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Full day session allows senators the opportunity to move more bills through the process. However, just 20 legislative days remain in which to address the multitude of priority issues and the state budget.
On March 13th the budget bills will be taken up. At the close of the 2017 Legislative session, the Fiscal Year 2017-18 and FY 2018-19 biennial budget package was balanced. Spending was limited to a two year average increase of .6%. Since that time last June, “increases in child welfare costs, a lower than budgeted federal Medicaid match rate, and a large reduction in revenue forecasts in October 2017 resulted in a budget shortfall relative to the required minimum reserve of roughly $210 million.” (Appropriations Committee Budget Proposal, March 2018)
The only ways for the Legislature to address the budget shortfall are to increase taxes – not a popular option; or reduce expenditures, which could mean cuts in aid to K-12 schools, the University and Medicaid along with other cuts – also not popular options; or a little bit of each.
In the final proposal, the Appropriations Committee decided not to increase taxes; to make some budget reductions; and to transfer $100 million from the Cash Reserve Fund. The Committee maintained the minimum 2.5% Cash Reserve and has a very small buffer of $600,000. At this time, the projected revenue forecast does improve in future years.
However for this session, bills with any kind of fiscal impact, would be funded by drawing from the Cash Reserve Balance. I for one do not want to leave the state in that precarious of a financial situation. More information can be found in the Appropriations Committee Proposed Budget at nebraskalegislature.gov/pdf/reports/fiscal/2018proposal.pdf.
Advanced this past week was LB 44, offered by Senator Dan Watermeier. LB 44 would require remote sellers (online retailers without a physical presence in our state) to collect and remit sales tax if their gross revenue in Nebraska exceeds $100,000 or their sales in Nebraska consist of 200 or more separate transactions. Nebraskans are currently required to self-report their sales taxes on internet purchases, but many do not. This bill is not popular with the Governor. The United States Supreme Court will hear a case out of South Dakota to review the internet sales tax issue. Nebraska needs to be ready to recapture this tax revenue stream.
Every session the Speaker of the Legislature puts forth a ‘Consent Calendar’. It consists of bills considered to be non-controversial, that have no fiscal impact, and had no opposition at the hearing. Senators submit their requests to the Speaker who then reviews the requests, researches the bills and develops the list for Consent Calendar. However, if three senators object to a bill on the calendar, the bill is removed. The Speaker limits the discussion on each bill to no more than 15 minutes, at which time a vote is taken on the bill. This is an excellent tool to move bills forward that address relatively simple issues or clarify statutory language but don’t rise to the level of a priority bill.
I have submitted two of my bills for consideration to be added to the Consent Calendar list. The first bill, LB 709, brought to me by city officials in the district, would update the plumbing statutes. The second bill, LB 1037 would clarify language for elected officials who also serve on association boards connected to their elected positions. It is my hope the Speaker will place both of these bills on Consent.
If you ever need more information on a legislative issue, you can contact my office at 402-471-2620 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and my staff will assist you.