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Kicking the Can is Not a Solution to Our Budget

In the State of the State address Governor Heineman said his bold budget is centered on two priorities: jobs and education.

We find it interesting that a conservative who doesn’t think the government can create jobs is saying now (his) government somehow can… but that is not the focus of this post.  

We want to focus on one major fundamental piece of our state budget — education.

Governor’s budget has an $81 million cut in aid to education.  The Governor can use his great talking point that he is not raising taxes, but all that really means is local governments will have to pick up the can that the Governor just kicked to them.

Make no mistake, property taxes will likely go up as a result of Heineman’s proposed budget.  You can not take $81 million dollars from local communities and think they can then operate their schools without replacing those funds from an alternative source.  Local communities can and will make cuts, but you can only make so many cuts before you are laying off teachers and seeing classroom sizes increase which we all know brings down the level of learning for our kids.

No serious conversation about our state’s almost $1 billion deficit can be had without talking about BOTH cuts in the budget and new revenue.  The revenue does not have to be all about raising taxes.  What about getting rid of soft drink companies’ tax exempt status (pop is not food) or other subsidies to private-sector business that are doing just fine on their own?

If you listen to the Governor (and some press outlets), you would think schools will be getting the same money they did last year.  That is simply not the reality and most certainly not what Senator Adams, chair of the Education committee in the state legislature, is saying.  He has been honest with school administrators for months, telling them to prepare for major cuts.

Without the work Senator Nelson did with Congress, and despite the efforts of Republicans to try and block it, the $81 million could have been $140 million.  This past year, our state was using federal dollars to plug state aid holes.  Heineman can spin this however he wants, but the $59 million that the feds provided was not so schools could put extra roses near the entrance.  The money was used to save teachers’ jobs.

State aid for the current fiscal year 2010-2011 is $950 million – that amount includes $140 million in federal stabilization dollars and $810 million in state general funds. The Governor’s budget does not replace any of the federal stabilization dollars and freezes state aid at $810 million.

The fact is that a third grader doesn’t really know or care what part of $950 million is federal dollars and what part is state dollars.  The third grader does know when his teacher gets laid off due to budget cuts. A high school student may not know or care whether funds are federal or state, but she does know she can’t take the course she needs because budget cuts have eliminated it.

We need to work with the Legislature to find additional funding for education — both K-12 and higher ed.  It is imperative for our youth, our economy and our future.  It’s basic math:

Education = Prosperity + Jobs  

It is important to remember that the state legislature is technically a non-partisan body, and they are a separate branch of government.  It’s sad that if you talk to anyone that has spent more than a day in our state capitol, they will tell you the Governor runs the show, gets what he wants and that conservative Republicans have acquired so much power that the balance of our state government is practically non-existent.

The overreach and the attitude of “We can do what we want without consequence” is prevalent.  All of this results in good and solid elected officials lowering their heads or throwing their hands up and not truly representing the diversity of Nebraskans because they know the Governor holds the power.

So, what do we as citizens do?  We speak up for our schools.  We write to our state senators.  We ask our friends and family to do the same.  We must send a message to the Governor and our state senators that we have to stop running our government like its the Republican party.

We have lots of common ground.  We have amazing resources in our state from agriculture, to new tech companies, to fortune 500 companies.  We are facing a billion dollar deficit.  We should not kick the can to our local communities.  We should deal with it at the state level and on common ground.  We also must acknowledge and be serious that you cannot close the gap without both cutting programs and raising revenue.

What is left is unmistakable to us all — the Governor cares more about politics, not the good of our state and our kids.

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BOLD Nebraska
208 S. Burlington Ave., Ste 103, Box 325, Hastings, NE 68901