Feds Gone Wild? Sure. But What About NE Officials?

By Shelli Dawdy

I’m a frustrated taxpayer. Very frustrated.

Where’s the frustration coming from? Right here in Nebraska’s capital.

As I’ve been looking at Nebraska’s budget, I’ve been very disappointed to realize just how many of those dollars come from the federal government. Recently, I shared two charts that quantify Nebraska’s revenue sources in graphic detail.

37.62% of Nebraska’s 2008 – 2009 budget came from the Federal Government.

Nebraska’s fiscal year runs July 1 – June 30, so the report upon which those charts were based was for the period July 1, 2008 – June 30, 2009. That report was submitted to Governor Heineman’s office on December 29, 2009, so it will be several more months before comparisons are available for the 2009 – 2010 budget.

Based on information coming out over the last year, which include statements made by Senators at a meeting in late June 2010 and ongoing news reports, the budget situation in Nebraska has been progressively degrading since 2008. As I reported in “NE Budget: Senators Hoping Feds Will Bail Us Out”, the solutions sought for the looming shortfalls were to cut 10% across the board and hope that Congress would renew or extend some stimulus funds.

It really does bear repeating: The “10% across the board” approach is inherently flawed. It presumes that all current government programs are equally valid and necessary.  Also worth repeating: 10% is literally the minimum necessary to meet the shortfalls projected as of May 2010.

Those of us who see “the big picture” insofar as the stability of the United States of America is concerned know we are well past a time when we can avoid unpleasantness.

More and more people are realizing the growing problem of our fiscal instability as a country is the result of our own ignorance and the unwillingness of those we elected to represent us to confront difficult problems head on.

Our Senators and the Governor have proven over the last two years that they will only do what’s unavoidable in the immediate term when it comes to our state budget. Therefore, they must clearly be hoping that something about the economy will change to reverse the progressively larger shortfalls.

How is that hope and change thing working out for Nebraska and the whole country?

Washington, D.C. is not the only city in this country that operates regularly outside the bounds of common sense.

Far too many of the people who represent Nebraskans in the state legislature, the Governor, and the bureaucrats seem to live in a parallel universe that interprets economic and other indicators differently from the way we little people here on planet Earth do.

Again, an examination of Nebraska’s budget proves that our financial situation has been degrading since 2008. The $600 million “rainy day” fund was tapped in November 2009 to meet shortfalls, and our Senators have their eye on the bulk of the remaining amount to contend with the very next round.(See Note 1, below)

As of May 2010, the shortfall projections by legislative bureaucrats for each of the next two years was $340 million. By the time the special Ad Hoc Committee sat down to discuss numbers, the revenue projections for June 2010 were already looking even shorter than previously projected. News stories in July and August show the trend is continuing.

This should come as no surprise; it was revealed at that late June meeting that the projections being discussed were based on an economic recovery projected to mirror the “recession of 2002″.  But, by all indications, the economic climate we’re currently experiencing bears little resemblance to 2002. When one Senator pointed that out to the bureaucrat who had calculated the projections, the response given was only memorable due to its inability to inspire confidence.

We have an utter failure of imagination that is clearly a trend in our state government. I recall a similar level of optimism being given as explanation for lack of action on LR289ca, the amendment to Nebraska’s Constitution that could have had some nullifying effect on the health care law. Senators believed the election of Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate  meant the health care bill was not going to pass. But after it did, all were relying on the Attorneys General lawsuit to save the day. The bottom line: the Unicameral need take no action to stop the imposition of the health care boondoogle on Nebraskans.

While many of us watching the action in Washington, D.C. up to that point had no illusions — we knew health care was going to be rammed through no matter what — our Senators kept hoping otherwise.

While the very necessary wake up call has come for a growing number of people, especially over the last two years, our elected officials seem particularly impervious.

Just as our state elected officials seemed to be the last ones to know that health care really was going to pass, they seem not to have gotten the memo on just how shaky things really are with the US economy, what the majority party agenda’s impact has meant in real life terms to many, and just how negative the impact is going to be as time moves on.

To cut to the bottom line – Nebraska’s elected officials just don’t get it. So they are playing politics as usual.

Failure to deal with reality head on shows that our state officials are ignoring the most important aspect of the whole matter; the impact on Nebraskans. To paraphrase another member of GiN who attended the late June budget meeting, if revenues are falling short, that means the people of Nebraska are hurting. While revenue shortfalls do not absolutely mean people are hurting in the strictest sense, it at the very least indicates a level of uncertainty and concern about the future; people are spending less money. Is it because they have less or is it because their uncertainty about the future is causing them to pay down debt and save more?

I hope it is the latter, not only because I do not want people to struggle to make ends meet, but also because that is precisely what needs to happen. This not only needs to happen with individuals and families but most especially with our government on a much more dramatic scale.

At the bottom of every problem I look at, I keep coming around to the same basic themes; our elected officials at every level either have an agenda that is in direct opposition to the basic principles upon which this country was founded or they are in a coma — and that means at every level, from City Council all the way to the White House.

We must all ask ourselves…are we going to keep sitting by, hoping they wake up or are we going to be the wake up call they need?

NOTES:

Note 1: At the June 2010 Ad Hoc Committee meeting regarding the state budget shortfall, use of remaining “rainy day” funds seemed a given. For reference, see the notes from the meeting, available here.

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