Welcome

January 7th, 2015

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 23rd 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. Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- January 23, 2015

January 23rd, 2015

The table has been set, it is time to fish or cut bait.  You probably wonder just what the heck I am talking about.  Well, here in the Nebraska Legislature we have just finished the first 10 days of the session.  The importance of this date is that no more bills can be introduced for consideration this year.  It seems that in each of my earlier years here we have had constituents and others contacting us to introduce legislation on one topic or another well past the time allowed for introductions and some have been quite unhappy to learn that the rules just don’t allow it.  One of the unique things about our legislature, compared to other states, is that every bill introduced will have a public hearing.  If we allowed unending bill introduction, I am afraid we could never finish the work we do here on an annual basis.

Following along with the above, we had 655 bills and 4 constitutional amendments introduced this year.  You probably have read or heard about many of these ideas already.  Judging from our e-mails and regular mail, there are many areas that are of interest to you and will be to me as well.

One bit of advice I have received and have tried to follow here is that I don’t get too involved in most of the issues unless they are advanced from the various committees to General File, for the first round of debate before the full legislative body.  Obviously, my staff or myself continues to look over the multitude of bills before us and “monitor” their progress as many like to say.  Naturally, I participate in the bills that I introduce, totaling 10 personal bills this year and several other committee bills from the Agriculture Committee for which I am responsible as well as the bills before the other committees to which I am assigned.  Often, what a bill looks like today however, is nowhere near what comes out at the end of the session due to amendments, mergers with other bills, etc.  I hesitate to “sign on” to certain pieces of legislation that I feel have a significant chance for change and I certainly don’t want to tell you that I support something and then watch it change or become a part of something else which I can’t support.

Also this past week we heard the first State of the State address given by Governor Ricketts.  As with most speeches of this type, the hopes are many but the Legislature is a separate branch of government from the Governor so at this point we can only hope for consensus on most issues.  The speech centered on several points that have had extensive media coverage as well as the cost for these programs and just the general cost of running the state.  Remember, for the first time in many years, we have a trained businessman in the top spot with little to no political experience.

The governor, among several issues, proposed a two-year, 3.1 percent budget growth rate.  He asked for $57 million in new money to be spent on prisons over a three year period.  Following a theme he put forth during his campaign, he wants $400 million returned to the taxpayers from the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund  and $120 million in property tax cuts.  He included increases for state aid to schools, the University of Nebraska system as well as state colleges.  Increases in provider rates for child welfare, developmental disabilities, federal Medicaid match money and over $17 million in reimbursement to the federal government for mistakes made in foster care payments.  These ideas and others were presented while also promising no tax increases.

This all sounds ambitious at this point of the legislative session but I guess now we’ll see where the rubber meets the road.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- January 16, 2015

January 16th, 2015

Greetings from your Nebraska State Legislature.  My name is Jerry Johnson and I am the state senator representing Legislative District #23.  This district includes all of Butler and Saunders Counties as well as most of Colfax County excluding the northwest quarter of the county bounded by County Rd. P on the south and Hwy 15 on the east.  I am entering my third year representing this district and consider it an honor to be here to serve you.  This column, which has been made possible thanks to the generosity of the local newspapers in and around the district, will appear for the most part on a weekly basis during the legislative session.

Generally, I will be discussing bills I have introduced or co-signed however, often my focus may well be on topics related to agriculture.  The reason for this is that I was elected as the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee of the Legislature on the first day of the session.  This honor has resulted in a few new responsibilities as well as one noticeable improvement, a bigger office.  I am now located in Room #1022.  This is just inside the west entrance to the capitol building and allows more space for meetings, one additional staff person and more room to generally stretch out after spending two years in what we affectionately called a “bowling alley” office.  To those of you who visited, you know what I am referring to.

As I write this article, we are just finishing the eighth day of the session.  The first ten days are reserved for bill introduction and as of today we have around 500 bills that have been introduced.  We will top the 700 mark by the time we adjourn on the 10th day.  This has been the normal amount for the last several years.

I looked at one of the articles I wrote last year and noted that 17 senators would be term limited out of office and predicted a group that would be very unpredictable and referred to them as a wild card.  Well, that prediction came to pass and now we have 18 new senators and a new governor and again I will say this new group again is the wild card because we don’t know for sure much about these folks yet.  What we do know is that they won elections in their home districts, that they are competent in the eyes of the local voters who sent them here and I look forward to working with all of them.

Above I said I would be writing about bills I am introducing this year and bills that will come before the Ag Committee.  Other bills of interest may find their way onto these pages but I will be listening to the issues that you will be bringing to me as well.  The people of the State of Nebraska drive what we do here.  I can be reached electronically at jjohnson@leg.ne.gov.  If you prefer regular mail send to Senator Jerry Johnson, Legislative District #23, State Capitol Bldg., PO Box 94604, Lincoln, NE  68509-4604 or pick up the phone and call me at 402-471-2719.

I want to thank you for your support and I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- April 17, 2014

April 17th, 2014

For better or worse this past Thursday, April 17th, was the 60th and final day of the 103rd Legislature, Second Session.  The last day of a session is generally ceremonial in nature with any Final Readings on bills taking place as well as any governor vetoes that may need to be considered.  The bills read on the last day could be vetoed but we have not had any indication from the governor that this would happen.  We did  recognize 17 senators leaving us and thank them for their service to the state.  This large number is a result of term limits voted into law years ago by the voters of Nebraska.

As you know, this was the short session.  We carried over dozens of bills from the 2013 session.  Beginning this year we had 75 bills on General File alone.  At the end of the year we had 155 bills on General File.  The idea is to try to catch up from the first session but obviously, this didn’t happen.  I have told you in these spaces before that a bill had to be passed this year or it is dead and has to be re-drafted and re-introduced next year or at some point in the future.  I anticipate many of the introduced measures will be back again and sometimes bills are introduced so that when they are re-introduced we will have heard of them before.

Several of the major issues that were talked about over the two year period did get substantial floor debate.  Some of these bills passed but many have unresolved issues that will need to be taken care of at some other time by another legislature.  A good example of this is tax reform.  Almost every senator in the body said taxes whether it be sales, income or property in nature is a concern in his or her district.  I welcome the interim study planned for this summer or fall on assessed land tax values.

As I said last week, important water legislation was passed and since that time has been signed into law.  Prison reform was signed into law and included several steps to better prepare prisoners to be released.  I was disappointed that we didn’t address the “good time” provisions and am sure that will be back at some time.  Again, I want to make it very clear that I don’t support gambling, but I did vote to advance LR 41CA, the historic horse racing measure.  This proposal will appear on the ballot this year and you will be the determining if this form of expanded wagering is to become legal.  I don’t gamble but I will defend your right to vote.

Mountain lions, toy lighters, amber lights on citizen patrol cars and Medicaid expansion are just a few of the other offerings that took a large amount of time, often leading to the extremely time consuming filibuster.  This tactic was one of the many used this year that resulted in this session being described as the most contentious in memory by many.  I believe there were many other factors that contributed to this perception.  We have an ultra-conservative group of legislators.  As I said, we have 17 members leaving and most wanting to “go out with a bang”.  We have several running for other elective offices and just a general disrespect of the system which is disappointing.  Hopefully, next year with the coming changes in officials and senators will bring much needed change.

I hope during this process you have felt informed and somewhat enlightened by these newspaper articles.  I want to thank the various publications that allowed me valuable space for my column.  We might try to have an occasional “Legislative Word” during the interim if and when new information comes up.  I will be out in the district visiting with groups and individuals and coming to as many events as possible.

Please let me hear from you.  My Lincoln office will be open daily so don’t hesitate to call.  I can be reached by phone at: 402-471-2719 as well as e-mail at jjohnson@leg.ne.gov.  Beginning in May I hope to be in my Lincoln office most Monday mornings but will try to work with you if there is a meeting time that would work better.

Until then, have a great summer, and if not before, I’ll see you in January.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- April 10, 2014

April 11th, 2014

When we get to the end of a legislative session, it becomes easy to look back and think of all of the things we should have done and there are even a few things we could have done differently however, here we are at the end not only of the session but of the biennium as well.  As I have said in this column on occasion, what isn’t done by now is done.  If not passed into law, the measure must be reintroduced next year or at some time in the future.  While most ideas have appeared here in one form or another, shelf life for bills is very limited.

As I traveled not only the district this last year but around the state as well, a few topics were foremost on people’s minds.  I spoke about taxes last week and in previous columns.  We began some programs but quite honestly, we didn’t go far enough.  Noting that it is now the tax filing deadline I can see that perhaps we need some work done on the state income tax laws.  Property taxes were also high on the list of issues to fix and in particular agricultural land valuations.  Various “fixes” were offered but nothing really of substance passed.  Senator Hadley of the Revenue Committee has promised hearings over the summer and into the fall on this particular tax.  I will attend as many of those hearings as I can.  I fully anticipate these to be public in nature so if you can, call my office to find out the schedule.

Water was prominent but rather late this session.  LB 1098 was offered and argued strenuously.  The bill makes major investments in rural and metro water projects.  There will be $11 million used annually from the General Fund for water sustainability projects.  This is a huge increase from amounts taken currently.  This first year this money will be coupled with a $20 million appropriation allowed by the Appropriations Committee.  This combined amount will be used for projects including drinking water, irrigation, habitat conservation, flood control and recreation just to name a few.  Lake Wanahoo will be a beneficiary of this money though the amount at this time is unclear.  Omaha will receive $1 million annually to help with their federally mandated sewer renovation.  This bill creates an expanded Natural Resources Commission to review applications for grants and to award the funds.  This is major legislation that concerns what has been described as the issue of the decade, water supply and management.

Prison reform issues have become law.  After the tragic serial killings last summer in Omaha, there were several unanswered questions about the accused and his incarceration and release along with the major overcrowding that we currently have in the system.  Bills were introduced and passed to begin, and I stress the word begin, to address these issues.  This will be an ongoing process for many years.

Veterans finally started to see some movement on legislation designed not only to help them but hopefully, keep them in our state as well.  We passed laws allowing for certain tax exemptions, tuition assistance programs, modified homestead exemptions and military license plates.  We owe those that have defended our country respect.  Also, as I said, veterans have much to offer with the training they received in the military and since their discharge.  We need to keep them around.

A bill that was defeated on Final Reading, LB 1092, was a bill I supported.  This bill would have allowed the state to issue up to $200 million in bonds for road construction.  The bonds would not have been allowed to be issued after June 30, 2017 and would require that bonds carry an interest rate no higher than 5%.  We have always been a pay-as-you-go state meaning we wouldn’t bond to go into debt to do projects of any kind.  That was the argument here.  Do we allow bonding now at a time when construction bidding is proving favorable and interest rates are low or do we see how funds coming in from the Build Nebraska Act, passed three years ago, come in and get a bit of history to see if that money supply is sufficient.  I am a conservative but I also promised to help complete road projects in District #23 such as the Highway 30 project east of Schuyler.  I remain committed to this notion.

Next week will be the last regular column of the session.  I will try to give you a few final observations and thoughts.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- April 03, 2014

April 8th, 2014

Last week in this column, I explained the budget adjustment we made this year.  We made improvements across the board in many areas including state aid to schools, funding for the Game and Parks Commission, capitol building improvements, tax relief, behavioral health and job training programs, just to name a few.  For the most part, I feel this was a responsible fiscal plan put forth by the Appropriations Committee.  The package received strong support from the body of senators and passed.  I also said in last week’s column that the governor has the responsibility to examine the budget and has the authority to veto any items he deems unnecessary.  The budget comes to approximately $7.8 billion and we knew there was the real possibility of several vetoes coming down.  Our expectations were realized when we arrived this past Monday morning.

The governor has five days from the time a bill is passed to sign it, let it pass without his signature (it still becomes law) or veto.  He vetoed $65 million from our budget bill.  As you might expect, our discussion was interesting in determining whether to override any of the governor’s objections.  The governor said he felt we didn’t go far enough in offering more property tax relief and at least at this time we could afford to give this money back in the form of relief.  We looked at the areas in question and in the end we voted pretty overwhelmingly to override the governor.  Of the $65 million in question we voted to restore close to $61 million of the budget.  We did preserve the $25 million designated to add to the property tax credit program.

All is not lost however.  The governor did sign into law several bills representing over $410 million in tax cuts and adjustments.  While these will be spread out over the next 5 years, it is important to note several senators and the governor himself described these measures as a good start to tax relief.

Senator Galen Hadley, chair of the Revenue Committee, has promised a study this coming summer on our property tax system centering on the agricultural property tax issue.  This too is an important component to future, meaningful tax relief.

We spent a good amount of the rest of the week moving as many bills as possible forward during the few days remaining.  We voted on two bills that I feel the need to explain a bit.

LB 41 CA is a constitutional amendment authorizing legislation for licensing and regulating wagering on live or replayed horse races.  Briefly, the resolution was described as an attempt to expand gambling in Nebraska or as a last ditch effort to save the horse racing industry in our state.  I know you have heard about this measure before and I won’t argue this here.  I voted to pass LR 41 CA.  I know many you may be surprised that I voted for a gambling issue.  Notice the bill is not a bill but a resolution.  It is also a constitutional amendment that, if passed, cannot be vetoed by the governor but must be voted on by you, the citizens of the state.  You could veto it by voting no or allow this by a yes vote.  The measure failed to pass but by voting yes, I feel Nebraskans should have the right to decide.  I don’t like gambling and have made no secret of this however, on many issues I respect the will of the majority, not only here at the legislature but also in all parts of the state.  This is an important right that maybe we don’t allow often enough.

LB 671, the mountain lion bill, also was vetoed by the governor.  Two years ago we passed legislation allowing the Game and Parks Commission to set hunting seasons for these animals. Since that time the Commission has studied the mountain lions and concluded there were 22 of these big cats in a grouping in western Nebraska.  It was felt up to two of these animals could be hunted.  While other sightings were reported, this was thought to be a safe number for management purposes.  Also, we have added a constitutional amendment to our state constitution preserving the right to hunt and fish.  It is felt we may have legal issues if we interfere with the hunting season established.  I voted for LB 671 and to override the veto.  Members of the Natural Resources Committee felt we should stick with the law currently in place.  I have no problem with that and might very well vote differently when we see this bill return next year, and I am sure we will.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- March 27, 2014

March 27th, 2014

This past week you bought an airplane.  You bought the first installment of a $50-$60 million project to replace windows and re-do heating and air conditioning.  You also purchased 4 fountains at approximately $650,000 per copy.  Of course, these items are some of the $110 million package that was passed by the legislature this past week that comprise the budget “adjustment” to an almost $8 billion overall state budget figure.

The state plane, while not a part of the budget package, was offered as LB 1016 and provides for an expenditure of $3.6 million to purchase a new state airplane.  Last year we had extended debate on this issue and instead of buying a 10 year old plane, we authorized a study to determine the best needs of the state.  The results of the study came back recommending a new plane purchase.  Do we need this item?  I voted yes.  Nebraska is a big state.  It is a long way from Lincoln to many of the western areas of our state.  People in that region deserve to see the governor and other high ranking state officials and currently that is accomplished by using a 30-year old plane that has been deemed unsafe.  Sure, they could drive but that becomes time consuming.   Others said what about the Nebraska National Guard or Air Guard.  Those of you that have served or are currently serving in these units know that your job hardly would be to chauffeur people around on a regular basis.  Use of the aircraft will be tightly monitored and not be allowed for purely pleasure trips or campaigning, just to name a couple of the limitations.

As you can imagine, the budget comprises many areas.  The $50-$60 million item I referenced above is an expenditure to replace the system in your state capitol building.  This figure will be divided into five smaller expenditures over 5 years to accomplish the needed repairs to our beautiful building.

Property tax credits will see an increase of $25 million meaning you will get a tax credit of about $74 for every $100,000 in assessed valuation of you property.  $17.5 million will go to the Game and Parks to maintain and improve our beautiful state park system.  We coupled $21 million from the budget offering with $11 million from the cash reserve fund to apply to funding for water sustainability projects.  Many of these projects including Lake Wanahoo are included in this item.  Job training, early childhood education and developmental disability services will share close to $19 million.  We are going to spend $14 million to begin to address prison overcrowding issues.  This area must be addressed and this money is only the beginning of what will be needed.

Spending growth is 6.7% for this year.  Of course, the governor has the opportunity to examine this package and veto any items he deems unnecessary.  The fountains I spoke of above may be in his crosshairs.  The fountains would be in the four interior courtyards of the state capitol grounds.  They were part of the original design and never completed.  One has to always assess want vs. need in any area of spending whether personally or in an endeavor such as state funding.  I’m not sure where I would vote on an override on this offering at this time.

If we pass this budget, theoretically, we could adjourn for the year.  As I write this column, we have 9 days left of the session and trust me, we aren’t going home anytime soon.  At this time there are 542 bills still being held in the various committees of the legislature.  Some of these are bills I sponsored or co-signed on to.  This is the curse of a short session.  There just isn’t adequate time to address the multitude of material before us.  We also have 166 bills on General File.  Many of these are priority bills and also will not gain passage this year.  We do have several late nights scheduled for debate in the next two weeks.  I am sure we will make full use of those opportunities.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- March 21, 2014

March 21st, 2014

This past week here in Lincoln was one of the most challenging I have had as the senator for District #23.  We began the week with direction from the Speaker of the Legislature that we would begin late night debate on several of our remaining days of this session.  Late nights doesn’t give me cause for concern but the first bill we considered past the usual time for adjournment was LB 887, the “Medicaid Expansion Bill”.

I am sure many of you know what Medicaid is.  Right now Medicaid, (not to be confused with Medicare) centers on coverage for low income Nebraskans that are over 65, blind, disabled or a child.  LB 887 would expand the program to cover more low income individuals up to 133% of the federal poverty level currently $15,856 for an individual.  The federal government would pay 100% of the cost of expansion this year and until 2016.  This figure would gradually reduce to about 90% from that point on.

I have binders and files that would put the Omaha phone book to shame for thickness on this issue.  There are studies in the file that show anything on the subject you would want to dissect.  I have glossy handouts and newspaper articles.  I have postcards and letters.  Basically, the bill came down to a need vs. cost discussion.  At times this was more than discussion.  Throw together healthcare, free money, distrust and dislike of Obamacare and you had a tough mix.  I have not had an issue which generated more contact with my office than this one since I have been here.

The discussion went late on Tuesday and continued into the morning on Wednesday.  We reached an unwritten rule here that after a bill had been debated for 8 hours, the principal introducer or chair of the committee that heard the bill can ask for cloture or immediate ceasing of debate.  There is risk here.  First of all, there has to be 33 votes cast for cloture or closure of debate.  This is a big number and this vote only says debate ceases and then we would take another vote on bill advancement.  The risk is that if the 33 votes aren’t cast to cease debate, the motion fails and debate on the bill ceases.  Not only does debate cease but the bill is put at the back of the other bills being considered.  This usually means a bill won’t be heard again during the current session and it is the death of a bill during a short session.

So far this has been my toughest vote since I have been here.  We can vote green for yes, red signifying no, or simply not vote on any measure before us.  I believe I was sent to this legislature to vote.  In my mind, not voting is not one of my options.  It is assumed a vote for cloture means you usually support the underlying bill.  I stated that fact last year on the floor that while I might vote for cloture I might not vote in favor of a particular bill in question.  I voted for cloture.  There were 26 other votes for and 21 voting against.

I am a conservative.  I am fiscally conservative and against expanded government and increased government spending.  I am closer to the center however, when it comes to social concerns and doing what we can for our low income, less fortunate citizens in Nebraska.  In the end, I felt a vote for cloture and an ultimate vote on the bill was the right thing to do for our citizens, small communities and our rural healthcare providers.

As I said, this was a tough decision but I feel comfortable with my vote.  This isn’t the last we will hear of this issue.  With the chief sponsor of the bill back next year as well as several supporters of expansion along with at least 17 new members of the legislative body, we will revisit this issue again.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- March 16, 2014

March 16th, 2014

As promised, this past week we began debate on the budget.  The Appropriations Committee of the Legislature right off the bat proposed we add $25 million in tax cuts or credits to the Property Tax Credit Fund as one of their initial offerings.  The chairman of the Revenue Committee wanted to add $40 million to this fund which currently allows for $115 million of tax relief to Nebraskans.  I voted for the $40 million addition but only 19 other senators joined me while 18 senators voted no.  The vote really hung in the balance by the nine who were present and did not vote.  When I speak to people in District #23 they say they would like some tax relief in the form of property tax adjustments.  This relief fund was created in 2007 and currently saves a taxpayer $66 per $100,000 of property valuation.  The $25 million addition raises the savings to $74 per $100,000 valuation and a $40 million infusion to this fund would result in an $85 credit.  I feel if we have over $725 million in cash reserves and are proposing $135 million in new spending, we need to balance more of what we are giving Nebraskans in relationship to these numbers.

Among the state priorities the Appropriations Committee came forward with is one to fund the state park system (LB 814).  This has been a long ignored area in our state.  We have a wonderful collection of state parks.  It is terrible to see some of the parks that only get mowed once a year or buildings that don’t even get yearly maintenance.  Many of the parks have no facilities for those with disabilities. $15 million has been earmarked from state sales tax on the sale or lease of motorboats, personal watercraft, ATV and utility vehicles to go to the Game and Parks Commission Capital Maintenance Fund.  This is truly a needed expenditure.

We have set in motion a change to our income tax program in Nebraska.  At least initially, we have indexed the tax to keep up with inflation so a taxpayer will not pay additional tax if he or she gets a cost of living raise equal to inflation.  Presently, this could bump someone up into a higher tax bracket.  Full scale cuts to income taxes including elimination of the tax will not advance this year.

Also probably not going forward will be a reduction in ag-land valuations from 75% to 65%.  It was felt that this would be a benefit to only a few farmers and ranchers living near large urban areas.  Lowering the tax would result in a loss of almost $102 million in local property taxes that would have to be offset at the local level.  This loss would fall to the schools, counties or other taxing units to make up.  Then that becomes a loss of services to those in the more rural part of the state or a local tax increase.  This is then a tax shift, not a reduction.  There is talk of an interim study this summer to discuss the tax problems in the agricultural sector.  It was noted that while Nebraska looks at market value of a piece of property, other states use a form of income producing capacity of a piece of ground.

We had extended debate on a “christmas tree” bill this past week offered by the General Affairs Committee.  This is an offering from a committee that hangs a few bills on a main bill or two that then is offered as a package.  Needless to say, it gets pretty creative when looking at how the bills on the tree may be related and grouped together. We did move most of the bills here including a measure to regulate the sale of e-cigarettes.  I’ll talk about that bill and a creative approach to road funding next week.

Time does become an issue now.  By rule, the budget must be passed and sent to the governor by the 50th day of the session.  March 26th looms large on the calendar.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- March 07, 2014

March 7th, 2014

We get most, if not all, of the newspapers that are published in Legislative District #23, here in our Lincoln office.  Again, I would like to thank all of them for offering me valuable space within their pages to put some of my thoughts out there on the current legislative happenings.  I do try to read as many of these newspapers as I can.  I noticed a picture on the front page of the March 6, 2014 edition of the Schuyler Sun that reminded me in a way of this session.  The picture was headlined “Platte River Ice Jam”.

Our session has certain parallels to the river.  We have been cold and unbending in so many areas up to the last few days.  We have been partisan at times, personal at times and seemingly non-moving most of the time.  The hours we have spent on some issues have seemed endless and excessive.  In the last week, however, we have had a couple of occurrences that I think are starting to break things open a bit.

Last week I spoke of the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board meeting.  This 9 member group was formed in the mid-1980′s to help provide independent revenue forecasts to the legislature.  They meet each October and February, and in odd-numbered years they meet in April as well.  This coincides with the long session of the legislature.  Generally, their revenue projections have been extremely accurate.  These forecasts have been provided to the Nebraska Department of Revenue as well as the Legislative Fiscal Office to be used in helping craft the state budget.  In good times and bad their numbers have helped us weather down economic cycles or tell us when things are looking up.

Last week’s report was a big one.  Revenue projections for the rest of Fiscal Year (FY) 2013-14 were raised by $36 million and for FY 2014-15 by $63 million.  Caution is always to exercised here because these are only projections but, you can imagine the delight in some of my colleagues eyes when they heard there was more money than they had anticipated for some of the programs and causes they are pushing.

The other occurrence was the appearance of the state budget given approval by the Appropriations Committee of the Legislature and made ready for debate as early as next week.  Budgets introduced by the committee in even-numbered years are considered adjustments to the main budgets passed in odd-numbered years which contain a long session.  Going into this year we had over $725 million in our cash reserve fund.  Add to this the $99 million I spoke of above and you see we are in an enviable position compared to many other states.

The committee recommended increased spending of $25 million for property tax credits, $17 million for increased medicaid funding and $8 million to prison inmate expenses just to name a few.  They also recommended using some of the cash reserve fund for water funding ($20 million), state parks improvements and maintenance ($15 million) and capitol building repairs and maintenance totaling over $12 million.

Again, all of the above numbers are projections or recommendations.  Nothing has been decided but as dollars drive a good part of our society, so also our state programs and funding.

The work here seems to be flowing again.  Hopefully, there aren’t too many “ice jams” ahead.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson