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By Steve Erdman
47th District 

Straight Talk From Steve:

Jason Jackson’s Mess

 

As a Nebraska State Senator, I serve on the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.

The Appropriations Committee is responsible for deciding how the State spends its money…well, to a certain extent, anyway. The Appropriations Committee prepares the State Budget, but state agencies are supposed to keep track of how they spend the State’s money.

The job of appropriating the State’s money is never an easy task, but in recent years it has become a nearly impossible task due to the way the executive branch of our state government has grossly mismanaged its accounting practices.

Jason Jackson is the director of the Department of Administrative Services. Since his appointment by Gov. Ricketts and his confirmation by the State Legislature in January 2019 the Department of Administrative Services has never been able to balance its books. Each year Jackson testifies before the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee without any coherent explanation about why his books don’t add up. That is an unacceptable position for him to take, especially when he directs the department which oversees all other state agencies.

This accounting problem has only grown worse this year. Even the Nebraska State auditor’s office has been unable to balance the books with the information provided to them by the Department of Administrative Services.

In a letter addressed to Speaker Mike Hilgers and others dated April 28, 2022 Assistant Deputy Auditor, Kris Kucera, stated that since December 1, 2021 the State Auditor’s office has “encountered significant difficulties completing the audit with the support provided by the Department of Administrative Services…” When the State Auditor ‘s office cannot balance our books, then you know we really have a problem!

Making matters even worse is the fact that Kucera’s letter went on to tell how the State Auditor’s office found an additional $10.5 billion in accounting errors. In order to give you some perspective on this, $10.5 billion represents more money than the entire State Budget for two whole years. The State Budget for FY 2022 is $4.8 billion and the State Budget for FY 2023 is $5.1 billion for a total of $9.9 billion. In other words, nobody really knows how our state agencies are spending your money. And, I will emphasize the point that it is your money. These mismanaged accounting practices are no small matter, especially when you, as a taxpayer, go to pay your taxes. Don’t the citizens of Nebraska have a fundamental right to know how their tax dollars are being spent?

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, then that word accurately describes how the executive branch of our State Government accounts for the way it spends money.

Ultimately, these problems rest on the shoulders of our Governor, Pete Ricketts, who has allowed these problems to fester and grow worse over time without taking any kind of corrective action. The Department of Administrative Services needs new leadership, but that cannot happen so long as the only man in the state who is able to fix the problem continues to turn a blind eye to the problem and refuses to take any kind of corrective action.

In a few months Nebraska will have a new governor. Whoever that governor turns out to be, he or she will inherit the accounting mess created by the Ricketts Administration and left behind by the Department of Administrative Services. The State Auditor’s team has already proposed more than 110 adjustments to the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report. Without accurate information from the Department of Administrative Services, though, the task of accounting for state spending is like trying to untangle a boiling pot of spaghetti with nothing but your fingers. So, I doubt that this mess can be cleaned up before the next administration takes over, and that’s not playing fair or nice to the man or woman who becomes the next governor of Nebraska.

 

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