Rep. Gene Abdallah, a Sioux Falls Republican, said he would alter Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s proposal to give state employees a 3 percent raise and 5 percent bonus.

“The governor is on the right track, except that I’m in favor of the 5 percent being added up and divided equally,” Abdallah said.

He said a 5 percent bonus would be $3,000 for an employee with a $60,000 salary but just half that, $1,500, for someone making $30,000. He would change that to pool the money and then make a flat payment that’s the same for everyone.

Rep. Jim Bolin, a Canton Republican, said he would favor a ban on texting while driving, but explained why he would not apply a similar ban on cell phones.

“Texting involves the hands, the mind and the eyes while you’re trying to operate a motor vehicle. It’s just common sense,” said Bolin. “I can take a cell phone call and drive. I believe I can do that safely. Texting is qualitatively different, and there should be a law against it.”

The Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the event ahead of the start of this year’s session Tuesday at the state Capitol. Seventeen legislators used a roving microphone to speak briefly in the hour-long session. The moderator was Jack Marsh from the Freedom Forum in Vermillion.

The legislators agreed the state has breathing room in its budget this year compared to last, when Daugaard requested a 10 percent cut. They disagreed on whether the governor deserves credit for that.

Sen. Angie Buhl said the governor gave little clue about his intentions before voters elected him in 2010.

“We didn’t hear a lot about budget cuts from Dennis Daugaard during the campaign. Suddenly we get to Pierre, and the gun is to our heads,” Buhl said.

“We are still four years behind in funding for education,” said Rep. Susy Blake, also a Sioux Falls Democrat.

Others defended Daugaard’s action.

“By making that hard decision last year, we’re actually avoiding some major budgeting problems this year,” said Rep. Roger Hunt, a Republican from Brandon.

The legislators floated several ideas about taxes.

Sen. Shantel Krebs, a Republican from Renner, said the 3 percent tax on buying vehicles, if raised to 4 percent, would produce $20 million for improving state roads. That would be only a fraction of what the state needs, but it would be a good start, she said. She also thinks the idea has no chance.

“I do not see that passing in an election year,” she said.

Sen. Todd Schlekeway said a 75-cent surcharge on phones is covering less than half the 911 service costs, so it might be wise to increase that rate. Rep. Mark Willadsen, also a Sioux Falls Republican, said the state should consider a tax on sales of precious metals.

Democratic Rep. Marc Feinstein said he favors a tax shift. He would eliminate the 4 percent state sales tax on groceries and make up for that by increasing the rate to 4.35 percent on other purchases. The shift would cost the state nothing while helping people who need it most, he said.

Sen. Deb Peters, a Republican from Hartford, said the state might be missing out on as much as $40 million a year by being unable to collect sales tax on Internet purchases. “There’s no true way to measure it,” she said. Most of those purchases are out of state. South Dakota has agreed to work with others in a multistate collection effort that would need the blessing of Congress.

“We have done everything we can,” Peters said.

Bob Bruning, who owns a marketing business in Brandon and was in the audience Thursday, said pursuing the Internet collections would be worth the effort. “It’s not a tax increase. It’s just enforcing an existing tax.”

Paid for by Angie Buhl O'Donnell for Senate.