Good evening Chairman Harding and members of the City Charter Review Committee. For the record, my name is Heath Mello, and I am a State Senator representing parts of South Omaha and Midtown and reside at 5315 B Street.
Since first being elected in 2008, I have had the opportunity to serve as a member of the Nebraska Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, and I was selected by my colleagues to serve as Chairman of the committee this past January. Responsible for developing Nebraska’s state budget, the Appropriations Committee has a significant responsibility to craft a balanced budget that provides Nebraskans with the vital services they rely on from their state government. For each of the three budget cycles that I have served on the Appropriations Committee, and since 1987, the State of Nebraska has utilized a biennial budgeting process, and I am here today to urge the Charter Review Committee to amend Article 5, Sections 5.04 and 5.05 of the City of Omaha’s Charter to provide for biennial budgeting. Such a change could be made with minimal changes to the current July-to-September budget timeline used by the city.
Authorized with the passage of LB 258 in 1986, biennial budgeting was advocated by former Senator Jerome Warner as a tool to help the state develop an improved capacity for long-range planning. During the public hearing on LB 258, one agency testified that as part of the annual budget process used at the time, agency staff was already working on the following year’s budget before the current year’s budget had even been passed by the Legislature.
In practice, budget cycles at the state level have consisted of a comprehensive two-year budget being developed during the 90-day “long” session, with a series of adjustments being made during the following 60-day “short” session. Decreased issue volume during short sessions allows the Legislature to conduct more in-depth review of budget areas those years in addition to other policy areas.
In 2000, the Legislature enacted LB 1116, which authorized cities of the metropolitan and primary classes to adopt biennial budgeting if approved by the voters in those cities as part of their city charter. Just this past session, the Legislature expanded that authority to cities of the first class, second class, and villages.
The City of Lincoln has already exercised their authority to adopt biennial budgeting, passing their first biennial budget in 2012 for the 2012-2014 biennium. The charter amendment allowing this change was adopted unanimously by the Lincoln City Council and was approved with 68% of the vote in the November 2010 General Election.
Prior to switching to biennial budgeting, Lincoln city employees spent an estimated 18,000 hours each year working on budget issues. While we will not know the final numbers until after the end of the biennium, Lincoln officials estimated that they could save roughly 10,000 hours in city staff time during the second year. These efficiencies, if replicated in Omaha, could amount to substantial savings of taxpayer dollars.
Another argument in favor of biennial budgeting that was discussed when Lincoln’s change was proposed is the time it takes for a new mayoral administration to understand the budget process and prepare a proposed budget. If timed to fall after the year a new mayor takes office, biennial budgeting could potentially lessen the steep learning curve for an incoming mayor.
Certainly, having been involved in passing the last three state budgets and recently crafting the 2013-2015 biennial budget as Appropriations Committee Chairman, I can personally attest to the benefits of biennial budgeting. I strongly urge the committee to consider amending the City Charter to provide for biennial budgeting, and would be happy to answer any questions.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 18, 2013
For More Information:
Senator Heath Mello, (402) 471-2710