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The Appropriations Committee submitted their budget recommendations this past week to the full Legislature by the 40th legislative day, as required by legislative rule. The appropriations bills must be passed by the 50th day, which falls on March 29th this year. The appropriations bills presented this year are mid-biennium adjustments to the two-year budget passed last year for fiscal years 2015/16 and 2016/17, resulting in a net increase of $4.2 million.
Although the financial status at the end of the current biennium remains similar to what it was at the end of the last year’s session, it has fluctuated greatly during the past year. The projected status went from a positive $2.3 million to a negative $110 million after the Nebraska Economic Forecast Advisory Board reduced revenue projections by $154 million last October. This was partially offset by a lapse of unexpended appropriations, reductions in Medicaid, and a $13 million net gain when the Forecast Advisory Board met again in February, resulting in the current positive financial status of $10.1 million. However the projected status for the following biennium shows a $106 million shortfall. This volatility shows the necessity for keeping a sufficient balance in the cash reserve fund.
The $10.1 million figure is the amount of revenue above the required 3% minimum reserve, which is available to fund legislation with a fiscal impact. The reality of this figure makes it apparent that any substantial tax relief will require a tax shift or significant cuts in spending. Due to significant opposition from cities and counties, the Governor’s proposal for property tax relief will most likely not advance from the Revenue Committee as introduced. The intent of LB 958 was to slow down the increase in agricultural land valuation by limiting the state-wide increase to 3 percent per year and to slow the growth of property taxes levied by the political subdivisions. A related bill, LB 959, sought to slow the growth of spending and property taxes levied by school districts. Likewise, it has not been advanced by the Education Committee at this time.
The Appropriations Committee recommended funding three one-time projects from the cash reserve, reducing the balance by $91 million to $655 million. The transfers include $27.3 million to the Department of Corrections for adding capacity to the Lincoln Community Corrections Center, $13.7 million for the modification of two federal levee systems that impact the Offutt Air Force base, in an effort to help secure federal funding to rebuild Offutt’s deteriorating runway and keep the 55th Wing in Nebraska, and under LB 960, $50 million to fund the newly created Transportation Infrastructure Bank.
LB 960, as amended by the Appropriations Committee, creates three new programs funded by the $50 million transfer from the cash reserve fund. It also commits $400 million in additional fuel tax revenue generated by LB 610, passed by the Legislature last year. The Accelerated State Highway Capital Improvement Program will provide up-front money for major highway projects including the completion of the expressway system. The County Bridge Match Program will promote innovative solutions and provide additional funding to accelerate the repair and replacement of county bridges. Finally, the Economic Opportunity Program will finance transportation improvements to attract and support new businesses and business expansions.
Included in the budget recommendations, are amended versions of two of my bills. The first would provide a one-time $1.5 million appropriation to help with recruitment and retention of correctional staff, particularly at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. The other extended the current appropriations for deferred maintenance, repair, renovation and facility replacement construction projects at the three state colleges, thereby allowing for the Theater/Event Center project at Peru State College to proceed.
As legislators discuss the budget and other priority bills, I encourage your input. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.
On Wednesday, January 6, state senators convened for the short session of the Nebraska Legislature. Legislative sessions in even-numbered years last for only 60 days because it is the second year of the biennium and deals with budget adjustments. In the odd-numbered years, the Legislature meets for 90 days and sets the budget for the two-year period.
This year, however, the budget adjustments will take more time, as the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board in late October lowered revenue projections, creating a $110 million deficit. This deficit may grow depending on the final certification of state aid to schools and adjustments in the budget for the Department of Health and Human Services.
Due to the resignation of Senator Jeremy Nordquist, senators welcomed recently appointed Nicole Fox to the Legislature, representing District #7 in Omaha. Since Senator Nordquist was the chair of the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee, Seward Senator Mark Kolterman was elected as the new chair.
Senators began introducing legislation on the first day of session and by the third day almost 200 bills were introduced. The last day for bill introduction is January 20. I have introduced six bills so far, as well as one from the Performance Audit Committee, of which I chair. Among the bills that I have introduced, is LB 733. It requests additional funding for employees of the Department of Corrections. With the recent riot at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, it reiterated the staff recruitment and retention problem that the state faces in some correctional facilities.
I also introduced legislation (LB 755) that seeks capital construction funds for projects at our state colleges, including the Theatre and Community Center at Peru State College. The renovation project will address needed facility improvements, in an effort to maintain PSC’s role of providing quality academic, cultural, and civic opportunities to its students and our region.
The Governor has announced one of his priorities for this year – the creation of a transportation infrastructure bank. The proposal would be funded through a cash reserve transfer and would be used to accelerate roads construction, provide matching funding to counties to expedite bridge repair, and to fund transportation projects that support industry expansion as well as attract businesses to Nebraska.
At a recent meeting with Governor Ricketts, he informed me that his number one priority is property taxes. Several senators and I have been working on legislation pertaining to the school finance system and property tax reduction. I will provide more details after the bill has been introduced.
If you are not aware of the Legislature’s website, I encourage you to check it out at NebraskaLegislature.gov. It has recently been revamped, to make it more user-friendly. It contains a wealth of information. Viewers can read the text of bills introduced, search state statutes, e-mail state senators, see the agenda for the day, read the online version of the Unicameral Update, and watch the Legislature live.
With session starting, I will be at the State Capitol daily. If you are in the Capitol, please feel free to stop by my office. My office number is Room 2000, which is located on the second floor, north side. If calling my office, I am happy to visit with you if I’m available. If I am in a meeting, my staff will be able to assist you. Tim Freburg is my administrative assistant. He answers the telephone, greets visitors, and handles my calendar. Kim Davis is my legislative aide, who works on constituent issues and legislation.
In order to effectively represent my legislative district, I welcome your input. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. My address is Senator Dan Watermeier, District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.