Welcome

January 8th, 2014

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 2nd legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.

Sincerely,
Sen. Bill Kintner

Thoughts about Independence Day (7/1/14)

July 29th, 2014

I am adding a few of my newspaper columns to my senator web page. This one is from 7/1/14

-Senator Kintner

——-

This week we celebrate Independence Day! This is one of my favorite holidays. Legislative District 2 is a very patriotic part of the state.

We have a high number of Veterans living in the area. We also have a number of great outdoor recreational areas that go right along with celebrating the day. There are a number of local celebrations that take place. Fourth of July to our nation and even the entire world. Outside of Easter and Christmas, American Independence Day is at the top of the list of days on the calendar in importance and magnitude to world history.

It’s fitting that we mark the day with bright lights in the sky. Our nation and our people have been a light to the world. Despite our ups and downs, and the current problems that we face, we are still the greatest nation on earth and our contributions to the world surpass all other nations.

We have given our blood and treasure to secure freedom and fight injustice around the world with no expectation of payment or conquering of lands in return.

Our farmers feed our nation, as well as the rest of the world. They do it at the world’s most efficient rate.

American innovation has led the world in technology, medicine, manufacturing, education and science. We have the best healthcare system in the world. We invented the car and took it further with mass production. We put man in flight and then put a man on the moon.

Our children still enjoy far more opportunities and access to education than they would anywhere else.

Even our contributions to the world of entertainment, arts and athletics surpasses the rest of the world. American movies and music are exported throughout the world. Our professional and amateur athletes are always near the top in international competitions.

If you’ve ever driven across our nation on a long trip or seen it from above on a cross-country flight, you’ve likely marveled at the scenery below. We are blessed with amazing landscapes and natural beauty that attracts travelers from all over the world.

All of these reasons make me swell with pride as an American. I hope they bring about those same sentiments for you as well.

It can be easy to pass off such pride and criticize patriotism as outdated or phony in our post-modern society. I can’t help but look at the number of amazing accomplishments that have happened in our relatively short existence as a nation by a people who have been allowed to pursue their own dreams in comparison to the rest of the world and not feel patriotic.

It’s a great principle, that we can disagree, even on the subject of love of country and patriotism, and not be hateful or act against our fellow Americans due to differences of opinion and philosophy. We can be thankful for our Constitution and Bill of Rights for making that possible. It’s something that is not possible in many parts of the world.

The term for this unique mash of people, productivity, creativity, ingenuity, pride, accomplishment, and genuine goodness is “American Exceptionalism”.

Our Founding Fathers certainly believed in that philosophy even without knowing exactly what it was at the time. I have two examples that I believe highlight that vision and sentiment.

You may have seen in history books and the Washington Cruisers Flag. This is a white flag with a green pine tree with a statement underneath that reads, “An Appeal to Heaven.”

The tree is symbolic of the Liberty Tree where patriots in Boston would gather at the time to discuss issues of importance. The message underneath was reflective of George Washington’s faith and reliance on divine guidance.

Before the Revolutionary War, George Washington was so convinced of the American cause and believed it was a righteous one that he was prepared to outfit his private fleet of six ships and take on the British Navy on his own. He had this flag made to fly on those six ships.

The other example deals with celebrating the day itself. After the Declaration of Independence was completed, John Adams wrote to his wife on his vision of how we would mark the day remembering our independence.

John Adams wrote the following to his wife Abigail:

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty; it ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

George Washington would certainly be proud of our nation’s place in the world. John Adams would no doubt be proud of how we remember our independence today.

We are a remarkable nation. One of laws, and not of men. It takes extraordinary people to see our accomplishments to fruition. The American people have every reason to feel patriotic on this day, as we did in 1776.

America continues to be good because our people are good. Despite our differences, the issues that we face, and the sometimes divisive environment in dealing with our problems, we are still united and we display that patriotism on this day. Happy Independence Day! God bless America!

Kintner discusses Patriot Academy (12/3/13)

July 29th, 2014

I am adding a few of my newspaper columns to my senator web page. This one is from 12/3/13

-Senator Kintner

————-

There are several programs designed to train young people about our system of government, how it works and how they can get involved to make a difference.

In an earlier column I wrote about TeanPact and how they are training young people to be involved in government. Many people are familiar with Boys State and Girls State, a program that teaches young people about how our state government works.

Several weeks ago I found out about a program called Patriot Academy.

Patriot Academy is an intensive leadership bootcamp. Students will learn to use leadership strategies, life purpose planning, media relations, public speaking, campaign skills, and the founding fathers’ philosophy of government.

They try to be the premier political training ground in the nation, teaching youth to effectively lead the change in America.

Patriot Academy’s vision is: to equip a new generation of leaders to champion the cause of freedom and truth in government, media, entertainment, and education, as we help bring our nation back to the principles on which we were founded.

Patriot Academy uses a simple four part strategy:

1. Train students to understand and influence government policy with a Biblical worldview

2. Demonstrate the principles of ethical, servant leadership from the Founding Fathers’ perspective

3. Teach the political process and essential leadership skills through intense hands-on training

4. Inspire students to be salt and light in every area of society and culture

By immersing students in an intensive, realistic mock legislature environment, lessons in liberty are seared into the minds of students, while state of the art communication skills are honed with practice and class work.

President  Ronald Reagan famously said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

As a society we need to motivate and equip the rising generation to take up the torch of freedom and carry it forward, or it could become extinguished. Patriot Academy attempts to do this.

It is a goal of Patriot Academy to help students become agents of positive change and to give them the tools they need to successfully engage in the political process and other areas of the culture.

They want every young person who attends Patriot Academy to understand that it is their duty and privilege to guard the precious legacy of freedom.

One of their goals as stated on their web site is:

“By the grace of God, we will raise up a generation who will stand for righteousness in both the public arena and the private sector, leading the change in America. “

Wouldn’t it be great if thousands of new leaders across America had the backbone of Margaret Thatcher, the communications skills of Ronald Reagan, the charisma of John F. Kennedy and the constitutional grounding of Mark Levin?

That describes part of what Patriot Academy is attempting to do.

They target students from 16-25 years of age with a desire to lead in politics, business, education, the pulpit or the media. These students will be leaders in their field of interest while they fulfill their duty as a citizen.

The training takes place in several capitals across the country. The closest to Nebraska in in Austin, TX. There are some scholarships available.

For more information go to: www.PatriotAcademy.com

I will be holding a Town Hall Meeting 6 p.m. Dec. 9 at First Baptist Church, 16220 Highway 75, Plattsmouth.

I will give an update on the state’s budget, roads, taxes, upcoming legislation and anything that you want to talk about. I hope to see you there. As always, I appreciate hearing from you on important

Please reach me at: Senator Bill Kintner, 1115 State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509; (402-471-2613), or at my email: bkintner@leg.ne.gov.

Tax Reduction or More Spending (1/21/14)

July 29th, 2014

I’m adding some of my weekly newspaper columns to my senator web page. This one is from 1/21/14.

-Senator Kintner

——–

Last year, the Legislature adopted a two-year state budget that obligated $7.87 Billion in state spending. That budget was completed near the end of the session but, with about two weeks to go after that — when tax revenues came in higher than expected — the Legislature spent an additional $52 million on new legislative bills.

One observation for me from that session: if our tax dollars are available, the pressure to spend them is nearly insurmountable.

Now, in the 2014 Legislative Session, revenues continue to come in at a higher rate than were previously predicted. The increased tax receipts are a sign that our economy is growing faster than our state had projected. The increased tax receipts are also a sign that we taxpayers are being overtaxed.

In his State of the State speech, Gov. Heineman proposed making tax relief the focus of this Unicameral session. I could not agree more.

Tax relief is important to help the hard-working families of Nebraska keep more of their own earned income. Tax relief is also critical because tax rates and tax burden comparisons amongst states are driving forces so that we can keep our economy moving forward and create new high-paying jobs.

The Tax Foundation, a national organization that compares tax policies of the 50 states, ranks Nebraska as the 16th highest taxed state. Making Nebraska more competitive with other states is one of the most important issues facing the Nebraska Legislature this session.

High income taxes clobber small businesses, hurt their growth and their ability to expand and create new jobs. High property taxes hurt all of us but they have become especially egregious for production agriculture.

A recent annual report issued by the Nebraska Revenue Department shows that property taxes statewide increased by 5.22 percent from 2012 to 2013. Total property taxes collected increased by $169 million. While the statewide percentage was 5.22 percent, the county-by-county taxing differences ranged from the highest increase of 19.77 percent (Sioux County) to the lowest of a 2.87 percent reduction in Hitchcock County.

In Legislative District 2, the property taxes levied were increased as follows:

Cass County (9.05 percent increase), Otoe County (6.43 percent increase), and Sarpy County (2.47 percent increase). Within these overall percentages, there are great disparities on the increased property taxes of agricultural real property and residential real property.

In Cass County, the Revenue Department reports that agriculture land taxes levied increased by 34.93 percent and that residential property taxes levied increased by 1.14 percent. In Otoe County, ag land taxes levied were 17.95 percent higher and residential property taxes levied decreased by 1.24 percent. In Sarpy County, ag land taxes levied grew by 26.17 percent and residential property taxes grew by 1.89 percent.

The Governor supports the Nebraska Farm Bureau’s proposal to lower the taxable value of agricultural land to 65 percent of its market value, down from the current 75 percent. There are many legislative bill proposals that have already been introduced to address property tax relief for agriculture and for homeowners. This is an issue that will be addressed by both the Revenue Committee and the Appropriations Committee.

A second goal stated by the Governor is to lower the current top state income tax rate from 6.84 percent to below 6 percent. I’ve already heard liberal pundits lament that this would be a “tax break for the rich.”

Well, judge for yourself but please know that our current top bracket is one of the highest in the country and it kicks in for those making over $29,000 if you are single and making over $58,000 if you are married and file a joint tax return. To me, fixing this problem is hardly a tax cut for “the rich.”

The tax relief issue is expected to be highly debated and highly controversial. It doesn’t have to be. There are a lot of ways to provide tax relief and still be very conservative with our state’s long-term financial budget.

When the Legislature concluded its 2013 session, the two-year budget had been set and there was $627 million in our Cash Reserve (or “rainy day”) Fund. Today, there is $725 million sitting in that fund. Our tax receipts are also projected to grow above where they were set for planned budgeting.

Be prepared to hear from those special interest who want to spend your money that our state still does not have “enough” funds to provide tax relief. I don’t believe that and neither should you. Those interests have an intentional strategy to deny tax relief for more planned spending in 2014 and in the next two-year budget.

In the upcoming weeks, I will share more insights and information about the bills that are planned for public hearings.

As always, I really appreciate hearing from you on important matters. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff for information or if I may be of assistance. Please reach me at: Senator Bill Kintner, 1115 State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 (402-471-2613), or at my email: bkintner@leg.ne.gov.

Appropriations passes mainline budget adjustments

March 5th, 2014

Lincoln, NE - Today the Appropriations Committee passed the mainline budget adjustments by a vote of 8-1.  I voted against it.

My colleagues and I put in hard work reviewing everything that was put before us this year in the Appropriations Committee.  There are a lot of items I agree with in this budget.  However, in the end, I could not agree with the total new spending growth that is included in the Committee’s package which would push two-year spending to a 5.5% growth rate.  That is in addition to the approximately $ 91 million that would be left for action on the floor.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 5, 2014

Senator addresses 2013 school aid battle

June 18th, 2013

Kintner addresses the 2013 school funding battle

As I write, the full Legislature is just beginning debate on LB 407, the bill that will determine two of the most significant and complex issues of the 2013 session. The first decision made in this bill is how much in total state dollars will be needed to fund Nebraska’s public schools for the next upcoming two years. The second decision made in LB 407 is how that amount of money will be distributed among our 248 public school districts statewide.

Reaching a final determination on how much of your General Fund tax dollars to spend on state aid to the public schools requires the close coordination of two separate legislative committees. The Education Committee considers how to set funding priorities and policies for schools in its state aid to schools funding formula and the Appropriations Committee must then reconcile funding required for public schools with all of the other spending requests of state government agencies.

LB 407 was advanced from the Education Committee on a divided 5-3 vote of committee members. Those representing mostly urban school districts voted against the majority of committee members and have filed numerous proposed amendments that will be debated on the floor of the Legislature by all 49 state senators. Debate on this bill is expected to be quite lengthy, at least on the first round of its consideration.

There definitely exists an urban versus rural component to this complicated bill. That situation is likely when districts in our state are as diverse as the exceptionally large Omaha Public School District and very small Arthur Public School District which is located in a sparse area in western Nebraska.

The diversity of districts exists even within Legislative District 2. So, to the extent that school districts have essentially divided themselves into “sides” on the school funding debate, senators must set funding policies that reflect and embrace the vast differences in size of school districts.

The Appropriations Committee issued a “preliminary report” to the Legislature at the end of February. That report outlined helpful information regarding the level of state aid to schools funding – along with other major expenditure information. As a placeholder, the Appropriations Committee included a plan to spend approximately $125 million more in school state aid funding in the next two years.

Funding at that level, if approved, will amount to a 5 percent two-year overall increase. The percentage and dollar increases are very large because the public schools, through the state aid formula, are collectively receiving $837 million presently. These percentage increases would increase state aid appropriations to $879 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year and to $920 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

There are a lot of high tax dollar numbers involved in this issue. As you can imagine, spending nearly one billion dollars each year on funding to the public schools catches the attention of all senators – and taxpayers alike.

Education has always been an important spending priority. The Nebraska Constitution mandates that this area be a priority. Nebraskans, too, have clearly expressed interest in having competitive and vibrant public schools. The need to avoid pressuring property taxes also plays an important role in determining how much state funding should be allocated to school districts.

Countering those important points are the pressure that ever-increasing amounts of state aid to school districts places on the overall spending contained within the entire state budget.

At the Appropriations Committee’s preliminary budget numbers, the total state expenditures made to public school districts for state school aid amounts to 70 percent of all General Fund aid to local governments in the entire budget. When state expenditures for special education are added to that number, this amounts to 86 percent of all General Fund aid to local governments.

Numbers. Policy. Priorities. These items will abound in the LB 407 debate and consideration. The complexity of the school aid formula, in detail, is astounding.

One good tool that I have been reviewing to ready myself for this detailed debate is available on the Nebraska Department of Education’s public website. It is a tool that will provide “State Aid History By District.” Here is the website address for those who want to explore a twenty-year state aid funding history of each of the state’s school districts:www.education.ne.gov/FOS/ASPX/Search.aspx?id=9

I have reviewed profiles for each of the District 2 schools. The information is instructive to see the very large swings in state aid to schools experienced by our schools.

There are many controversies ahead. As always, I appreciate hearing from you on these important matters. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff for information on any pending legislative matters, or if I may be of assistance. Please reach me at 1115 State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 (402-471-2613), or at my email: bkintner@leg.ne.gov.

Senator shares thoughts on two-year state budget

June 18th, 2013

The Legislature has now completed 75 percent of the 90 legislative-day long year session. With 25 percent of the scheduled legislative time in session remaining, the bulk of consideration of legislative bills will occur between now and our final adjournment for the year.

Of the 655 bills introduced this year, about 60 bills have been killed or withdrawn by the Legislature; 84 bills have been signed into law by the Governor. That adds up to about 21 percent of the total bills that were introduced this year. As I mentioned in a prior article, only those bills that have been designated as “priority bills” will likely be placed on our agenda for debate. About 91 of those bills are left for the Legislature to resolve in our remaining days.

In addition to those priority bills, we will also begin consideration of the entire state budget. Nebraska’s Constitution requires the Legislature to enact a two-year, or biennial, budget during legislative sessions held in odd-numbered years.

In January, the Governor submitted his recommended budget to the Legislature. The Governor’s proposal recommended a 5.1 percent spending increase in the first fiscal year and a 4.7 percent increase in the second fiscal year, for a total two year increase in spending of about 5.0 percent.

The detailed budget proposal is comprised in 7 separate bills, LB 194 through LB 200. Those bills were all referred to the Appropriations Committee.

Following receipt of the budget bills, the committee conducted an overview of the recommendations and began a detailed review of each spending line item in each of the state agency programs. The Committee then issued its “preliminary report” at the end of February. That report basically sets the Appropriations Committee’s recommendations to the full Legislature and was the basis of all of the public hearings that the Committee conducted during the month of March and in early April.

Throughout the last month, I have been meeting with my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee in formal work sessions to begin to make final decisions on spending items within the budget package. The Committee’s final recommendation to the full Legislature has now been completed. The bills must be reported from the committee and placed on General File no later than Legislative Day 70 (May 1, 2013).

Starting next week, the full Legislature will begin detailed consideration of each of the 7 budget bills. The Appropriations Committee will have committee amendments that make changes from the Governor’s original proposal. Then, any member of the Legislature may offer amendments to add, reduce, or eliminate proposed spending items to the committee’s recommended spending levels.

I anticipate a robust debate on the budget bill package. Nebraskans deserve a robust debate as the combined General Fund spending that will be authorized in this two-year budget comes close to $8 billion.

Ultimately, there will need to be a super-majority of 33 out of 49 senators who agree with a final budget package in order for the bills to be passed and to go into effect on July 1, 2013 – which will be the starting date of the next upcoming state fiscal year.

After passage by the Legislature, the Governor then has five days to review the entire budget bill package and to make line-item vetoes to any of the spending items. If the Governor makes any vetoes, then the Legislature will consider whether to attempt to override any of those spending items.

All of this legislative and executive branch activity will take place in the next several weeks.

I certainly feel the responsibility of being a good steward of your tax dollars. There are nearly 8 billion reasons to be attentive to Legislative Bills 194 through 200. I welcome your thoughts as the final budget bills are introduced and summarized in the Appropriations Committee’s Final Biennial Budget Report.

There are many controversies ahead. As always, I appreciate hearing from you on these important matters. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff for information on any pending legislative matters, or if I may be of assistance. Please reach me at 1115 State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 (402-471-2613), or at my email: bkintner@leg.ne.gov.

June 11th, 2013

June 18th, 2013

Although the Legislature has formally adjourned for 2013, important legislative business continues throughout the summer and fall – referred to as the “interim” between sessions. I plan to highlight some of the larger issues that will be examined in-depth by various task forces and committee working groups as these issues almost always set the stage for important bills that will dominate the work of next year’s session.

One critical and highly public effort will be that of the “Water Funding Task Force,” a 34- member group that was authorized by the June 4, 2013 enactment of LB 517. The membership, which is expected to be fully appointed within the next thirty days, will consist of the 16 existing members of the Natural Resources Commission; the Natural Resources Department Director; the Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee of the Legislature plus five other state senators; and 11 members who are appointed by the Governor to represent specific categories of water users.

The Legislature set forth that Nebraska’s water resources are finite and must be wisely managed to ensure their continued availability and beneficial use. The new task force is required to research and gather data regarding water use and aging water infrastructure. Most importantly, the task force is expected to 1) identify the state’s water needs; 2) organize the list of necessary projects; and 3) establish a process to identify needs in a priority order.

The work of the task force sounds basic; however, it will be difficult to prioritize which projects are more “needed” over other projects and which uses (for example, agricultural versus drinking water supplies) are higher priorities. The work will also be difficult because the final report issued by this task force will likely seek additional state General Funds to finance more projects.

The senator who authored this bill had also introduced LB 516, in which he proposed that ¼ of one cent of the state sales tax receipts be redirected to water priority projects. The fiscal note on that bill estimated that $65 to $75 million annually would be redirected from the state budget to water projects. Obviously, the bill was very controversial and it did not advance from the Natural Resources Committee.

Two other bills that remain pending for consideration next year, LB 185 and LB 522, also proposed major shifts in existing state funds to finance a variety of water projects. Finally, the lawsuit between the State of Kansas and the State of Nebraska over our Republican River water management compact remains pending.

It is not clear what, if any financial exposure Nebraska taxpayers will have in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s final ruling in that case. Water as a resource is becoming increasingly scarce and subject to increasingly competing interests. Nebraska is situated on top of the Ogallala Aquifer. That has blessed our state and region with an abundance of water. The abundance will be gone if not correctly managed.

The water funding issue is, in many ways, a slow-motion crisis – one that is decades in the making, an imminent need for some yet years or decades away for others. I look forward to the productive work of this task force. Several other important water studies have been completed throughout the past several years.

It remains to be seen if this group will produce a quantifiable key priority water project list that can garner a political consensus amongst the many diverse water interests.

As always, I appreciate hearing from you on important matters. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff for information on any pending legislative matters, or if I may be of assistance. Please reach me at 1115 State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 (402-471-2613), or at my email:bkintner@leg.ne.gov.

Slow legislative session has positive aspects

April 25th, 2013

Two-thirds of the legislative days of the 2013 Unicameral session have now been completed. Some have commented on the fact that this seems to be the slowest moving session in recent memory.

Whatever the reasons, I embrace the pace of this session. I don’t see any downside in limiting the amount of laws passed or in conducting lengthy public discussion about whether or not we really need to add another program, fee, or tax or tax break to Nebraska statutes.

I come from a limited government and low tax perspective on government. While some government programs and a certain amount of taxes are necessary for a functioning state government, Nebraska exceeds the necessary levels of both programs and taxes.

Extended debate on the merits or any bill is a good thing because it forces legislators to make fully deliberative arguments about the proposal contained in the bill.

It is no secret Nebraska’s state legislative branch is unique. Our “one-house” system only requires a bill to pass through one legislative body before going to the Governor’s desk for his action.

Without the added checks and balances that a second house would normally provide, the filibuster procedure is a method being frequently used this session to slow down a bill and consider it thoroughly.

In order to end a filibuster, 33 votes – instead of the 25 vote simple majority standard – is required. I have heard some argue routine filibusters are a breakdown of the legislative process and create chaos.

In my view, the process is working just as it was intended. The rules of the Legislature were written for a reason. They were also adopted unanimously by all 49 state senators at the beginning of this session.

Approximately one-third of the legislative days that remain in the 2013 session will pass quickly. The vast bulk of the work on bills designated as priority bills by individual senators, our committees and the Speaker of the Legislature have yet to be considered by the full Legislature.

The Speaker of the Legislature has advised each of us that he has designated most of the upcoming legislative days to include “late nights,” during which many of the bills are considered.

Unlike the United States Congress, however, our “late nights” will have to end by midnight. After that time, we start a new legislative day.

In the U.S. Congress, voting on bills goes on into the wee hours of the mornings. I am appreciative of the midnight deadline under our law.

Many of the substantial and controversial priority bills will be considered during the remaining days of the session.

These include debate on LB 577, the proposed implementation of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion; LB 407, the proposed new state aid to schools formula; LB 543, the proposed repeal of Nebraska’s death penalty; LB 561, the proposed reorganization of state programs for juvenile offenders; LB 522, a proposal to provide state financial compensation to irrigation districts in water short years; and a variety of bills which propose tax breaks for a wide variety of interests.

Amidst all of those bills, we also must reach agreement on the state’s next two-year budget. The Appropriations Committee continues to meet in order to reach final decisions on funding priorities and funding levels for all state programs. Our Committee is expected to issue a final budget at the end of April. The full Legislature will begin debate on the package of budget bills in early May.

As I consider the volume and importance of the work ahead, I am reminded of Calvin Coolidge who wisely said “It is better to kill bad bills than it is to pass good ones.”

Perhaps, the only exception to that statement would be to pass a bill that repeals a prior law. It appears, however, those kind of bills are a rare occurrence. As Milton Friedman determined, “There is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program.”

There are many controversies ahead. As always, I appreciate hearing from you on these important matters. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff for information on any pending legislative matters, or if I may be of assistance. Please reach me at 1115 State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 (402-471-2613), or at my email: bkintner@leg.ne.gov.

Senator addresses 2013 school aid battle

April 25th, 2013

Kintner addresses the 2013 school funding battle

As I write, the full Legislature is just beginning debate on LB 407, the bill that will determine two of the most significant and complex issues of the 2013 session. The first decision made in this bill is how much in total state dollars will be needed to fund Nebraska’s public schools for the next upcoming two years. The second decision made in LB 407 is how that amount of money will be distributed among our 248 public school districts statewide.

Reaching a final determination on how much of your General Fund tax dollars to spend on state aid to the public schools requires the close coordination of two separate legislative committees. The Education Committee considers how to set funding priorities and policies for schools in its state aid to schools funding formula and the Appropriations Committee must then reconcile funding required for public schools with all of the other spending requests of state government agencies.

LB 407 was advanced from the Education Committee on a divided 5-3 vote of committee members. Those representing mostly urban school districts voted against the majority of committee members and have filed numerous proposed amendments that will be debated on the floor of the Legislature by all 49 state senators. Debate on this bill is expected to be quite lengthy, at least on the first round of its consideration.

There definitely exists an urban versus rural component to this complicated bill. That situation is likely when districts in our state are as diverse as the exceptionally large Omaha Public School District and very small Arthur Public School District which is located in a sparse area in western Nebraska.

The diversity of districts exists even within Legislative District 2. So, to the extent that school districts have essentially divided themselves into “sides” on the school funding debate, senators must set funding policies that reflect and embrace the vast differences in size of school districts.

The Appropriations Committee issued a “preliminary report” to the Legislature at the end of February. That report outlined helpful information regarding the level of state aid to schools funding – along with other major expenditure information. As a placeholder, the Appropriations Committee included a plan to spend approximately $125 million more in school state aid funding in the next two years.

Funding at that level, if approved, will amount to a 5 percent two-year overall increase. The percentage and dollar increases are very large because the public schools, through the state aid formula, are collectively receiving $837 million presently. These percentage increases would increase state aid appropriations to $879 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year and to $920 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

There are a lot of high tax dollar numbers involved in this issue. As you can imagine, spending nearly one billion dollars each year on funding to the public schools catches the attention of all senators – and taxpayers alike.

Education has always been an important spending priority. The Nebraska Constitution mandates that this area be a priority. Nebraskans, too, have clearly expressed interest in having competitive and vibrant public schools. The need to avoid pressuring property taxes also plays an important role in determining how much state funding should be allocated to school districts.

Countering those important points are the pressure that ever-increasing amounts of state aid to school districts places on the overall spending contained within the entire state budget.

At the Appropriations Committee’s preliminary budget numbers, the total state expenditures made to public school districts for state school aid amounts to 70 percent of all General Fund aid to local governments in the entire budget. When state expenditures for special education are added to that number, this amounts to 86 percent of all General Fund aid to local governments.

Numbers. Policy. Priorities. These items will abound in the LB 407 debate and consideration. The complexity of the school aid formula, in detail, is astounding.

One good tool that I have been reviewing to ready myself for this detailed debate is available on the Nebraska Department of Education’s public website. It is a tool that will provide “State Aid History By District.” Here is the website address for those who want to explore a twenty-year state aid funding history of each of the state’s school districts: www.education.ne.gov/FOS/ASPX/Search.aspx?id=9

I have reviewed profiles for each of the District 2 schools. The information is instructive to see the very large swings in state aid to schools experienced by our schools. There are many controversies ahead. As always, I appreciate hearing from you on these important matters. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff for information on any pending legislative matters, or if I may be of assistance. Please reach me at 1115 State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 (402-471-2613), or at my email: bkintner@leg.ne.gov.