Budget debate begins

Lawmakers began debate April 25 on the state’s $8.9 billion budget package. The state budget is structured on a two-year basis, with the budget enacted during legislative sessions held in odd-numbered years.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist48' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. John Stinner'>Sen. John Stinner</a>
Sen. John Stinner

Gering Sen. John Stinner, chairperson of the Appropriations Committee, said the goal of the proposed package is to return the budget to a positive structural balance and meet the minimum reserve requirement in the face of a nearly $1 billion projected budget shortfall.

LB327, introduced by Norfolk Sen. Jim Scheer on behalf of the governor, is the mainline budget bill. A pending Appropriations Committee amendment contains recommendations for state operations and state aid.

Among other provisions, the amendment includes the following increases to baseline appropriations over the biennium:
• $62.4 million for the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA);
• $35.6 million for Medicaid;
• $15.4 million for staffing, programs and equipment for the state Department of Correctional Services; and
• $11.4 million for the courts under the Justice Reinvestment Act.

Among other reductions, the amendment also includes proposed cuts of $24.7 million to state agencies, $13 million to the university system and $9 million in foster care contracts with private providers of kinship placements for state wards.

The committee’s budget package comprises seven bills, four of which were advanced to select file April 25. LB328, advanced 35-0, would provide for the $12,000 annual salaries of Nebraska’s 49 state senators. LB329, advanced 40-0, would fund salaries and benefits for judges and constitutional officers.

Also advanced was LB330, on a 40-0 vote, which would appropriate funds for reaffirmed and new capital construction projects.

An Appropriations Committee amendment, adopted 37-0, replaced the bill and would provide funding for several projects initiated in prior years, including:
• $12.1 million each year for the state’s share of deferred maintenance and repair projects at the University of Nebraska and state colleges;
• $15.6 million in FY2018-19 for the State Capitol HVAC project; and
• $20.8 million for the last two years of funding for the Lincoln Community Corrections Center housing unit.

Also advanced was LB149, introduced by Stinner, which contains additional changes to previous cuts made in LB22 to the state’s budget for the current fiscal year. A committee amendment, adopted 43-0, became the bill and would restore $1 million in lapsed reappropriations to the Legislative Council, among other changes.

LB149 advanced 44-0.

Debate is scheduled to resume April 26 on the mainline budget bill, several pending amendments and three additional bills:
LB332, which would make transfers to and from the state’s Cash Reserve Fund;
LB331, which would create funds and make certain fund transfers; and
LB171, which would provide for payment of claims against the state.

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