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Budget makers need flexibility in funding Nebraska’s priorities

Earlier this week, we testified on LB 531, a bill to repeal the allocation of a portion sales tax revenue directly to roads. This reallocation of sales tax revenue prioritizes roads over education, health and other programs for years to come.  While we acknowledge that investments in children and infrastructure are both important to the future of our state, we know that we cannot fully anticipate what the greatest need will be for either infrastructure or Nebraska’s children ten years from now.  But we do know that future legislators need the flexibility to be able to respond to changing circumstances and prioritize the biennial budget based on our state’s most pressing needs.

Funding for nearly all of our state’s priorities – like education, health care, child welfare and other services – comes out of the state General Fund.  Setting aside the first quarter-cent of the sales tax going into the General Fund just for roads leaves the rest of our priorities fighting for even less of the General Fund.

We know that needs of Nebraska’s children need to be a priority.  The child poverty rate is the highest it has been in a decade with almost one in five children currently living in poverty, despite the fact that our state has fared better in the current economic climate than many others.  And we have seen cuts to programs serving children including education, child care, and Medicaid, going back a decade that haven’t been restored.

And it’s not just LB 531 that has had the budget on our mind all week.  This week the Appropriations Committee of the Legislature released its preliminary budget and the Forecasting Board revised the revenue forecast for the year

As our lawmakers continue crafting the state budget, we urge them to keep in mind that the decisions made today have consequences for our future.  Our careful planning and future thinking as a state have allowed us to pay for things like schools and universities, health care and public safety and weather the recession in better shape than most states. We owe it to children and youth to create a state budget that lays out a plan for their future and gives them the same opportunities for success that generations before them have experienced. Today’s children are tomorrow’s taxpayers, and failure to invest in children is costly to their future as well as to the future of our state.

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