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On September 22nd the Appropriations Committee I chair hosted a public hearing on two of my legislative resolutions: LR209 and LR210. For those who may not be aware, a legislative resolution is a step down from a legislative bill in that it does not become law. Frequently, state senators will introduce legislative resolutions in the form of “interim studies,” which are extended studies of policy topics that often include a public hearing. LR209 and 210 are two such studies
LR209 explores the options available to establish a methodology for depositing into the State’s Rainy Day Fund. Currently, the State relies on revenue forecasting error to deposit funds into the Rainy Day Fund. What this means is that the State deposits into the Fund when things are good, but what happens if an economic turnaround takes longer than expected? I believe that there should be a more systematic methodology versus the current “forecasting error.”
A lot of the discussion at the hearing attempted to address this question. Pew Charitable Trusts, a national research institute, spoke in favor of LR209. Their evidence-based research shows that when states have well-structured policies on Rainy Day Funds, it helps to prevent from credit-rating downgrades, cushions state services from economic downturns, and leverages state resources to capture opportunities in future economic growth.
The Platte Institute, a Nebraska research institute, also spoke in favor of LR209. Efficient use of government resources is one of their top priorities with issues like low taxes and regulatory reform. Understanding that when the State’s “fiscal house” is in order, well-structured Rainy Day Fund policy ultimately serves the taxpayer.
LR210 also deals with fiscal policy, but is more narrowly focused towards local government. It was introduced to examine the policies that can be implemented to manage “fiscal distress” among local governments, which could culminate in credit rating downgrading, increased taxes, or even bankruptcy.
A number of events at the local level in recent years highlight the risk posed by fiscal distress among localities. The exoneration of the “Beatrice Six” in 2009 after a 1985 murder case led to a $28 million judgement against Gage County. The recent acquisition of Cabela’s, a large employer in Sidney, by national outdoor retailer Bass Pro Shops has led to uncertainties about the future of Cheyenne County. And many other instances illustrate the fiscal risk our communities have seen.
Additionally, our small towns in rural Nebraska have incurred significant challenges due to out migration, unfunded mandates by both state and federal government, and our states aging demographic.
Pew Charitable Trusts and the Platte Institute both testified in support of LR210 to detail how fiscal distress policies can be implemented to monitor and support local governments. The first step is to analyze the financial information already collected on localities. Then the State can put systems into place which can forewarn the State and localities when certain localities are at risk. And lastly the State can help put those localities back on track to fiscal health.
Since the public hearing on LR209 and 210, I have been out in the district meeting with constituents on various topics. Last week, I held town halls in Mitchell, Gering, and Morrill. A lot of the discussion centered on property taxes and what we’re likely to see next year during legislative session. Other big topics included agricultural economics, infrastructure, and housing.
Over the course of the interim, a lot of time is spent meeting with various trade associations, advocacy groups, and concerned individuals on specific policy topics. As a state senator, it is my responsibility to become fully versed in virtually all policy topics that I will encounter. This is an intensive process, but I am thankful to the many groups that are able to inform my decision making.
When I travel to Lincoln I am often asked to participate in public speaking engagements. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at Opensky Policy Institute and Platte Institute panels in the past few weeks. At the Opensky Policy Institute, I spoke during a September 21st symposium which included the current budget issues faced this year and what will likely be faced next year, and a panel discussion on the Aging demographic in Nebraska. At Platte Institute’s September 26th Summit, I discussed state fiscal policy regarding federal funds and my bill LB611, which would provide an inventory of federal funds and action plan if those funds are pulled back or implemented differently.
I’m looking forward to concluding my work over the interim and fighting for the issues that mean the most to my constituents in next year’s session.
As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.