Trickling down in Nebraska

With the House of Representatives having just passed a stunning $40 billion cut in food assistance to the poor, it’s a good time to examine the relationship between federal budgets and state budges.

A large percentage of the money in any state’s budget comes from the federal government. It may be as little as 20 percent in Alaska, or as much as 49 percent in Mississippi. In Nebraska, exactly 36. 23 percent of Nebraska’s general revenues in 2012 came from the federal government, according to the Tax Foundation.

The means that more than one-third of the dollars used to run the state of Nebraska every year, comes from the federal government. It also means that when Congress makes deep cuts to the federal budget, your state lawmakers have to make the hard decision to either cut state services or replace those federal dollars by raising state sales and income taxes.

Either decision means a loss for Nebraskans: Less money in their pockets or fewer services to meet their needs. And, when the state government has less money, it gives less money to counties, cities, school districts, and universities.

City parks are not maintained, teacher-student ratios get larger, tuition goes up, fewer police officers patrol the streets, and libraries close early. That is, unless city and school officials decide to make up for those lost state dollars by raising your property and city sales taxes. Again, a lose-lose scenario for Nebraskans.

Most Nebraskans are justifiably concerned about federal debt and deficits. As responsible, educated people, they know trillion-dollar deficits aren’t good for our country. We are a hardy people, used to weathering storms and making sacrifices. We’d love to see more fiscal discipline in Washington, and most of us would be happy to see cuts or an end to some of the programs that those in our nation’s Capitol deem essential.

The problem is that Nebraskans in Washington are never going to ask you what you can live without — what you want to see cut. Moreover, your House and Senate members are never going to tell you how the decisions they make will impact individual Nebraskans — you, your family, your neighbors, your fellow congregants.

And your governor and state lawmakers are never going to ask you whether it’s worth it to you to pay a few more dollars in taxes to replace the money that Washington didn’t send. They aren’t going to ask you which budget holes that Washington created are the ones you think are important enough to fill with state money.

In fact, no politicians on any level will ever talk about the individual effects that will come from service cuts. They don’t want it to ever occur to you that they are in any way responsible for, say,  bigger potholes, longer waits at the DMV, or your nephew’s lost job.

If it ever occurs to you that the lawmakers you voted for are responsible for your inconvenience — the camping trip your family can’t take because of an early shut-down of some state parks — it will also occur to you that the people you elected are not the wonderful folks looking out for your best interests that you thought they were when you were in the voting booth.

Compared to some other states, politics is a polite sport in Nebraska. School board members, university regents, mayors, state lawmakers, the governor — none of them are willing to point the finger at anyone else when cuts have to be made. Why? Because they have their own pet legislation to pass, agendas to pursue, and ambitions to fill. Everybody gets along better when they all go along.

You Voted for them Nebraska, tries to avoid intrastate politics. There are other people, organizations and sites that do that and do it very well. We just want to remind you that there is a very real connection between the budgets passed in Washington and the quality of your life in Nebraska.

Sources cited: The Tax Foundation,

© uvoted4them, 2013

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