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We had another short, but very busy week. Friday was a recess day. We continued budget debate this week. In spite of the $1 billion deficit, the budget we have still increases spending 1.0%. Many of us feel this is unacceptable, so the budget as written faces a lot of push-back. Tuesday, the three main budget bills were passed and sent to the Governor. He still has the option to line-item veto individual appropriations.
The “combined” State Budget is $10.8 billion. This includes federal tax dollars. The $4.5 billion annual general fund budget is what we’ve spent the last two weeks debating. To accomplish the 1% increase, we had to reduce our cash reserves and use some accounting tricks I really don’t like. My colleagues are making an assumption that Nebraska’s economy is going to rebound quickly and state tax revenues are going to increase from the 1% they are now to 5% in the next two years. This is just wishful thinking in my opinion. The downturn in our State’s economy that caused the revenue shortfall in the first place is caused by the sharp decrease we’ve seen in Nebraska’s #1 economic engine: agriculture. That is not something that is bounces back up to 5% growth so easily. I joined 12 other senators voting no on LB331. I predict we will be right back next fall facing the old argument of cutting more spending or increasing the tax burden on our citizens. All we did was kick the budget can down the road in my opinion. I’m not voting for tax increases.
We debated LB75 this week. It was a bill that attempted to give felons voting rights immediately after completing their prison sentence / parole. The law right now restores felons voting rights two years after completing their sentence provided they have no further trouble with the criminal justice system. I voted for the bill during General File debate because I believe there should be a point where someone’s debt to society is paid, but it became clear during subsequent debate this bill was probably unconstitutional. I didn’t support it on final reading and I did not vote to override the veto.
LR1CA was a resolution meant to put a constitutional voter ID requirement on the 2018 ballot for voter approval. I supported this resolution, but it failed to advance because it didn’t have enough votes to overcome a filibuster. Once again, the “cloture” rule of 33 votes stopped a good piece of legislation. The vote was 26 yes, 17 no and 3 present – not voting. That tells me 20 senators did not like the idea of letting the people of Nebraska decide whether or not someone should need an ID to vote.
I am very upset this legislature did not address property taxes reform this session. It is the #1 issue State-wide. Everything we have tried to do to address this serious problem this session has failed. The reason property taxes are out of control in Nebraska is because how we fund K-12 schools in Nebraska is seriously broken. We are 49th in the nation in terms of State funding for schools, the vast majority of funding comes from property taxes. In the Western part of the State, most of the schools are 100% funded by property taxes. We are 5th highest in the nation in terms of property taxes, and getting worse. This issue is crushing our agriculture economy and hurting families and small business all over the State. Far too many of my colleagues are simply unwilling to address this issue. As we approach our adjournment without a single thing being done about this reminds me time is running out for a growing number of people who are no longer able to pay a tax that is levied on people with no regard for their ability to pay it. We need a solution that’s as big as the problem. I am sick of the excuses. I am going to lead on this issue from here on out and provide a real solution if it’s the last thing I do.
Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (402) 471-2628.