On Tuesday, May 23rd the First Session of the 105th Nebraska Legislature adjourned for the year. Speaker Jim Scheer ended the session on Legislative Day 86, four days short of the maximum 90 days in the first year of the biennium. The Legislature will formally reconvene on January 3, 2018 for a 60 day session. Although the Legislature is not in session, work continues on constituent services, interim studies, and revision of legislation. During the interim period, the Executive Board of the Legislative Council, of which I am vice-chair, supervises the operations of the Legislature as a state agency.
Of the 667 bills introduced during the first ten days of the session, 173 were passed and signed into law. Those bills passed with an “emergency clause” became effective upon their signature by the Governor. The majority of bills will become law 90 days after their signature. Because this is the first year of the biennium, bills not Indefinitely Postponed or “killed” remain active into the next session. 105 bills remain on General File, the first round of debate by the full Legislature, while 9 have advanced to Select File, the second round. Over 300 bills remain in their assigned committee awaiting action.
The primary focus of the legislative session was addressing the lower-than projected revenue in the current fiscal year and developing the next two year state budget to take effect July 1, 2017. In an unprecedented accomplishment, the Appropriations Committee, of which I am a member, held public hearings and advanced a deficit budget for the current fiscal year within the first 6 weeks of a biennial budget session. Work then began on the next two-year budget, which was passed by the full Legislature on Day 79.
Many states struggle to pass a budget, much less a balanced one, within the course of their regular session. Regardless of your political opinions regarding the choices made in the budget, Nebraskans should take pride in the fact Nebraska state government developed and passed not one but two balanced budgets in a single session. While I do not agree with the use of $369 million of one time cash transfers to fund ongoing expenses, we did pass a balanced budget without raising taxes or eliminating state programs.
Going into the session, tax reform was a priority of many legislators. The Revenue Committee did advance a comprehensive tax reform plan that included a new method for valuing agricultural land based on the income it produced, a cap on the rate of valuation increase annually on agricultural land, a consolidation of income tax brackets, an increase in the earned income tax credit for low income families, and triggered 0.1% reductions in the income tax rate for business and families if certain revenue growth levels were met statewide. In theory, the package provided a benefit to all Nebraskans: agricultural land owners, low income earners, middle income families, and businesses.
Although the tax reform plan did not give all special interests everything they wanted, it did provide a step forward toward tax relief for almost everyone. Unfortunately, agricultural groups actively lobbied against the reforms, choosing no property tax relief this year over the basic steps forward offered in the package. Special interests advocating for more state spending, including schools, also opposed the tax reforms. Ultimately, the bill failed to advance, but remains on General File for next year. I was disappointed by the amount of misinformation spread to voters about the tax reform package by special interest groups. In some cases, tax dollars were used against taxpayers to lobby in opposition to their own financial interests.
I will continue my weekly columns throughout the interim. My goal is to provide residents of District 38 with greater insight into a number of topics discussed in the Legislature this session, as well as address topics likely to return next year. If there is a topic you would like addressed, do not hesitate to contact my office and suggest it. I am grateful for all of the newspapers across the district that provide this opportunity for me to communicate with citizens and voters about legislative issues. An informed electorate is the foundation of a successful democracy.