Legislators began the 2018 Session of the Nebraska Unicameral facing the challenge of shoring up the state budget deficit of $173 million. Lawmakers addressed this challenge by passing a mainline budget bill that put into effect across-the-board cuts to agency programs of 2% in FY2018-19 and 4% in FY2019-20.
Unfortunately, these cuts will also have some effect on Nebraska's strategic investments in quality early care and learning by reducing funds to projects such as Sixpence and the NDE Pre-K Grant Program by about $527,000.
As business leaders and employers, we truly understand the need to exercise fiscal discipline wherever possible. All the same, it's regrettable that these reductions will affect the kinds of investments that offer to increase economic activity and cut future corrections expenditures downstream. High-quality early learning investments are known to promote early skill development, increase workforce participation and reduce incidence of criminal behavior, especially in young people most at risk. Given the fact that it costs Nebraska taxpayers more than $125,000 to detain a single child in a youth correctional facility for a year, we have to question whether a short-term savings of $527,000 truly makes sense as a risk-vs.-gain proposition.
Despite these budgetary obstacles, there was no lack of early childhood legislation introduced during the 2018 session, some of which was tied directly into statewide economic development efforts. Two of these bills—LB768 and LB880—introduced new ways of using existing economic development funds to promote early learning infrastructure, and encouraged Nebraska communities to consider incorporating early childhood programming into their comprehensive plans for growth. The bills were amended into Senator Wayne's omnibus bill LB873, which passed final reading on April 18th. Unfortunately, progress on these efforts was halted when Governor Ricketts vetoed LB873 on the grounds that the legislation allowed for statewide expansion of land bank authority.
These setbacks notwithstanding, we at Dividends Nebraska remain committed to promoting fiscally responsible policies that better position our businesses, communities and state for long-term growth. We're looking forward to making sure the business voice in support of strategic early childhood investments remains clear in policy conversations throughout the remainder of 2018 and in the next legislative session.
You can get a more complete overview of 2018 legislation dealing with early childhood by visiting our colleagues at First Five Nebraska online.