Lawmakers override line-item vetos; budget adjustments stand

Senators approved all the motions offered by the Appropriations Committee to override line-item vetoes of the state’s budget adjustment package April 7.

Three bills comprising the Legislature’s adjustments to the state’s two-year budget were passed last week and sent to Gov. Pete Ricketts. The governor vetoed over $105 million in line items and Gering Sen. John Stinner, chairperson of the Appropriations Committee, filed motions to override all but one.

Among the provisions vetoed in LB1011, the mainline budget bill, were $51.8 million in provider rate increases in four programs within the state Department of Health and Human Services: behavioral health, child welfare, developmental disability aid and Medicaid.

In his April 4 veto message, Ricketts said funds received from the federal government for pandemic relief would provide sufficient rate increases for those programs. LB1011 raised the rates 15 percent; the veto would have reduced the rate hike to 5 percent.

“It’s important that we strike the appropriate balance between calibrating government spending and returning excess revenue back to the people,” Ricketts said. “That is how we responsibly steward taxpayer money.”

Stinner said provider rate increases were a top priority for the committee. Rural nursing homes and developmental disability facilities are facing workforce vacancies of up to 35 percent, he said, in part because they cannot pay competitive wages.

La Vista Sen. John Arch supported the motion, saying the 15 percent increase in provider rates is appropriate.

“We’re in a situation where these rates are critical to providers,” Arch said, adding that private providers may no longer be able to afford to offer important services without the increase.

The override motion, adopted 42-3, also restored $4.15 million in general funds in LB1011 and a $4.15 million transfer from the Cash Reserve Fund in LB1013 to complete the MoPac Trail between Lincoln and Omaha.

The committee did not attempt to restore the elimination of a $14 million transfer from the Governor’s Emergency Cash Fund to the Cash Reserve Fund in LB1011.

Lawmakers also voted 42-3 to override the governor’s veto of a $15 million transfer from the Prison Overcrowding Contingency Fund to the Vocational and Life Skills Programming Fund in LB1012. Ricketts called the transfer an “inappropriate” use of the fund, which is earmarked to replace the state penitentiary.

Stinner said money in the contingency fund has not yet been appropriated for a new prison and that programs that benefit inmates are a suitable use for those dollars.

Finally, senators voted 41-5 to restore a $20 million transfer from the Cash Reserve Fund to the Middle-Income Workforce Housing Investment Fund in LB1013.

Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln supported all of the override motions. Lawmakers were able to fund the state’s priorities, provide the largest tax cut in state history and leave $1.3 billion in the cash reserve this session, he said. The budget adjustment package was an important piece of that success, he said, and should stand as approved by lawmakers.

“That’s a significant trifecta,” Hilgers said.

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