Greetings from the Nebraska Unicameral. We started this week out with some great news.
The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board, a nine-member board comprised of experts in tax policy, economics, and economic forecasting, released their revenue projections. If these projections hold true it would mean an $81 million surplus for the state budget. While obviously this is very good news, it is important to continue moving forward with the budget process very cautiously. In years previous, the Legislature faced a nearly $1 billion shortfall, this year we started with a $200 million projected shortfall. While these increased revenue projections puts Nebraska in a much better place, I still believe the Legislature should continue with their cautious approach to the budget.
At the beginning of the session the Governor released his budget recommendations. Last week, the Legislature was presented the Appropriations Committee’s $7.8 billion preliminary budget. While there are some similarities between the two proposals, there are distinct differences. It is important to note that this is just a recommendation. It gives the Senators and the public an idea of what the Appropriations Committee is working on.
The first big difference that stood out to me was the lack of funding for rehabbing the Hastings Regional Center chemical dependency unit. This program provides residential substance abuse treatment for young men transferred from the Youth Rehabilitation Treatment Center in Kearney. The program is licensed for 40 beds and on average the stay is between 4-6 months. Currently this program is housed in the Hastings Regional Center. These buildings are inefficient, expensive to heat and cool, and the living quarters are not conducive for rehabilitation. The Governor’s budget appropriated more than $3.3 million for this program. This funding would be used to renovate the current building in which this program is housed. It would also demolish the remaining buildings on the Hastings Regional Center property, which would allow the state to sell that land. I am hopeful that the Appropriations Committee will eventually include funding for this program.
The preliminary budget also did not include funding for a new veterans home in Grand Island. The Governor suggested using $47 million dollars from the state’s rainy day fund for the home. With the state paying $47 million dollars, the federal government committed a match of $74 million. I know how important veterans are to the Legislature and I am hopeful there will be funding for a new veterans home in their final budget.
Some other key differences, the Appropriations Committee allocated less funds for the University of Nebraska; State colleges and community colleges. The budget committee also estimated that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act would be less than the Governor’s budget.
These are just some of the differences. Again, it is important to recognize that this is a preliminary budget, it will likely see many changes throughout the session. By law, the bills representing the Appropriations Committee recommendation must be on General File for debate by the 70th day in a long session. I look forward to debating this very important issue.
As always please do not hesitate to contact my office if I can be of any assistance to you or your family. My Capitol office number is (402) 471-2712 and you can always reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.