The following editorial first appeared in the Kearney Hub.
Nebraska is in an economic slump. As a result, revenues for state government look to be about $95 million short of target, owing greatly to the state's agricultural industry that's crushed by high operating costs and a stifling tax burden.
In response to the brewing fiscal crisis, our governor wants state government to tighten its belt: Postpone hiring, limit travel to what's essential, buy equipment only if it improves efficiencies to save money. Pete Ricketts also has ordered department heads to reduce spending by 1 percent and be ready to carve out additional savings.
We'd like to credit the governor for taking the initiative to address the fiscal storm that's been brewing for months, but Nebraskans should expect more from their top elected official who, from day one, has said he wants government to run like a business.
Really? If that's so, where are the parallels in state government compared to the private sector, where the sluggish economy puts a lid on raises, discourages hiring and forces aggressive cost control to cover skyrocketing health insurance benefits?
Last time we checked, state employees were receiving their normal, annual cost of living raises, along with generous health coverage and retirement benefits.
As far as Ricketts' call for spending restraint, we credit him for taking the leadership to put the state's fiscal ship back on course. However, there's nothing revolutionary in any of the expense control mandates he has laid out. They're standard practice at modern businesses that must be lean and nimble in today's unpredictable economy. Nebraskans need not feel impressed that Ricketts' cost controls are revolutionary concepts in state government.
There's nothing revolutionary about hiring freezes and spending restraints. The reality is they challenge any organization — private or public — to do more with less and to do it better.
Although we're not overly impressed by his belt-tightening mandate, we credit Ricketts for looking forward. He's warned his leaders there likely will be tougher times ahead, and state government will not solve its fiscal challenges on the backs of taxpayers. Ricketts has already slowed the growth in state spending from 6.5 percent to 3.6 percent. Now the question is, can the Ricketts administration eliminate growth altogether? Here's a revolutionary notion: How about spending less in 2017 than in 2016?
Nebraskans are crying for tax relief. Higher taxes are rooted in spending growth. Relief won't occur without reduced spending, and neither will economic recovery. Can Nebraska government do more with less and do it better?