Recovery painful, but state can be stronger as a result

Monday, March 25, 2019

Gov. Pete Ricketts’ pledge to not raise taxes has faced much opposition over his years in office, but the current flood disaster throws all previous fiscal considerations out the window.

As it turns out, the effort to find savings and efficiencies was likely just a warm-up for the Herculean task that will be required to balance the state budget in years to come. “Balance” is a relative term, since federal deficit spending is a major part of the equation that keeps Nebraska’s books in the black.

Gage County, for example, has been seeking state help paying a $28 million judgment to the “Beatrice Six,” a group sent to prison for the 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson of Beatrice, only to be exonerated in 2009.

The county has reported $677, 500 in damage to public property resulting from the March 13-15 storm. That’s smaller than many counties in the flooded area, but it will only add to the county’s serious financial troubles.

Much of the state, dependent on property taxes on agricultural land, will be in the same boat as farmland is taken out of production and some towns, perhaps, even cease to exist.

The flood of 2019 may be just the incentive the state needs to make the sweeping changes required to find a stronger fiscal footing through those elusive savings and efficiencies.

We’ve seen widespread consolidation of schools in the state as rural areas adjust to declining populations. Admittedly, students have paid the price through long hours on the road, resulting in more “weather days,” and communities have struggled to survive after schools closed.

But it’s time to look at consolidation and increased efficiencies at all levels.

That might include everything from reducing the number of counties from the current 93 to a more justifiable number, to consolidation of county and city law enforcement in communities like McCook.

At the same time, elected officials have the difficult task of communicating fiscal realities to their constituents, such as implementing the voter-mandated expansion of Medicaid, and persuading them to vote for candidates who keep the state’s long-term best interests in mind.

— Track current flood damage estimates by county here.

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