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Monday, May 15th is the 82nd day of our 90 day session. With only a few more days left, I am pleased to say that much of the heavy lifting has been done for the session. Though we may still have some contentious issues come up between now and the last day of session, the Unicameral has accomplished our main duty, which is to pass a budget package which contains the mainline budget (the “main” budget that contains most of the governmental spending) as well as bills which make funds transfers as needed.
We started debate on our state’s $8.9 billion budget package on April 25, but the actual process began much earlier with hearings held by the Appropriations Committee. The package provides for increases in the Property Tax Credit Fund, K-12 education, our state’s Department of Corrections, among others. It reduces funds for the University of Nebraska and some state agencies.
The Unicameral gave final approval to the three components of the two-year budget late last week. Among the measures passed was LB331, which creates funds, makes fund transfers and lowers our “rainy day fund (the minimum cash reserve requirement) from 3 to 2.5 percent. LB 327, which is the state’s mainline budget bill, also passed on a vote of 36-12.
During the debate I voiced my concerns that this budget was taking us down a path that is just not sustainable. I agree with many who felt that, in the face of a significant budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion, we needed to take a harder look at the levels of spending in some areas.
I joined with several of my colleagues to demonstrate our concern with state spending levels, and to express our misgivings at how little attention curtailing state spending was given during the budget process. I also had strong misgivings about lowering our state’s minimum cash reserve requirement.
I offered an amendment to cut spending by 1 percent across the board. Though my measure did not have the votes to pass, it allowed us to have a discussion about our levels of spending and what we are going to do if our budget shortfall continues to expand. Too often, we target one source of spending, such as the University of Nebraska system, with the idea that those smaller cuts will be enough. Or, as I stated earlier, we use budget gimmicks like borrowing from the cash reserve.
While this budget was balanced and did cut some spending, there were a lot of areas untouched and the methods that were used to balance the budget will not be there in the future.
Our state simply cannot keep borrowing from other areas to make up the difference between expenses and revenues. If we are not willing to curtail spending, then the only other option will be to increase taxes, which is something I cannot support. I feel that many members feel just as strongly.
So far, Governor Ricketts has vetoed $11 million in spending intended for a project that will replace the Capitol’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning replacement project. There may be more spending vetoes that will be announced in the coming days. We will get a report on the fiscal impact of this and any other line item vetoes and there may be a motion to override any or all of them, which requires thirty votes. It will be an interesting week.