Session Review: Appropriations

Lawmakers approved the state’s $9.7 billion budget package this session.

The package includes a number of appropriations and transfers to address the state’s prison overcrowding situation, including $100 million in general funds to the Nebraska Capital Construction Fund, to be available for the Legislature to appropriate for a new state prison should one be deemed necessary in the future.

It also appropriates $14.9 million to fund the preparation of designs for a possible new facility, including site selection and an option to purchase, as well as completion of an independent engineering study regarding the useful life of the current Nebraska State Penitentiary.
The package provides $15 million to the Prison Overcrowding Contingency Fund and $200,000 to contract with the University of Nebraska to study inmate classification within the state Department of Correctional Services.

Among the budget components passed this year was LB380, the mainline budget bill, which funds state government for the next two fiscal years. The bill was introduced by Speaker Mike Hilgers on behalf of Gov. Pete Ricketts and contains provisions of several other bills, including:
LB141, sponsored by Gering Sen. John Stinner, which appropriates $7.5 million in fiscal year 2022-23 to the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney;
LB391, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Eliot Bostar, which appropriates $2.5 million in FY2021-22 to the Customized Job Training Cash Fund;
LB493, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, which appropriates $1 million in each fiscal year of the biennium to the state’s developmental disability wait list; and
LB585, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, which appropriates $1.5 million in FY2021-22 and $3 million in FY2022-23 to local public health departments.

The bill passed on a 47-0 vote and took effect immediately.

LB384, approved 41-0, transfers funds and changes the permitted use of a fund. The bill includes provisions of LB588, introduced by Stinner, that extend existing appropriations for deferred maintenance under the University of Nebraska Facilities Program until 2062 and the State College Facilities Program until 2040.

Additional budget measures approved were:
LB379, passed 47-0, which adjusts funding for state operations, aid and construction programs in the current fiscal year;
LB381, passed 46-0, which provides for the $12,000 annual salaries of Nebraska’s 49 state senators;
LB382, passed 46-0, which funds salaries and benefits for judges and constitutional officers;
LB383, passed 38-2, which appropriates funds for capital construction;
LB385, passed 44-0, which makes a number of fund transfers to and from the state’s Cash Reserve Fund; and
LB666, passed 45-0, which provides for payment of claims against the state and agency write-offs for uncollectible debts.

Other measures

Lawmakers approved a bill that provides state general funds to counties to pay certain federal judgments.

LB103, sponsored by Sen. Myron Dorn of Adams, appropriates $2 million in general funds in FY2021-22 and FY2022-23 to any county that has a judgment against it from a federal court of more than $25 million if the total cost of the judgment exceeds 20 percent of the county’s annual budget.

An eligible county must set its property tax levy at the maximum for each year that it receives aid under the bill and any state funds received may be used only for payment of a qualifying judgment.

LB103 passed on a 44-3 vote and took effect immediately.

Also passed this session was a bill intended to help jump-start certain construction projects delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

LB566, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell, creates the Shovel-Ready Capital Recovery and Investment Fund to provide matching grants to qualifying sports complexes and nonprofits related to arts, culture or the humanities.

The bill allocates $15 million in general funds and provides for allocation of additional federal funds subject to the Legislature’s appropriations process. It also allows the fund to receive transfers authorized by the Legislature, as well as gifts, grants or bequests from other sources.

The program will be administered by the state Department of Economic Development, with an application period beginning July 1, 2021, and ending July 15, 2021. Grants will require a one-to-one match from private sources and are capped as follows:
• $500,000 for projects costing less than $5 million;
• $5 million for projects between $5 million and $25 million;
• $10 million for projects between $25 million and $50 million; and
• $15 million for projects greater than $50 million.

Qualifying projects are required to complete their fundraising by Dec. 31, 2021, and construction must commence by June 30, 2022.

LB566 passed 42-3 and took effect immediately.

Senators approved a measure 49-0 that provides state funds to one of Nebraska’s federally qualified health centers.

LB185, sponsored by Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, appropriate $531,000 in general funds in FY2021-22 and FY2022-23 to the state Department of Health and Human Services to provide funding to the Fred LeRoy Health and Wellness Center in Omaha.

A proposal introduced to appropriate funds to the Nebraska Department of Transportation to speed work on the state’s expressway system was narrowed to become a reporting requirement before being approved by lawmakers.

LB579, as introduced by Columbus Sen. Mike Moser, would have appropriated $70 million in general funds to NDOT to offset dollars spent to repair highways, roads and bridges damaged during flooding in 2019.

An amendment adopted on general file removed the funding provision and the bill instead requires the department to include in its annual report to the Legislature information detailing the amount of money spent to date on the state’s expressway system, the number of miles yet to be completed and expected milestone dates.

The report also must include a statement of all state highway projects under construction and the estimated cost of each project.

LB579 passed 45-0.

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