Straight Talk From Steve
March 9, 2022
I serve on the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. The Appropriations Committee is charged with the task of putting together the State’s budget.
In other words, we decide how the State spends its money, and this year we have a lot of extra money to spend.
Last Thursday the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee finished hearings on 123 bills. That is the highest number of bills ever to be assigned to the Appropriations Committee.
The reason we had so many bills this year had to do with the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, otherwise known as ARPA. The federal government has given Nebraska approximately $500 million to spend on ARPA projects this year and another $500 million for next year.
These 123 bills made requests for ARPA funds totaling more than $4 billion! The introducers of these bills would often come before the Appropriations Committee and ask for $100 million.
For example, on Tuesday of last week we had requests totaling $500 million. Then, on Wednesday we had requests for $350 million. Thursday was a slow day. On Thursday we only received requests for $185 million.
Here is an example of some of the requests we get. One request that came in was to give bonuses to every worker in one particular State agency. That State agency asked for $8,500 per employee.
Making decisions about who gets ARPA funds is a difficult task. Some would say I signed up to be on the Appropriations Committee, so suck it up and deal with it. While I agree with that sentiment, I still have to make decisions about where these monies should go.
So, this has been my approach. First, and foremost, ARPA monies should not be used to obligate the State down the road. Most appropriations made to current programs or to starting up a new program will be an ongoing obligation well into the future.
Almost all of the introducers of these 123 bills stated at some point during their testimony that their bill would be a one-time expenditure only. But, upon closer examination, I found that very few of these bills ever fit that category.
I took it upon myself to research how often a government program ends once it has been started. The only answer I have been able to find, thus far, is that there may have been one program which was actually allowed to sunset after it was initially funded by the State.
So these so-called “one-time expenditures” will most likely become on-going obligations to our State budget year-after-year once they get approved. Even if we only spent half of the ARPA funds given to us by the federal government, we would grow our state budget by 10 percent.
Growing our state budget by 10 to 20 percent is unacceptable. Once the federal government turns off the spigot to these ARPA funds, the State will be left holding the bag and there will be a lot of pressure for lawmakers to continue funding these programs at ever-increasing higher levels.
I’m not saying that some of these programs are not worth funding, but State Legislators need to be mindful of these long-term effects before they go on a shopping spree with other people’s money.