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Office of Governor Pete Ricketts

Budgeting the Nebraska Way

The year is coming to a close and as 2016 approaches families and business owners across Nebraska are examining their budgets.  As they budget, Nebraskans set their spending priorities for their households and businesses.  Whether you are a farmer considering how much to spend on seed and fertilizer or a parent of two teenagers trying to save for future education, our spending decisions are governed by a strong tradition of fiscal restraint. 

Our state government has long lived by the same principles that Nebraskans practice at home every day.  By law, the State of Nebraska must balance the state budget, and we cannot borrow money to achieve this.  A balanced budget means the state has to set spending priorities – we cannot simply spend money we do not have to fill holes in our budget.  When revenues fall below projections, lawmakers have regularly chosen to cut spending instead of raising taxes.  This is the right approach because government should demonstrate the same fiscal restraint the people of Nebraska use during tough times.

While this way of thinking is second nature to Nebraskans and their elected representatives, our fiscal discipline stands out at the national level.  State debt in Nebraska barely registers at a meager $10 per person.  Compare that to Connecticut which has a staggering $5,491 in debt per person according to Moody’s.  Large amounts of debt cripples the ability of government to create an environment for positive economic growth because the first dollar of every budget must go to pay it off.  When budgeting time arrives, debt obligations limit the ability of government to invest in key initiatives such as education and infrastructure that support economic growth and job creation.

Over the course of the past year, my administration has worked diligently to build on our state’s strong fiscal foundation.  In this past legislative session, the Legislature and I worked together to pass a balanced budget that focused on important priorities and provided much-needed tax relief.  Along the way, we cut the rate of growth in spending by nearly half.  Previously, spending had been growing by over six and a half percent, which is not sustainable.  Most Nebraskans cannot grow their family budgets that quickly, and neither should the state.  Cutting the rate of growth in spending allowed the Legislature and I to include over $408 million of property tax relief, a 45 percent increase over previous budgets, for all Nebraska property owners.

There is still more work to be done.  The upcoming session presents a challenge for the state to overcome.  Since the end of the last session, the revenue forecast has declined, meaning government must look for ways to further constrain spending.  Over the course of the past several months, my administration has already announced ways the state is saving money, and agencies are identifying additional cost savings.  Working together, we can close the gap between spending and revenues while ensuring that agencies continue to effectively serve the people of our state.

This upcoming session also presents an opportunity to continue to provide hardworking Nebraskans with much-needed tax relief and to invest in other key priorities.  My office is preparing proposals for this session to advance my administration’s commitment to grow our state.  Many lawmakers will also have proposals that aim for the same goal, and I look forward to working together on their ideas to make our state a better place to live, work, and raise a family.  As we consider numerous proposals in the coming months, fiscal restraint will continue to serve as a guiding principle and will help ensure that Nebraska can continue to invest in important priorities for years to come.

Over the next few weeks, you are welcome to share your thoughts on the upcoming legislative session with my office by emailing or by calling 402-471-2244. I look forward to hearing from you.