For individuals and families across the nation, times are tough. Fortunately for Nebraskans, prudent fiscal decisions on the part of our leadership have put the state in a good position to weather this recession. Still, we cannot afford to be complacent. Recent reports indicate Nebraska is not immune from the economic downturn. With this in mind, the Legislature has a difficult task ahead of them in approving and enacting the state budget.
On January 15th, Governor Heineman presented his biennial budget proposal to the Legislature. His recommendations are indicative of the current economic environment. The proposal calls for restricted spending with limited to no growth in funding for many state agencies, boards, and commissions. In some cases, spending levels would be reduced from the previous budget cycle. One of the few areas to see an increase in funding is K-12 education.
Soon after the release of the Governor’s budget, the Appropriations Committee went to work preparing their own preliminary budget. This initial budget was used as the basis for discussion during recent public hearings. It is now up to the Committee to take all the information they have received and craft a final budget to submit to the full Legislature for debate.
Whatever budget proposal ultimately comes before the body, it is imperative for us to closely examine the contents to ensure it is the most responsible use of our state funds. This will mean making some tough decisions. Not everyone is going to get what they want and some things will have to wait. In short, we must be extremely selective and only fund what is truly needed.
An added twist to the budget process this year is the use of the federal stimulus funds. It is important to understand the implications of this money before deciding how to use it. I believe the funds should be used for one-time projects which actually stimulate the economy, not long-term programs that will need to be sustained with state funding. Ultimately, the stimulus money must be paid back. Let’s not make this task any more difficult by attaching strings to it.
In the past two years, strong foresight on the part of our state leaders has enabled them to make sound economic decisions. As a result, Nebraska has withstood the recession much better than many other states. Our task now is to make certain this holds true by continuing to make responsible decisions when debating the state budget.