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I have been very encouraged with the progress we as a Legislature have been making this week. We have kept filibustering to minimum, and that is a good thing. This is not to say that we have not had lively debate on some of the more controversial bills.
One such bill that effects all of Nebraska, but more so to the rural areas such as District 33, is LB98 which would extend certain levy authority for natural resources districts. This bill would allow local NRD’s to extend the maximum three cent levy authority for fully or over-appropriated districts until 2025-2026. The current law in statute which allows for this three cent override is set to sunset in 2019. The origin of the levy override was created to help NRD’s manage the water conservation issues that arose a little over a decade ago. It was part of Nebraska Ground Water Management and Protection Act. The majority of local NRD’s have already met the goals they set before the 2019 sunset date. Therefore, the program did what it was supposed to do and it is no longer needed. If we extend the sunset date we are essentially allowing a tax increase. I am against any tax increase, especially one that is not needed.
Speaking of making sure we don’t increase taxes for Nebraskans, I voted to advance LB1090. LB 1090 would restore the $134 personal exemption credit that was effectively repealed by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The bill also establishes the Nebraska standard deduction at $6,750 for single taxpayers and $9,900 for head of household filers. The standard deductions for married, filing jointly returns, is double the standard deduction for single returns. By passing this bill, we will ensure that Nebraskans will keep more money in their pockets.
The debate of how to address the current budget shortfall should start to be addressed within the next week on the floor of the Legislature. LB944, which was proposed by the Governor and sponsored by the Chair of Revenue Committee, Senator Jim Smith of Papillion, has had several amendments added to the bill based on discussions with Senators and negotiations with the members of the Appropriation Committee. One area that has received a lot media attention and heavy handed lobbying by the University of Nebraska is the proposed budget cuts to the University of Nebraska system. I predict there will be lively debate on this issue. The question I have to ask to the University is, If you are not willing to take the proposed cuts of just 4 percent while other state agencies have already taken deeper cuts ranging from 5 to 8 percent during the biennium session last year, from what other state services would you suggest we make additional cuts over and above the cuts we are already requesting they take now? Does it come from Health and Human Services that provide a lot of the services to the most-vulnerable people in the state?
If we take more money from the State’s rainy day fund, which has around $296 million dollars, we will have less in our cash reserves, as a state, than the University currently holds in their own cash funds. So the University wants the state to use it’s cash reserves rather than tapping into their own cash reserves when times are tough. We have already dipped into our cash reserves to address the $900 million dollar budget shortfall last year. In June 2017, the state had cash reserves of $680 million dollars. So in just two years we have cut our cash reserves in half. I feel it’s time for the University of Nebraska to step up and do it’s part! Just as a point of reference, salaries for administrators within the University system have rose by 22 percent in just three years. Within the same time frame, other state agencies salaries have risen 8.1 percent.
On a lighter note, it was pleasure to host Pastor Eddie Goff from New Hope Baptist Church of Hastings. He gave the Friday morning Legislative prayer. My Assistant, Alex Gage, then gave the Pastor a tour of the State Capitol. I would like to personally thank Pastor Eddie Goff, Pastor Paul Warneke from Zion Lutheran Church in Hastings, and Reverend Greg Allen Pickett from First Presbyterian Church of Hastings, who generously offered their time and talents in delivering the morning prayer at the State Capitol this year. It was an honor to have them represent District 33.
Just a reminder that the last Coffee with the Senator for this session is scheduled for 9:00 a.m., Saturday, March 31st, at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings. I hope to see you there!