REP. STEVE HICKEY – DISTRICT 9 (N/NW Sioux Falls, Hartford, Crooks, Humboldt)
BIO FROM WEBSITE: Steve was elected to the SD House of Representatives in 2010. He is the founding pastor of Church at the Gate and GO KIDS! Daycare in Sioux Falls. He’s written three books and teaches overseas a couple times a year. He’s also a small business owner/entrepreneur and has served for a number of years as a chaplain for the Sioux Falls Police Department and the Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Office, and as Cubmaster and Boy Scout Leader. Steve has studies and post-graduate degrees in political science/history and religion/divinity. He’s been married to a public school teacher for 24 years and together Kristen and Steve have three children; Caleb 22, Thomas 19, and Kaitlyn 18.
If you had to choose between public education funding or tax breaks and refunds to corporations interested in doing business in South Dakota, which would you cut first?
Neither. Technically, isn’t the one an expenditure and the other a revenue source? So as the question reads you are asking: should we cut funding going out or cut funding coming in? If you cut funding coming in, then you are ultimately making a decision to cut funding going out (education). In other words you shoot yourself in the foot. It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg and the complexity of stimulating our state economy to better fund education demands we not paint this as either/or. Public perception is easily spun to make it seem like we are hurting the one while helping the other but the reality is helping one does help the other. You’ll hear partisan rhetoric that these tax breaks and rebates amount to “corporate welfare.” No, welfare is when money goes out and poof, it’s gone. These up front corporate tax breaks prime a pump and the flow of revenue from that pump is absolutely essential to permanently addressing the public education funding issues we perennially face in our state legislature.
Do you support a one penny sales tax increase to fund education and Medicaid? If so, why or why not?
NO. First, this one penny is a 25% sales tax increase and that penny adds up to several hundred dollars per South Dakota household amounting to the largest tax increase in our state history – $180 million dollars. And this is a tax that has no sunset clause and it’s a regressive tax putting a greater burden on the poor. I do not support raising the cost of living (on groceries especially) for the under-employed, low-income earners and fixed income people in our state so that supposedly “non-profit” large hospitals can have additional monies to donate to build sport facilities with their names on it. People refer to this as a A Penny for T Denny for a reason. It’s more complicated than that but it is true there are no perimeters in this spelled out so more dollars go toward barely surviving nursing homes and children’s care facilities than to big brand new hospitals. Of course half the money is also designated to education which is then given to rural districts and big districts the same and that too is problematic.
What is the number one (1) issue the state legislature should focus on in the 2013 legislative session?
The healthcare/Medicaid issue is inseparably tied to the education funding issue. The education funding issue will not change as long as our Medicaid obligations continue to gobble up more and more of the budget pie. The prospect of the Affordable Care Act mandating the state add tens of thousands of new people to our Medicaid roles means there will be even less money for education. After being publicly reticent on this HB1234 education bill, one of the main reasons that I eventually supported it is that considering the conservative legislature, the only way to pay teachers more is to tie the money to measurables. Education is inherently measureable – teachers give grades every day. There are experts in ed reform who can help us figure out to pay good teachers more. The present system of teacher pay isn’t fair. In teaching Middle School here in Sioux Falls, my wife would take papers home every night and go in on Sundays to get ready for Mondays and other teachers did the bare minimum and yet they’d get paid the same. It’s not a system based on fairness and there are better ways to get greater support behind hard working teachers. If we can’t substantially increase the pay for all teachers right now, I support starting with some. Again I was a hold out on this Ed bill while successfully working behind the scenes to get the timetable pushed out to 2016 and get all the key players in SD education at the table (teachers, principals, superintendants, school board members, Board of Regents, etc). In the amended form of the bill which I voted for, these will be the people who make up the new South Dakota Education Reform Advisory Council which is deemed with the task of figuring out how to pay teachers more.
Since the state has a surplus this year of $50 million, do you think they should start funding public education better, reduce taxes or allocate those funds to something else?
Because of painful and unpopular cuts by our legislature these last couple years, we not only balance our budget, we have this 47 million dollar budget surplus referred to in your question. (With a 4 billion dollar budget, that’s only a 1% surplus). With these Federal sequestration cuts coming perhaps in January, 45-50 million dollars in Fed funding will NOT be available to us next year. Poof. There went our entire surplus. And the Affordable Care Act, unless it is repealed and replaced, will mandate we add tens of thousands of people to our Medicaid rolls which are already gobbling up 37% of our state budget pie. With education taking up 48% of our state budget, how should we proceed without cutting education even more? The answer is by investing in economic development. An investment in economic development IS an investment in South Dakota education. Happily, South Dakota is seeing some recovery. But caution and frugality is still the best course for this next year especially considering the fragility of the global economic situation. Sioux Falls may have decided that it’s time to build an events center on the backs of taxpayers. I hold a very different view how rosey things really are right now and whether or not it’s a time to spend more. The structural changes necessary to fix things nationally have not been made and therefore a greater national economic crisis is only a matter of time. South Dakota gets $2 from the Federal Govt for every $1 we pay out – that means we are a dependent state. When Federal dollars dry up, and they will, AND ALREADY ARE, dependent states will feel it first. We need to continue to wean ourselves off Federal dollars. Saying all that and based on continued economic recovery projections, certainly the legislature will increase funding this coming year to some of these critical areas that were cut, education being at the top of that list.
Do you support citizen driven initiative like the current snowgates petition that is circulating?
Yes I support these citizen driven initiatives as a very active and engaged citizenry is essential. Those who are elected are accountable to the public and citizens putting things on the ballot and deciding by popular vote is important. Honestly, I live between Sioux Falls and Hartford and have focused my attention on state issues and haven’t even looked into the pros and cons of snowgates in our city.
Bonus Question: If you were King or Queen for a day in Pierre, what would you change about the legislative session (ex: rules, procedures and time frames)?
Running for re-election every two years is not just a pain, it’s a waste of a lot of time/money and it means we have high turnover which means the legislature is the weakest branch of our state government. It takes a couple years to figure out all the various aspects of the main issues and learn how to navigate our system strategically and develop the relationships with colleagues, departments and industry that it takes to get things done. I’d be in favor of longer terms. Also, there are days when I think Nebraska has it right in being unicameral as I do weary of partisan politics. When I look at people in my district I don’t view them as a D or an R and I get the sense they have lost faith that either the D’s or the R’s have the answers. Maybe we should shuffle the furniture in the House of Representatives and eliminate the aisle. It’s a shame when people tune each other out just because they are on the other team. When I ran in 2010 I printed on my palm card that I am not beholden to either the political left or right but that I understand we answer to the people and to God and that I’m motivated to restore representation in government.
Meet the Legislative Candidates: REP. STEVE HICKEY • DISTRICT 9 HOUSE
October 8th, 2012 | State Legislature
REP. STEVE HICKEY – DISTRICT 9 (N/NW Sioux Falls, Hartford, Crooks, Humboldt)