Cross our fingers, hope for the best

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

It was no surprise Monday when Gov. Mike Johanns vetoed the main budget bill, the tax package to support it and the school aid bill.

From the time he made his original budget proposal, until the time the Legislature passed its budget last week, Johanns had insisted on spending cuts instead of tax increases.

That's a noble position. Few Nebraskans would argue with the idea that tax increases should be a last resort.

But given the fiscal hole in which Nebraska finds itself, few could seriously believe that we could dig ourselves out without digging into our pockets a little deeper.

None of us can afford it, of course, especially anyone connected with agriculture, which by extension means practically everyone in the state.

But few of us are willing to put up with the extreme curtailment of state services which Johanns' plan would entail.

Johanns is probably right in his criticism of the Unicameral's budget "solution," that it spends too much, jeopardizes public safety with closing of a Lincoln prison, has insufficient reserves and is overly optimistic about future tax revenue growth. He may even be right that it doesn't provide enough cash flow to get through the summer and fall.

"I am not convinced that spending has been reduced enough to enable the state to pay its bills in a timely manner without borrowing against the cash reserve and, possibly, the Universal Service Fund," he told the Omaha World Herald. "I sincerely hope I am wrong about this, but I don't believe I am."

State Sen. Chris Beutler of Lincoln said any rational person would be concerned, but he thinks "we're at the bottom of a trough, and beginning to work our way back up."

Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Wehrbein told the Omaha newspaper that Johanns' plan was rejected because of its short-term damage to education and the likelihood that it will force higher property taxes in the future.

We hope both Johanns and Beutler are "right," that we can pay our bills on time and that we are the "bottom of a trough" and not continuing to slide down a slope. In any event, Wehrbein is correct in his assessment that "There's no doubt we're going to have to continue to be frugal. We have to watch every penny from here on. We don't know what the revenue is going to be." In other words, we must keep a close eye on the purse strings, and cross our fingers.

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