This past week, in my humble opinion, pretty well wrapped up this legislative session. We began the week discussing and acting on several vetoes handed down by the Governor on the budget we passed earlier. The vetoes were on items large and small by comparison but important nevertheless. The Governor cut and we restored funding on several items such as a $3 million appropriation to begin construction of a new nursing college building for the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The building will be located on the UNL campus. We allowed $4 million to go to public transit funding. Court Appointed Special Advocates or CASA was re-approved for $775,000 of funding. These volunteers save the state a tremendous amount of money and provide a more hands on approach in most cases to help kids get out of the child welfare system. Legal Aid Services, an important program, received $1 million. The list goes on and includes dental services, pay for county court employees and the Homeless Shelter Assistance Fund among others.
Lest you think we put everything back into our budget, we sustained vetoes of over $350,000 for salary increases for the State Auditor’s office. We cut $370,000 for salary increases for probation officers. We upheld the Governor’s request to delay for a year the replacement of a computer system to handle Medicaid claims and payments by the Department of Health and Human Services. This saved $2.84 million.
Again, there are other items, but in total the Governor vetoed $7.8 million of general fund items and we restored funding to several programs totaling $6.5 million. As I said last week in this column, the budget and now the overrides are defensible.
This coming summer there will be several interim studies concerning a variety of issues that may very well occupy most of our time in the 2014 session.
Senator Kathy Campbell, chair of the Health and Human Services committee, is going to cross the state in an effort to better explain and study the issues raised by LB 577, the Medicaid expansion effort. At this time, as I have said, I am against the bill but I do favor this study and I have invited the senator to hold at least one or two of her meetings in District #23.
There will be a study for TEEOSA, the state aid to schools package, that is in a continuous state of flux.
Also, there will be two committees formed to carry out what may be two of the most important studies conducted by our Legislature in some time.
LB 517 is a bill we passed to create the Water Funding Task Force. This committee will be comprised of the director and members of the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission, the chair of the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee, five members of the Legislature to be appointed by the Executive Board of the Legislature and eleven others appointed by the Governor. This Task Force will generally be charged with prioritizing water projects throughout the state which are designed to improve the quality and quantity of this precious resource. They will be asked to find ways to invest in research, improve infrastructure, promote coordination and collaboration among all water users both urban and rural and try to find a stable source of project funding.
LR 155 creates the Tax Modernization Committee. This group will be made up of members of the Revenue Committee and the chairs of Appropriations, Health and Human Services, Education, Agriculture and Planning Committees of the Legislature. There will also be two additional state legislators appointed to serve on the committee. This committee is being formed in response to the Governor’s tax reform concepts contained in LB 405 and LB 406. You will remember back in January, these bills certainly got the attention not only of our friends in manufacturing and business, but agriculture as well.
The Governor has said our tax structure has not kept up with the times. The committee will look at sales tax expansion and exemptions, property taxes and all forms of retirement and pension income including social security and military pensions.
I am not sure the direction the committees will take but I have volunteered to be a part of either group if needed.
Next week, I will try to share a few of my final thoughts for the legislative year that I have experienced.
Senator Jerry Johnson