Noem plans CARES Act spending, but lawmakers want oversight


SIOUX FALLS (AP) – South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem's administration on Thursday laid out a plan to spend the bulk of the $1.25 billion in federal funds the state has received to address the coronavirus crisis, but some House lawmakers balked at allocating the money without more input from the Legislature.

The Republican governor's administration has spent about $114 million in federal funds so far and must expend the rest of the money by Dec. 30 unless Congress extends the deadline. Noem this week laid out a plan to make $400 million available to businesses hurt by the pandemic, and a legislative committee that handles the budget provided some feedback on it.

But as lawmakers debate how best to use over $600 million of what's left to address the pandemic and its economic fallout, a divide has formed over calling a special session to approve the use of the funds. Lawmakers also plan to hold public input sessions this month to formulate suggestions on how to use the money.

“Where is the legislative oversight? Where is the legislative input?” Rep. Taffy Howard, a Republican from Rapid City, asked during the Thursday meeting.

Clark said that the governor would be taking input from the Legislature as it holds committee meetings this month, but asserted that Noem has the authority to spend federal funds without a special legislative session. The federal money is a massive windfall for the state, equivalent to roughly 25% of its entire annual budget.

Speaker Steve Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, has requested Noem call a special session, with dozens of House lawmakers signing onto a letter supporting that motion.

“This should not be just seen as an opportunity to stuff her hands in the cookie jar,” Haugaard said of the governor's funding plans.

For the full Legislature to reconvene in Pierre, either the governor must call for a special session or two-thirds of both the House and Senate must support it. But Senate Republicans, who hold a majority, appear less willing to get behind the idea.

Senate legislative leaders had previously preached patience on allocating the money, expecting that Congress would extend the end-of-year deadline to expend it. They had argued it would be best to allocate the funds during next year's legislative session. But with coronavirus aid negotiations stalled in Congress, Senate Republicans seemed to change tact, pushing to move the funds without a special session.

Sen. Brock Greenfield, a Republican from Doland, said, “We will continue to work with the administration to provide our legislative thumbprint, but it is very important that the dollars get out.”

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