Ricketts: Reducing the size of government
Nebraskans everywhere tell me about the importance of getting government out of the way so they can work together to grow their community. Ag producers looking to expand their operations have expressed concern about onerous regulations coming out of Washington. Small business owners feel the impact of Nebraska’s high taxes. And professionals looking to secure a license or do business with state government want a more responsive customer experience.
Stories like these are exactly why reducing the size and scope of state government is a central goal of my administration. As President Ronald Reagan once said, “As government expands, liberty contracts.” When we get government out of the way, the state empowers job creators, families and private sector innovators to grow Nebraska. This helps keep Nebraska the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family.
Over the past few years, our team at the state of Nebraska has achieved several successes that are helping reduce the size and scope of government. Together, the Legislature and I have successfully cut the rate of growth in state spending by 90 percent. Before I took office, the rate of growth of government was 6.5 percent. In this most recent budget, the rate of growth was only .6 percent, and we are still working to reduce the size and scope of government.
Three different approaches will be key as we continue to work to create a more effective, more efficient and more customer-focused state government going forward.
First, we are changing the culture of state government to focus more on the customer: Nebraskans like you. In July, I signed an executive order for a review of all state regulations. This review will help us look for areas to cut red tape. Nebraska is already No. 1 in the nation for the best regulatory environment, but there is always room for improvement. Over the past couple years, we have also worked to change the culture of the workforce in state government. Every teammate in my state agencies is now receiving training on how to identify wasteful processes and speed up service delivery.
Second, we are changing the state’s approach to how we structure entitlements. We know that Nebraskans want to achieve greater financial independence, and we also know that taxpayers expect the state to be a good steward of their taxpayer dollars. In 2015, we changed our unemployment program into a first-in-the-nation reemployment program. This is helping job seekers in our state get back to work more quickly. Nebraska paid out $13.75 million less in unemployment benefits in fiscal year 2016 compared to 2015 as people got back to work faster. In that same time, we saw a 20 percent reduction in weeks of benefits claimed and a 30 percent reduction in Nebraskans reaching the end of their unemployment benefits. This enabled us in 2017 to reduce the state unemployment tax rate by 25 percent, saving businesses an estimated $17.6 million.
Thanks to the success of our reemployment efforts in this area, we are now piloting similar services in four communities to help connect families receiving food stamps with better jobs. So far, half of the participants have found better jobs. This has helped these families increase their respective salaries by an average of $6,900 a year. With better salaries, some of the participants were able to reduce their need for food stamps and about a quarter no longer need them at all.
Third, I have been working as governor to support the efforts of privately-led, volunteer organizations that are serving our community. State government plays some key roles in protecting public safety, building infrastructure and supporting private sector efforts to grow our state. Government’s role, however, is limited and cannot fulfill every need in society. Over the years, countless Nebraskans have stepped up to meet these needs, giving us one of the highest volunteerism rates in the country. This year, the first lady helped to launch Bring Up Nebraska, a privately-led initiative that is connecting Nebraska’s families with resources in the community. This program aims at preventing families from reaching crisis points which require state intervention. It is just one example of how Nebraskans have come together through the years to meet the needs of their community.
These are a few of the approaches we are taking to help reduce the size and scope of government in Nebraska. Reducing the size of government does not happen by accident. Our successes will only continue with a relentless focus on making state government more effective, more efficient and more customer-focused.