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We enjoyed seeing many of you while walking in the NEBRASKAland Parade Saturday. You might have missed it in the local press, but Senators Tom Brewer and Steve Erdman joined us in the parade to participate in the official kickoff of the 150 year statehood celebration. We all appreciated your shout outs of support and words of wisdom.
Last week, I focused on the State’s budget which begins July 1. I thought I might add a few more pertinent facts. Wages and benefits are the largest cost of most government operations. State employees agreed to a raise of 1% for 2018. The agreement was negotiated by the Nebraska Association of Public Employees and representatives of the State at the very start of the budget process through collective bargaining. It will affect almost all of the State’s employees including those in the Department of Roads and Health & Human Services, along with all other state agencies. Non-bargaining employees, including the staff of the elected Constitutional Officers (i.e. the Governor) and the Legislature will receive the same 1% raise. State Senators receive no pay raises; their pay is locked in at $12,000 annually by the State’s Constitution.
Higher education organizations bargained their own raises. The University of Nebraska increased wages an average of 1.75%, the increase is included in their overall budget request. The State Law Enforcement Bargaining Council (SLEBEC) negotiates for law enforcement employees and they reached a settlement averaging 2.3% for both years of the biennial budget.
In an effort to address our prison problems, Corrections Department employees will receive on average a 4.4% increase in salaries but increases will vary for specific classification pay lines which include correction officers, caseworkers, corporals, sergeants, mental health practitioners, nurses, and food service specialists. High employee turnover and a lack of experience were attributed to being reasons behind some of the recent inmate unrest at our prisons. Employee turnover is costly; we lose the investment we made in those officers’ training and increase our cost when we have to train new employees. Having employees with longevity on the job can go a long way in correcting our prison system unrest.
It is no surprise that employee health insurance cost jumped 5.75% for FY 2017-18. State employees have a very good health insurance plan and they are willing to forgo higher raise increases to keep it. State employees pay on average 20% of their health insurance premium. The cost of salary and benefit increases added $32.1 million to the budget. Overall, state employees need to be thanked for stepping forward by accepting lower wage increase and thus being part of the solution to our budget solution.
Senators are allowed to introduce Legislative Resolutions (LRs), which are recommendations to committee chairmen to do interim studies on issues, which in many cases lead to legislation. Due to limited staff and time, only a few of those resolutions can be investigated by each committee.
I introduced three LRs:
Legislative Resolution 130 (referred to Education Committee) – Examine issues related to the use of substitute teachers. This past session, the lack of an adequate number of available substitute teachers in rural Nebraska became an issue that was discussed. The Department of Education addressed some of the causes by easing requirements for substitute teachers, but the issue remains. LR130 will attempt to pinpoint causes and propose remedies.
Legislative Resolution 170 (referred to Education Committee) – Examine issues under the jurisdiction of the Education Committee. This is an open resolution that allows a Committee to investigate any subject that may show up on the public’s radar. I am leaning towards looking at the reasons for the growth in public education’s administration cost.
Legislative Resolution 237 (referred to Natural Resource Committee) – Examine all aspects and the history of the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement (NCORPE) project. Committee Chairman Dan Hughes introduced a similar LR126. I plan on attending any hearings related to the issue.
This Friday, I will be in Lincoln for a briefing by the Department of Education to the Education Committee on the progress Nebraska has made to address the new federal “Every Student Succeeds Act” that replaced the former “No Child Left Behind” federal education program.