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The legislature began discussing the state budget this week. I have mentioned in previous columns about the $900 million budget shortfall the state faces over the next two years. The first budget bill we debated was LB22, a bill introduced by Speaker Scheer for Governor Ricketts. LB 22 contains the Governors recommendation for changes to the existing FY2016-17 appropriations as well as various fund transfers as part of his FY2016-17 budget adjustments. LB22 eliminates over $137 million from the current budget. I support this bill and do not feel that raising taxes to shrink the gap is in the best interest of Nebraskans. I also support the Governor’s ban on nonessential out of state travel and state agency hiring freezes for non-critical positions.
Some people have asked me how Nebraska got into such a deep hole. The main reason is agriculture commodities prices are extremely stressed to the tune of several hundred million dollars in Nebraska alone. We also face lower than expected tax receipts.
This is a very difficult session for everyone, including lawmakers, tax payers, programs, and families. I have met with many people, organizations, associations, and groups that have asked to be spared from budget cuts. If we said yes to everyone then we would not save any money. As difficult as it is to say, we must all tighten our belts and cuts need to be made across the board. We may also have to consider dipping into the cash reserve fund. At this point, almost all options are on the table, except for tax increases.
While examining the budget this year, I look at the same way I am sure the most of you do. If your household budget suddenly needed to be trimmed significantly, where would you make the cuts? Nebraska statute mandates a balanced budget each year, so we are not able to kick the can down the road by financing programs on credit. For the most part, if any new legislation carries a fiscal note, more than likely, it will not pass the legislature this year. As lawmakers, we will do our best to provide essential state benefits as we address the current budget situation.
As always, if we can be of assistance to you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact my office. My door is open and I have made it a goal to be accessible to the constituents of our district. Please stop by any time. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and the office phone number is 402-471-2756. David and Katie are always available to assist you with your needs. If I am not immediately available, please do not hesitate to work with them to address any issues that you may need assistance. Please continue to follow me on Facebook at Kolterman for Legislature and on Twitter at @KoltermanforLegislature.