Balancing state’s budget will be a tough task in 2019 session

Nebraska lawmakers will have their hands full this year during a 90-day legislative session which begins Jan. 9.
Getting things done in Lincoln is always a challenge, but the sledding will likely be mostly uphill this year, thanks to an economic backdrop that will set the tone for much of the debate.
Having dipped heavily into cash reserves to make ends meet two years ago, senators will have to earn their pay by making tough decisions in the 2019 session. If the economic forecast doesn’t improve, which we won’t know until February, either significant cuts will have to be made or revenues will have to be found in the form of higher taxes or fewer sales tax exemptions. Neither approach will happen without a fight, especially knowing the governor’s staunch position against raising taxes.
History has proven that Nebraskans appreciate the requirement that lawmakers balance the budget each and every year. It’s a philosophy we live by at home with our own checkbooks and in our small town businesses, so it makes sense for state government as well. You can’t, or at least shouldn’t, spend what you don’t have, thus the pending two-year budget must reflect the economic realities of our time.
In other words, meaningful property tax relief will be a tall order in 2019, though our own Sen. Curt Friesen remains committed to that cause. We applaud that effort, touting what should be a high priority for Nebraska.
One issue that is sure to make headlines in 2019 is Sen. Anna Wishart’s proposal to legalize medical marijuana. It’s not the first time these waters have been tested, though some say the landscape is changing and thus Nebraska should face the inevitable and get on board with Colorado and other “progressive” states.
That alone, however, is not a good reason to open this can of worms. It’s a foregone conclusion that a successful campaign to legalize marijuana for medical applications will be followed a year or two later by a broader push toward recreational pot use. So, when the issue comes up for debate, lawmakers should cut to the chase and decide if they believe the ends justify the means for legalizing recreational marijuana.
When the smoke clears, my hunch is that Nebraska should and will just say no.
Kurt Johnson

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