This past week, our Nebraska Legislature tackled the only issue that must be addressed every two years, that being debate and passage of a balanced state budget. Debate on a budget can be a difficult process and this was no exception at times. Thankfully, the Appropriations Committee of the Legislature gave us a pretty concise offering and after approximately 11 hours we moved this grouping of seven bills to Select File.
The budget price tag is set at $8.6 billion. This represents spending growth of 3.1% which can be considered very moderate. As in any budget, whether city, county, state or even at the federal level, there are winners and losers. The Property Tax Credit Fund, state aid to schools, state universities and colleges, community colleges and inmate daily expenditures are a few of the programs that will see more funds at least at this point of the process. We had about $49 million in excess to apply to new ideas and expenditures after the mainline budget bill appeared. There was a fear that the state forecasting board, which met this past week, would project lower revenues coming into the state in the next quarter which would substantially change the budgetary outlook but we were given a pleasant surprise and the estimates came in that we would have almost $10 million more than expected. This could cause a feeding frenzy with a few members of the body but, hopefully we will apply some of the now $60 million “extra” to tax relief measures of some kind.
As I said above, the budget is the only required business we must address in any long session. Of course, I know as well as you that we have many other issues that will get our attention in the final month of our gathering.
We still have debate coming at various stages on a proposed fuel tax increase. The annual death penalty debate still is out there. There are bits and pieces of property tax relief on the table but the Education Chair has requested another far-reaching study to happen this summer to try to find a better, fairer way to apply this tax that helps not only the school aid formula but all Nebraskans. We have not totally settled the issue of driver’s licenses for youths brought to the United States illegally as young children but now allowed to stay as a result of the federal deferred action program. Another bill concerning medicinal marijuana will be heard and I am sure this issue will be fully, and at times emotionally, debated.
These are a few of the bigger issues but we still have dozens of priority bills and consent calendar items on the docket and the Speaker has said he wants all priority bills on General File to be heard.
I do want to mention a unique opportunity for high school students coming this June 7-10 here at the Nebraska State Capitol. The Unicameral Youth Legislature will again convene this summer. This program provides young people the ultimate chance to learn and experience what it is like to serve as a state senator. Students will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings and debate legislation using bills from this current session. Senators, senator staffers, lobbyists and others will moderate this experience to be held in the historic Warner Chamber.
As I said, the Unicameral Youth Legislature will commence this June 7-10 and is open to all high school students. Registration fees are $350 and this includes lodging on the UNL East Campus, meals (including lunch at the Governor’s Residence) and daily transportation. The deadline to enter is May 15and applicants will be asked to submit a short essay. There is the opportunity to be granted the Speaker Greg Adams Civic Scholarship which covers the full cost of tuition as well as other $100 scholarships. For information about registration and any questions visit NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl. As I said the deadline is May 15 and it would be great to have some students from District #23 involved in this program.
Senator Jerry Johnson