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Meet the state's budget chief, trusted by four governors from both political parties
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Meet the state's budget chief, trusted by four governors from both political parties

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Gerry Oligmueller

Gerry Oligmueller, state budget administrator, is retiring after 44 years in state government. 

He has been the consummate professional at the state Capitol who has informed governors with facts, figures, projections and options as they reached their budget decisions and shaped the future of the state.

Didn't matter which party the governor called home. 

Gerry Oligmueller has been state budget administrator for four governors, one a Democrat, three Republicans.    

Some governors may have worked harder at it, some might have dug deeper, some may have visibly grown or changed along the way as they pored through facts and figures at carefully constructed budget briefings that set the stage for recommendations to the Legislature. 

But you're not going to hear any of that from Oligmueller, who is stepping down from his post Friday after 25 years as state budget chief.

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"It's been a wonderful opportunity," he said during an interview in his first-floor office at the Capitol.

A few steps away was the inner door leading into a briefing room where governors-elect first encounter what Oligmueller describes as "a fire-hose avalanche of detail" as they face the challenge of constructing their first state budget recommendations for presentation to the Legislature a couple of months after they are elected.

"Our approach has been to be quite comprehensive in briefing the governor," Oligmueller said. "And my sense is that they all have done well."

What he has tried to avoid while making sure a governor is fully informed, he said, is a question later that might be framed as "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I believe that is our obligation," he said, and it tends to diminish or erase the need for a governor to dig.

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Oligmueller has helped governors maneuver through two recessions, the Great Recession of 2007-2008 ignited by a financial crisis and the latest economic setback triggered by this year's coronavirus pandemic.

The state's response this year has been to rely on its model of modest and constrained growth in terms of state spending while turning now to some use of funding from the state's cash reserve and avoiding tax increases, he said.

"Some challenges are consistent," Oligmueller said. "And there is a consistent interest and expectation from taxpayers that we be efficient and effective and do our best to ease the tax burden."

Nebraskans "expect us to be prudent and prepared," he said.

The ongoing challenge, he said, is "balancing expectations with the financial resources that are available."

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What has emerged over time is "a pay-as-you-go philosophy," he said, marked by "modest and constrained growth in terms of spending."

Oligmueller said his office "works very closely with the legislative fiscal staff through strong communication and frequent exchange of information" as the two branches of state government — executive and legislative — reach and implement budget policy decisions.

"Each understands our role and the boundaries," he said, while mutually relying on "the trust and relationship that needs to be maintained."

Oligmueller, in fact, worked in the legislative fiscal office from 1979 to 1983, leaving as its deputy director to enter the executive branch. He was first appointed as state budget administrator by Gov. Ben Nelson in 1995.

That decision by a Democratic governor has been embraced by three Republicans since — Mike Johanns, Dave Heineman and Pete Ricketts.

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In his role, Oligmueller has been responsible for management oversight of the use of state and federal funds by state agencies and charged with executive fiscal planning and policy,  along with helping construct the state budget. 

On three occasions, he has been appointed to serve as acting director of the Department of Administrative Services.

Ask Oligmueller what he has enjoyed most and the answer is: "Building relationships along with public service."

It's been a career of 44 years of service in state government — including three years in South Dakota.

But he's not done yet.

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First comes "establishing my own schedule," Oligmueller said, and that will mean more time with his wife and family, including three children and 13 grandchildren. 

But he's also open to new opportunities.

"I am going to be deliberative, listen and consider any alternatives," he said.

There may be more ahead. 

Ricketts said Oligmueller "leaves behind an enduring legacy of fiscal conservatism, a strong team and budget principles that will guide the state for years to come."

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Former Sen. Heath Mello, who headed the Appropriations Committee while he served in the Legislature, saluted Oligmueller with a tweet when he heard the news.

"As a former legislator who for eight years agreed and disagreed with Gerry Oligmueller over budget and fiscal policy, I can say that without a doubt his lifetime of public service has truly changed Nebraska for the better. Thank you for everything, Gerry!"

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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