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As Chairman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, part of my responsibility is to hedge “mission-critical” state services against the effects of a slowing economy. A struggling farm economy and a sluggish U.S. and global economy all have left their mark on Nebraska’s budget.
However, these factors are not the only budgeting issues. Changes in Washington also affect Nebraska’s fiscal health.
Many of Nebraska’s daily commitments to healthcare, education, the military, and other state services come from your federal tax dollars. Roughly 30 percent of Nebraska’s total budget depends on these tax dollars.
The level of dependency on Washington varies from state to state. This is why other states have put processes in place to make information on federal funds easier to access and understand. State lawmakers need this process codified in law to ensure that long-term decisions are well informed.
Receiving federal funds can be costly if the obligations are not fully understood or if the federal government draws back its funding. In some cases, participating in a federal grant may require Nebraska to spend more state tax dollars on a specific program than it otherwise would.
State agencies that regularly interact with federal departments have access to information about the contractual obligations, or “strings” attached. Often times, however, the Legislature does not.
LB611 will give future legislators a mechanism to easily access information on federal programs. This bill will give more detail on the impact of federal programs, how they affect individual agencies, and what that means for the state’s total budget.
I want to provide transparency and adequate information on our state’s fiscal health to Nebraska taxpayers and decision makers. That’s why LB611 became a committee priority and the Legislature voted in favor of the bill earlier in January with broad bipartisan support.
LB611 creates a federal funding inventory for Nebraska. It would require most state agencies to submit a report that will allow the Legislature and Nebraskans we represent to keep track of the federal grants and obligations we’ve committed to. LB611 would take the information our various state agencies already have on federal grants and inventory them into a report.
The report would also provide a risk assessment and contingency plans in the event of significant reductions in federal funding. This information will help future committee members assess changes to be made when new administrations enter into the White House.
For example, President Trump plans to introduce new welfare reform policies this year. That means Nebraska is likely to see cuts to programs within the Department of Health and Human Services. The Legislature needs to be able to plan for these changes.
Government shutdowns, sequesters, or significant cuts in the budget following federal tax reform may also pose future threats to Nebraska’s own budget certainty.
LB611 will give the Legislature the needed data to see which programs are mandatory and which are optional. It will also allow the Legislature to see which programs have sunset dates and ensure that the optional federal programs fulfill state agencies’ purpose. Once the Legislature has that information, lawmakers can measure the strings attached to these funds and evaluate the impact of the programs currently being funded.
LB611 will make it easier to act on the interests of constituents, instead of being guided only by what Washington mandates. With higher quality information, a better informed approach can be made about which services our constituents expect and what the budget will allow.
The Legislature has already taken its first vote on LB611, with a strong showing of bipartisan support. Legislative bills must go through three successful rounds of voting to be sent to the Governor. I would greatly appreciate your efforts in contacting state senators to ask them to continue their support of LB611.
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: Senator John P. Stinner, District 48 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68209-4604; telephone: 402-471-2802; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.