A new report finds policymakers in Nebraska used a “cost-benefit analysis” just twice during a recent four year period to make budget decisions about state government operations.
Gary VanLandingham — director of what’s called the “Results First” Initiative — says Nebraska is among 29 states with a “mixed” record when it comes to evaluating the costs and benefits of taxpayer-financed programs.
“It is a state that simply hasn’t done a lot of cost-benefit analysis,” VanLandingham says. “…But we did find that policymakers, when they had that information, were using it to help make good choices.”
The group’s national report found cost-benefit analyses helped states “make better investments of public dollars by identifying programs and policies that deliver high returns.”
But the group also found a majority of states, including Nebraska, are not often using cost-benefit calculations when making “critical decisions” about government spending.
“Cost-benefit analysis is a business-oriented approach. This is how the private sector makes their investment choices,” VanLandingham says. “Increasingly we can do that same type of analyis in the public sector.”
The “Results First” initiative is working with 14 states to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of state prison systems, child welfare, education, substance abuse and mental health programs.
“Those are the areas that we think are most ripe for states to use this type of approve to improve return on investment for taxpayers,” VanLandingham says.
Policymakers in the neighboring states of Kansas and Missouri received high marks in the study for tracking the costs and benefits of state government programs.