national priority.  It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been supportive of offering tax incentives to those willing to devote financial resources to improving our railroads.

One such incentive is the Short Line Tax Credit, which helps smaller railroads.  If you are investing in our railroads, you are creating jobs; you are increasing the speed of commerce; you are making products more affordable for hardworking families across the country.  The federal government has a responsibility to make those investments easier and offering tax credits like this helps accomplish that.

I am proud to have co-sponsored legislation in the House to extend this credit through 2016 and because it has broad bipartisan support, I’m hopeful we can see it enacted soon.

I’ve also encouraged the U.S. Department of Transportation to use existing grants to make greater investments in South Dakota, as so many of our nation’s commodities are shipped out of our state.  Moving wheat, soybeans, and corn more efficiently in South Dakota will reap countless benefits for consumers throughout the entire country.  It’s worth the investment.

For more than a century, rail has connected our coasts and enabled American commerce to thrive.  Still today, it remains one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to ship our goods, moving 40 percent of our nation’s intercity freight traffic and bringing one-third of U.S. exports to port.

Together with investments in roads and bridges, investments in our railroads help enable commerce to happen.  They are the building blocks of a healthy economy and a requirement for sustainable economic growth.

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Governor Daugaard’s Weekly Column: Examples Of Stewardship

daugaardheader daugaard2Examples Of Stewardship
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

It was President Grover Cleveland who said “a public office is a public trust.” The man who served as the United States’ 22nd and 24th president knew Americans expect their elected officials to do what is morally right and to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Still today, Americans believe that public servants should carefully and responsibly manage the things entrusted to their care.

Since first being elected five years ago, I have abided by this principle. With the help of state employees and legislators, South Dakota has a number of recent examples of good stewardship to share.

One example is the investment we are making in our roads. Our motor fuels tax had lost half of its purchasing power since it was last increased in 1999, and we saw that if we did not act, our roads and bridges would deteriorate. Time wasn’t on our side. Even though many of us in South Dakota generally oppose tax increases, we realized the longer we waited to act, the more costly it would be to repair our roads. So we came to a compromise that generated significant new revenue for construction costs without placing an unreasonable burden on our citizens. After months of discussions and studying the issue, the state Legislature passed a bill to raise $85 million in new revenue for our roads and bridges at both the state and local levels.

Another way we have been good stewards is by maintaining our buildings and better managing our properties. For instance, we recently made investments in our State Capitol Building. When we learned that the glass floor in the Capitol Rotunda and the stained glass throughout the building were both at risk of collapse, we spent money in the short-term to preserve the beauty of our Capitol Building and make improvements that will last for a century or more. Montana waited too long. They were forced to replace their Capitol glass floor, based on the same design as ours, with common ceramic tile.

Stewardship in our state has also meant responsibly managing our finances.  In 2011, South Dakota was facing a structural deficit. We cut state spending by 10 percent for every agency and office of state government. My staff and cabinet secretaries took a 10 percent pay cut and I cut my own salary by 15 percent. It wasn’t pleasant. But making difficult choices, we balanced our state budget and placed South Dakota on a firm financial footing. For four consecutive years now we have ended our fiscal year with a surplus.

Since emerging from recession many states are balancing their budgets again. But far too many of those other states have long-term liabilities – unfunded pension obligations and large general obligation liabilities. In South Dakota we have neither of those things. Our state’s pension is in sound condition for present and future retirees. We are one of only a very few states in the nation that can say that.

Good stewardship does not always mean not spending. We exercised frugality in 2014, when we received an unexpected windfall of $33 million. We used that money to retire bonds early and to pay cash, rather than borrowing, for a new veterans’ home. We were able to increase spending on education and Medicaid more quickly because of the savings we enjoyed from those decisions.

Efforts of good stewardship may not always grab headlines. Stories of reinforcing the floor in the state Capitol and responsibly managing the state’s pension system don’t usually end up on the front page of the newspaper. But it’s this kind of stewardship that makes good government and it’s what the people rightly expect of their elected officials.

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Thune Statement on Injunction Blocking Obama EPA’s WOTUS Implementation

thuneheadernew John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressThune Statement on Injunction Blocking Obama EPA’s WOTUS Implementation

“The recent ruling by a federal district court in North Dakota shows that the Obama EPA is not only defying common sense, but is also defying the original intent of the Clean Water Act.” 

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) issued the following statement in response to an injunction by a federal district court in North Dakota that temporarily blocks the Obama Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing its burdensome Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule in South Dakota and 12 other states:

“The Obama EPA’s WOTUS rule is one of the largest federal land grabs in recent memory,” said Thune. “It will drive up compliance costs for farmers and ranchers and expose homeowners and property owners across the country to massive new fines. The recent ruling by a federal district court in North Dakota shows that the Obama EPA is not only defying common sense, but is also defying the original intent of the Clean Water Act. The EPA should immediately suspend the enforcement of this regulation across the country. The ruling is yet another reason we need to enact a permanent stop to EPA’s overreach.

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Noem Praises Federal Court’s WOTUS Ruling

noem press header kristi noem headshot May 21 2014Noem Praises Federal Court’s WOTUS Ruling

WASHINGTON D.C. – Rep. Kristi Noem today applauded a U.S. District Court’s action that temporarily blocks the Obama administration’s controversial “Waters of the U.S.” rule.

“The Obama administration’s proposed WOTUS rule could amount to one of the largest federal land grabs in U.S. history.  It is a vast federal overreach and the District Court was right to put the brakes on it,” said Noem.  “The District Court’s hold is temporary at this time, so our efforts to reverse this rule must continue.   If the EPA’s proposal would ever be allowed to move forward, the expanded authority would empower federal agencies to fine homeowners, farmers, ranchers and others tens of thousands of dollars per violation – per day.  We can’t afford it.”

In May 2015, Rep. Noem helped the U.S. House of Representatives pass the bipartisan H.R. 1732, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015, which would send the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers back to the drawing board on the WOTUS rule.

Noem has also called on the EPA to define regulated navigable waters on a map after an alarming graphic was released that has raised questions about how extensive the EPA’s regulatory authority could become.  Read more and view the graphic here.

Additionally, in May 2014, Rep. Noem joined 231 Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle on a letter urging the EPA and the Secretary of the Army to withdraw the proposed rule.

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DNC meeting in Minneapolis this weekend. And how much are they spending to keep the SDDP afloat?

Word is that a contingent of Democrats from South Dakota made a pilgrimage to Minneapolis to the Democrat National Committee meeting taking place this week.

Aside from the meeting itself, the “Why” is pretty obvious, as the SDDP desperately needs the pipeline of cash from the national committee to buoy them up… or else they’re not likely to stay afloat.  So, state Democrats have to attend to do some big ring (or lower) kissing.

SDDP August 2015 FEC

While Republican-hating weatherman Phil Schrek can only keep the South Dakota Democrat Party afloat $20 at a time on his salary….

philschrek

…. State Democrats need more serious cash to keep the lights on. And it’s obvious they rely on their national party to do so:

democrat_cash

According to the August 20 report, over $7500 was dropped into SDDP coffers by the National party in July to keep them afloat. And the party credited them for sharing the voter file.

The word long ago when former ED/Chair Ben Nesselhuf left, was that he knew that the DNC money train wasn’t going to last forever, so he got while the getting was good.  But, despite the SDDP maintaining a phenomenal record of losses, surprisingly, the national cash is still there.

But is it good policy? Should the national party continue to keep the state Democrat party afloat?  What’s your opinion?

Attorney General Marty Jackley in town today. Great discussion over coffee, and some insight you might not get otherwise.

martyAs you might have noticed on facebook, Attorney General Marty Jackley spent some time in Brookings today, and I was invited over to have coffee with a group of others to listen to Marty address a number of topics in a free form Q & A session.

I had a exchange with Marty regarding law enforcement training in dealing with people with disabilities with a few things I’m going to follow up on; and it brought up a frightening statistic – there have been 19 officer involved shootings during his tenure, and almost all have involved either drug use, mental illness or both. Scary stuff, and it illustrates what officers on the street have to deal with, and potentially make life or death decisions regarding at a moment’s notice.

It was definitely an open, free wheeling discussion as Attorney General Jackley spoke on a broad range ofMarty Jackley topics, from immigration, to the Flandreau pot situation, to terrorism, human trafficking, and many other things. A freshman poly sci student who was having breakfast asked to join us, even though he admittedly was from Minnesota, and a Democrat. Marty didn’t care, and openly invited he and his companion into the conversation.

I did get the sense of frustration that Marty believes Congress as a whole should be using the power of the purse to go after federal agencies, as opposed to Attorney Generals having to band together to sue them, as in the case of WOTUS, which just had an injunction handed down today. That could potentially come up as a campaign theme to set himself apart should Marty decide to run for higher office, whether Governor or Congress.

I did ask about all the “petition crimes” that are being heaped upon his office, and whether some of them should be reduced to misdemeanors, so he could spend his time going after rapists and murderers. He noted that while he felt that some laws could be changed to give the Board of Elections and Secretary of State more authority to deal with minor matters, it’s up to them to ask for the authority, and the legislature to determine what weight they want such matters to have. And he’ll act accordingly.

Regardless, it was one of those rare opportunities to sit down with one of our statewide elected officials in an open, freewheeling discussion, and to get some insight, along with candid observations from their point of view.

Congresswoman Kristi Noem addresses professional group in Huron

From the Huron Daily Plainsman, Congresswoman Kristi Noem is still racking up the highway miles during the August Congressional recess, as she addresses the Huron Young Professionals luncheon on Monday:

kristi noem headshot May 21 2014When Congress returns to Washington, D.C., in September, Noem is hoping the House will pass a six-year transportation bill that would tie international tax reform to it to pay for it.

“It will be a permanent law that will allow all these companies that are keeping their dollars overseas to bring their money back into the United States and reinvest it,” Noem said.

A six-year highway bill would be the longest one in decades, and would give South Dakota certainty in addressing its deteriorating roads and bridges.

Noem said the most-often asked question she has gotten as she has traveled the state during the August recess deals with the controversial nuclear deal with Iran.

Like other countries in the region, she can’t support it.

It fails to eliminate Iran’s pathway to a nuclear weapon and there are no restrictions on how Iran can spend the $150 billion influx of cash as the sanctions are dropped, she said.

Read it all here.