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Tuesday, the three main budget bills passed and were sent to the governor’s desk. He has the option to line-item veto individual appropriations within the entire budget.
The combined budget of $10.8 billion includes the general fund budget derived from state tax and fee receipts and federal money (Medicaid, education, etc.). The $4.5 billion annual general fund budget is the focus of our legislative actions. We are increasing it by 1 percent annually over the biennium budget.
To do so, we had to reduce our cash reserves (savings account) from $637 million to $379 million over a two-year period, and by using an accounting trick we lowered our general fund minimum reserve (checking account) requirement from 3 percent to 2.5 percent; therefore, we could claim we cut the budget by an additional $44 million.
Another problematic assumption on the budget is that our economy will rebound quickly and state revenues over the next two years will increase from 1 percent this year to a healthy 5 percent annually over the next two years. The last two times we had a budget crisis was after unique incidents, credit banking corrections and tech bubble stock market crashes. Those recovered quickly with federal intervention and stock market rebounds. This time the state’s revenue reductions are due to downturns in two of our basic economic engines: agriculture and energy. Those are not so easily reversed.
I joined 11 other senators voting no on Legislative Bill 331 which included the provision to lower the minimum reserve from 3 percent to 2.5 percent. I fear that we will be back next year with two options: cutting spending more or increasing the tax burden on citizens.
LB 75: Sen. Justin Wayne’s attempt to give felons voting rights at the time they complete their parole was vetoed by the governor. Presently, it is restored to them after two years if they have stayed out of the criminal justice system. Originally, I voted for the bill, I do believe in redemption, but I voted to uphold the veto. It may well be that the proposed law was unconstitutional. Our State Constitution seems to clearly state that only the parole board can restore civil rights to felons, not the Legislature.
LR 1CA: This was Sen. John Murante’s attempt to put a constitutional voter ID requirement on the 2018 ballot for voter approval. I supported the effort. This issue is not about race or the economic status of a citizen, it is a reaction to a huge influx of immigration and the fact that we are a mobile society. Americans should be proud to prove they are a citizen and they should be willing to prove they reside in the district they are voting in. I have personally started a habit of showing my ID when I vote; I am proud to be an American. The measure failed to advance; it did not have enough votes to overcome a filibuster.
LB 171: This bill provides for claims against the state. Every budget cycle the Legislature must budget for lawsuit settlements against the state of Nebraska. For example, this year the state settled a lawsuit after the Department of Roads failed to immediately replace a stop sign after construction work and an individual was harmed in an automobile accident. Also included in the appropriation is workman compensation claims. The cost of the claims is $2.9 million.
LB 478: The bill allowing felons to own archery equipment was signed Tuesday by the governor. It includes an emergency clause so those individuals can enjoy spring and summer hunting seasons and prepare for fall hunting excursions. Our legislation legitimized by statute what was already happening, but a recent Nebraska Supreme Court ruling enforcing a state statute forbidding a felon from possessing a knife with a blade over 3.5 inches in length cast doubts on felons possessing archery equipment. Clarification needed to be made.
We are still working with other senators to press forward on property tax relief. LB 640 is still alive.
Please do not hesitate to contact our office, firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729, with any comments, questions or concerns.