The Governor signed legislation in 2006 to create a state veterans cemetery system to honor the service that Nebraskans offered to their country. In August I attended the dedication of the first state veterans’ cemetery in Alliance. The land used was once an Army Airbase during World War II where many memories and structures still exist. Other state cemeteries will follow for Nebraskan veterans, their spouse and dependent children.
Nebraska ended the last fiscal year on June 30 with revenues falling more than $76 million below forecast. The July tax figures pushed the shortfall to more than $95 million. Both sales taxes and individual income taxes came in below the expectations. However, according to Tax Commissioner Doug Ewald, both of those would have balanced out by higher than expected corporate income and miscellaneous taxes if not for an unexpected refund of nearly $19 million paid out under the state’s business tax incentive program to a single company. With that information known to us, I think it wise to look at August and September revenues before deciding about a special session to deal with the shortfall.
The Health and Human Services Committee, which I am a member, met the last week of August to hear what social service programs, not mandated by the federal government, might be cut to meet the 10% target suggested by Speaker Mike Flood. I stress again that these cuts may or may not be items that can actually be endorsed at this time but need to be identified for reduction, consolidation or elimination to address the budget shortfall. All committees have the grueling process of what possible legislation may be needed to address the shortfall of $751 million that requires statutory changes for the January 2011 session.
Our legislative committee also met and gathered information on Nebraska’s efforts to improve its treatment of troubled children and their families. Last fall, the Nebraska Health and Human Services contracted with five private child welfare agencies to care for children and families in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Six months after the contracts were signed, Cedars Youth Services and Visinet dropped out, citing they were losing too much money because of inadequate state payments. HHS officials told us they are working closing with the three remaining providers, who are spending millions of their own dollars in an attempt to make it work and cover losses. However, as we listened to testimony and asked questions, I wonder if they can hang on long enough before reforms are made. We will meet again to hear from two groups representing families later this month.
As of the middle of August, Nebraska and Wyoming are the only two states in the nation who have not applied for any money from the stimulus program called TANF (Temporary Aid for Needy Families) Emergency Funds. There has been a disagreement of how much the state would receive. According to Health and Human Services, the state could get about $6.34 million but others believe, according to federal document eligibilities, that amount could be as much as $28.7 million. Whatever the dollar amount, when we know private companies are struggling and two have folded trying to treat needy families, I believe Nebraska should apply and understand we plan to apply. It is frustrating, however, since the money was available back in April 2009 and missed opportunities are now in the past.