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The second session of the 104th Legislature convened on Wednesday, January 6. Within the first few days of bill introduction, several significant issues have been proposed for consideration. I have introduced three pieces of legislation. LR378CA is a proposed amendment to the Nebraska Constitution protecting the Right to Farm and Ranch in Nebraska. If passed, the amendment would be placed on the general election ballot in November. LB 720 protects privacy from capture of images from unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, without permission. LB 792 is a “revolving door” bill mirroring federal guidelines that prohibits elected officials and policy-making staff from serving as lobbyists for a specified amount of time following the conclusion of their service. I look forward to working with my colleagues on these pieces of legislation.
The issue of greatest urgency facing my work as a member of the Appropriations Committee this session is the currently-projected $110 million decrease in revenue. The Nebraska Constitution requires a balanced budget, so the disparity between revenue projections and the budget passed last session must be addressed. While there are several potential ways to address the projected shortfall, a number of factors influence my approach to the issue.
First, agriculture commodity prices continue to remain below the highs of the recent years and some areas of livestock production continue to fall. Decreased farm income, and the resulting ripple effects through the economies of our local rural communities, represents more than a mere hiccup or blip. Agriculture is by its nature cyclical, and all indicators point toward a downward trend in the cycle. To that end, I am hesitant to simply fill the revenue gaps with Cash Reserve funds or other temporary fixes. Until the ag economy begins to improve, I expect revenue projections will likely continue to drop.
Second, it is my belief that state government should reflect the values of the voters and constituents who empower it. Families in District 38 have already been tightening their belts and restricting their spending as farm incomes fall. Just as taxpayers are prioritizing their spending and making difficult choices, lawmakers should do the same. Although it is always a challenge, lawmakers need to make strategic reductions now to avoid drastic and draconian cuts in future years should revenues continue to decrease.
Thus, I will be working with my colleagues to find reasonable, measured, and strategic reductions in spending to match the General Fund budget to meet the most current revenue projections. The shortfall, while significant, is certainly within our reach to address responsibility without negative effects on any single program or constituency. The Revenue Forecasting Board will meet again at the end of February with the potential to again revise the revenue projections. Their conclusions could require additional adjustments during the session.
A new voice will be answering the phone in my office this session, as John DeWaard joins my staff as Administrative Assistant. Nick Knihnisky will be available to assist with constituent services and policy questions as my Legislative Assistant. If you should have any questions, do not hesitate to contact my office at 402-471-2732 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.
Senator John Kuehn, District 38