Nebraska nonprofits plead for halt to budget cuts


Associated Press

Posted on January 15, 2013 at 12:05 PM

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A coalition of nonprofit groups pleaded with the Nebraska Legislature on Monday to avoid more cuts to education, health care and local governments, saying a decade of declining state funding had left them strapped.

The plea from the 11 nonprofit groups came just one day before Gov. Dave Heineman's State of The State address to lawmakers.

Carolyn Rooker, executive director for Voices for Children, said balancing revenue and spending isn't easy for lawmakers, but she hopes they will choose to not reduce the budget and instead work to rebuild Nebraska's communities.

"Ensuring the people of our state have access to both affordable health care and a high-quality education is key to a strong Nebraska," said Becky Gould, executive director for Nebraska Appleseed. "We look forward to working with the Legislature over the coming months to make smart investments in health care and education that support families and ensure a robust future for Nebraska."

Nebraska has cut funding for public schools by an estimated 17 percent over the past decade, and higher education has taken about a 20 percent hit, according to Legislative Fiscal Office budget reports compiled by OpenSky Policy Institute, a non-partisan fiscal policy group.

Shawn Bonge, a member of Nebraska Parents for Public Education, said her children's classrooms lack new and fast technology. Computers freeze often, and multiple classrooms can't stream content from the Internet at the same time, which takes away from instruction time, she said.

"I believe that many people don't fully appreciate how damaging those cuts have been because our educators and administrators have worked so hard not to let these challenges hurt our students, but a Band-Aid can only work for so long," she said. "If the bleeding continues, eventually it will bleed through."

State funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program has decreased by an estimated 22 percent over the past five years, while Medicare funding for long-term care has been reduced by about 9 percent, according to Legislative Fiscal Office budget reports.

DeEtta Hoffman, of Lincoln, 52, said her 8-year-old grandson Skylar, who has autism, lost Medicaid funding to see a speech pathologist. She would like to see the state invest in programs that will help Skylar and other children like him.

The nonprofit groups said they also are concerned about local governments' estimated 24.5 percent loss of funding over the past decade. Those cuts have resulted in higher property taxes, which is tough for older Nebraska residents, said Robbie Nathan, an AARP volunteer.

"If we cut state aid in order to cut income taxes, we are likely shifting the burden from those with greater capacity to pay to those who are having a harder time making ends meet," she said. "We need to have a taxation structure that distributes tax burden according to people's ability to pay."