Coalition Calls for Investments to Rebuild State’s Schools, Services
NSEA has joined a broad coalition of statewide organizations and private citizens calling on state senators to reinvest in crucial budget items that were underfunded during the Great Recession.
At a news conference the day before Gov. Heineman’s annual budget address to the Nebraska Legislature, the Rebuild Nebraska Coalition urged senators to remember that Nebraskans pride themselves on The Good Life – a high quality of living that recognizes the importance of good schools, safe streets, affordable health care, and strong communities.
Voices for Children in Nebraska Executive Director Carolyn Rooker said careful planning has allowed the state to weather the recession better than most states. Now, she said, it is time to reinvest in areas that have been cut.
“We owe it to our children 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,” she said.
Rooker urged senators to think and plan carefully for the future, both in terms of revenue and spending. Even though the state faces a budget gap estimated at $200 million, Gov. Dave Heineman proposes tax revenue cuts.
State Aid, Higher Ed Cuts
The coalition cited Legislative Fiscal Office numbers showing that over the last 10 years the Legislature has cut state aid to public schools by 17 percent, while higher education has taken a 20 percent cut.
Shawn Bonge said the classrooms where her children learn lack new and fast technology, causing computers to freeze frequently. Multiple classrooms can’t stream internet content simultaneously, robbing instruction time, she said.
“Our educators and administrators have worked so hard not to let these challenges hurt our students, but a Band-Aid can only work for so long,” said Bonge, a member of Nebraska Parents for Public Education. “If the bleeding continues, eventually it will bleed through.”
Now that the economy is gaining traction, it is time to reinvest in schools, universities, hospitals, local governments, and public health and safety.
Coalition members said “there is no way our state can maintain the public structures that make our state work, let alone rebuild programs that have been severely cut, without proper revenue. Spending proposals that would significantly change tax structure and reduce revenue are contrary to Nebraska priorities and to the values of shared responsibility.”
Indeed, as shown in the accompanying chart, Nebraska’s economy, tax structure, and standard of living are already highly ranked.
Groups that support Rebuild Nebraska in addition to NSEA include AARP Nebraska, Center for People in Need, Center for Rural Affairs, Community Action of Nebraska, Food Bank of the Heartland, Heartland Workforce Solutions, Nebraska Association of Public Employees/AFSCME, Nebraska Appleseed, Non-Profit Association of the Midlands and Voices for Children.
High Praise For Nebraska
The view on Nebraska’s need for tax reform may be subjective; over the past several years, the state has ranked quite well in terms of tax and quality of life issues. For instance:
- Lowest business tax costs for new firms (Tax Foundation, 2012).
- Second-best pro-business state (Pollina Corporate Real Estate, Inc., 2011).
- Second-lowest state for business costs (Forbes, 2011).
- Second-highest quality of living (Forbes, 2011).
- Second-lowest unemployment rate at 4 percent (Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2012).
- Third-best state for taxes and regulation (U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 2012).
- Third-best state for quality of living (Business Facilities 2011 Rankings Report).
- Sixth-best state for business (CNBC, July 2012).
- Eighth-best state for business climate (Forbes magazine, Nov. 2011).