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Today, May 23rd, is the last day of the first half of the 105th legislature. We were slated to be in session through June 2nd, which would allow time for Governor Pete Ricketts and the state Senators to work on any last minute legislation or to deal with any bills the Governor vetoed. Beyond the line-item vetoes (meaning he vetoed specific funding without vetoing the entire bill) of the state budget package last week, Governor Ricketts has stated that he will not veto any other piece of legislation, meaning we can end the session early.
As I mentioned, last week we took up overriding the line-item vetoes in the state budget package. Two weeks ago, the Unicameral passed several bills that comprised the $8.9 billion budget package, of which Governor Ricketts vetoed $56.5 million in line-items from the budget. In the end, I chose to vote against the override motion brought by the Appropriations Committee. This was not a vote I took lightly and I heard from constituents on both sides of the issue – those who wanted us to override the vetoes and those who supported the cuts.
One of the main issues facing Senators was the fact that without these spending cuts, Nebraska would have to rely on our cash reserve (or “rainy day” fund) in order to balance the budget. The cash reserve is intended to provide a cushion in case our state faces an unprecedented or unexpected hardship (such as a major drought or other disaster). It is not there to make up the difference in the budget.
Among the provisions vetoed in LB327 was $33.6 million in general funds approved for Medicaid, child welfare, behavioral health, and developmental disability providers.
Overall, for the Nebraska Medicaid program received $1.69 billion in the two-year funding bill, of which Governor Ricketts made a line-item veto of $11.8 million in each of the two fiscal years (roughly 1.62%). I have received assurances from the Administration the line-item veto of funding in the Medicaid aid budget will not result in across-the-board reductions to providers. The Medicaid aid budget is a block appropriation based on forecasts of need and Medicaid has the responsibility to manage the program within its appropriation and minimize adverse access-to-service issues for Medicaid eligible individuals and families.
This does not impact services not covered by Medicaid – such as long-term care, nursing home care, and assisted-living care services. The Medicaid program will work with stakeholders to devise an appropriations reduction strategy that protects critical services such as long-term care, and as your Senator I will be monitoring this situation to ensure this promise is kept.
The Division of Developmental Disabilities program was budgeted to receive $303 million over the next two years. Governor Ricketts line-item vetoed $3.2 million in each of the next two fiscal years. Again, I have received assurances the line-item veto in funding will not mean providers will receive across-the-board reductions and that the department will work with stakeholders to devise an appropriations reduction strategy that protects critical health.
From the $333 million two-year funding for the Division of Children & Family Services (CFS), Governor Ricketts vetoed $1.2 million. CFS has identified efficiencies in how it administers drug testing contracts that will garner savings in excess of the amount included in the line-item veto.