Initial budget cuts approved after cloture vote

Lawmakers voted to end debate and give final approval Feb. 13 to a bill that makes cuts to the state’s budget for the current fiscal year. The reductions are a first step to offset an anticipated budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion over the biennium.

Sen. John Stinner

LB22, introduced by Norfolk Sen. Jim Scheer at the request of Gov. Pete Ricketts, is part of the governor’s expedited adjustments proposed for the state budget ending June 30, 2017. The regular budget process for setting spending for the next two fiscal years will be taken up separately later in the session.

The bill makes across-the-board cuts to funds previously appropriated to state agencies, with some exceptions. Among other provisions, the bill:
• cuts approximately $4 million from the state Supreme Court budget;
• allows the University of Nebraska to retain approximately $5.2 million in unspent funds; and
• adds $3.5 million to the state Department of Health and Human Services to offset the loss of federal funds for certain developmental disability providers.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist offered a motion to return LB22 to select file for consideration of an amendment that would have exempted the Legislature’s budget from the bill’s provisions. He said lawmakers need to protect unappropriated funds to address ongoing upgrades to phone systems, public hearing rooms and logistics related to an overhaul of the Capitol’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.

“I just don’t think we have to make this cut — this deep — right away,” Krist said.

Gering Sen. John Stinner, chairperson of the Appropriations Committee, said work is being done to address the Legislature’s needs in another deficit bill and the regular biennial budget process.

“We’re going to work with the Legislative Council,” Stinner said. “We are committed to making sure that these projects get done.”

Krist’s motion failed on a vote of 11-30.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha then filed a motion to bracket the bill until Feb. 27, which failed on a vote of 2-42. He said senators should take more time to find a way to fund the Legislature at a level adequate to fulfill its lawmaking and oversight responsibilities.

“This is a point at which we should function as the third branch of government,” Chambers said.

After two hours of debate, Stinner offered a motion to invoke cloture and cease debate on the bill. The motion was adopted 43-1 and LB22 passed 42-3. The bill takes effect immediately.

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