It’s amazing to reflect on how quickly COVID-19 has changed our lives in just a few weeks. On February 27, our state recognized that we needed to start preparing for the inevitable event that COVID-19 would officially affect our state. On March 6, Nebraska’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed. As I write this, Nebraska now has 61 confirmed cases.
Over this period of time, Nebraskans have been asked to practice social distancing in hopes of “flattening the curve” and reducing the rate of infection as to not overburden our health care system. The unfortunate unintended consequence has been a significant negative impact on Nebraska’s economy. Workers are losing their jobs and small businesses are struggling to stay open or have closed.
Yesterday, our team at the Platte Institute provided policy makers with a list of suggestions as to what government should “Do” and “Don’t Do.” I am happy to say, that so far, Nebraska policymakers have taken a few steps in the right direction that fall in line with our recommendations.
First, the Nebraska Legislature convened yesterday for the purpose of addressing emergency funding for COVID-19. One of our recommendations was that “any supplemental appropriations necessary for COVID-19 response should be in separate bills from the general appropriations…. This will clarify that these are emergency or temporary appropriations, and not to be intermingled or assumed to be ongoing spending.” The $83.6M in appropriations requested were introduced as an amendment to LB1198e, and the amendment became the bill. The amendment was unanimously adopted, and LB1198e unanimously advanced to final reading.
In his opening remarks, Appropriations Chair Stinner summarized how the goal was to fund new discretionary items separate from the committee proposed budget. Rather than appropriate funds to various agencies, it would create a single program from which expenditures will be authorized and expended under the control of the Governor. It allows the flexibility to allocate funding without incorporating budget allocations into base budgets.
A second recommendation the Platte Institute put forth was to extend the state income tax filing deadline to match the federal government’s recent actions of extending the deadline to July 15. This is because federal taxes are used to calculate state taxes, and Nebraskans should be given the same amount of time by the state. Yesterday, the Governor did just that.
Lastly, the Platte Institute feels strongly that government transparency is crucial during these times of uncertainty when changes are occurring rapidly. Many local governments are working to assure online access to electronic public meetings and are holding frequent press conferences. The Governor has held what have become routine press conferences and encouraged Nebraskans to sign up for his email updates via his website. These measures are essential to maintaining the public’s confidence and trust in our public officials.
There is a lot more that will unfold in the coming weeks and months as we adapt to a new normal. My colleagues and I at the Platte Institute will continue to monitor government actions and put forth more policy recommendations. Stay safe, and keep doing your part to #FlattenTheCurve.