March 6, 2006
Dear Fellow Nebraskans:
These days in Lincoln there are two distinct conversations occurring -- one with an endless stream of additional spending requests, and another, more productive conversation about how to provide tax relief to Nebraska families.
The first conversation is the typical state government response to flush coffers. Almost nonsensically, some feel as if they can denigrate the tax burden facing Nebraskans while supporting a host of new spending projects with a wink and a nod.
The second conversation is the one we should be having, a conversation about making do with what we have, about how to make tough, prioritized spending decisions on behalf of the good men and women who pay the bills at the statehouse.
I know that our state institutions have had to endure lean years during the recent economic downturn, but I also know that the sky never fell, services rarely suffered, and much of the gloom and doom that was predicted never happened.
Spending cuts are a painful discussion, and I will be the first to acknowledge that my budget last year made targeted investments in our future. The Legislature and I wanted to increase funding for K-12 and higher education, and rightly so.
My joint proposal this session with the Attorney General and Sen. Pat Bourne of Omaha realistically addresses the costs of protecting families from sexual predators, and I believe most families would agree that public safety is worth the price.
Yet the conversation our state needs this session, from both a national competitiveness standpoint and from the perspective of a young family or retiring couple who want to keep their home, is one about tax relief and spending restraint.
Right now, the Revenue Committee is working on a compromise proposal that I can support. It may not have the same elements or be quite as large as the tax-relief package I proposed earlier this year, but it uses creative approaches to target meaningful and sustainable tax relief for individual Nebraskans and their families.
That was my only goal. To me, tax relief is like the issue of water management. It is something that will outlast most of us, but something that must be addressed incrementally and persistently if we are to succeed.
We need a decade-long approach to tax relief. We need to make improvements where we can, whenever we can. The only proven way to cut government spending is to take money off the table, because government can't spend the money it fails to collect.
Our state has allowed spending increases over the last 15 to 20 years to disassociate our tax climate from the reality of what hard-working Nebraskans can afford. We need to reclaim fiscal integrity on their behalf.
Ordinary Nebraskans did not receive a raise this winter when the costs of heating a home increased, or when fuel prices spiked. That is why I believe that government agencies -- with the exceptions of the Nebraska State Patrol and 24-hour nursing care facilities -- should have to make the difficult choices most families had to make.
I think it is fair for Nebraskans to expect their government to do the best they can with available resources, and I also think that our people have the right to expect that our first priorities when additional money arrives should be to give some of it back.
The Legislature and I may not always agree on how to proceed, but at least there is one conversation in Lincoln these days that could lead to tax relief for Nebraskans and their families. That is good news for us all.