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April 25 the Legislature kicked off debate on the state’s $8.9 billion budget package. The state’s budget is structured on a two-year basis, with the budget passed during legislative sessions held in odd-numbered years. The committee’s budget package contains seven bills, four of those had already been advanced to select file as of last week. LB 328 that would provide for the $12,000 annual salaries of Nebraska’s state senators, advanced 35-0. LB 329 was advanced 40-0 and would fund salaries and benefits for judges and constitutional officers. Also, LB 330 which would appropriate funds for reaffirmed and new capital construction projects was advanced on a 40-0 vote.
LB 332 which was introduced by the Speaker at the request of the Governor and was introduced with the purpose to provide for transfers to/from cash funds and is ultimately sweeping money out of several cash funds. The Appropriations Committee’s budget recommended a series of transfers totaling $170 million from cash funds to the General Fund during the fiscal year 2018-19. During debate last week there were proposed amendments to take less money from a Department of Roads cash fund and ultimately decision to take $15 million each year from the Highway Cash Fund was left in place. There was a proposal to make up the $15 million taken from the Highway Cash Fund by taking the same amount from the Cash Reserve however, it failed. An amendment offered on LB 233 intends to save the state around $35 million by suspending the personal property tax exemption and the Angel Investment Tax Credit. This amendment would assure that LB 233 would take less money from the Cash Reserve Fund.
A few highlights from the 2017-19 budget are: $62 million general fund increase in state aid to schools, $15.4 million increase for Corrections staffing, programs and equipment, $14 million increase in the Nebraska Homestead exemption, $24.7 million in base reductions to state agencies, $13 million reductions to the University of Nebraska, to maintain a roughly 1 percent average budget growth. In order to reach an agreement there will be sacrifices that everyone will have to make in order to maintain the balance of cutting and spending in the package. The remainder of the budget bills are being dealt with this week. We have an additional $55 million short fall as the forecasting board indicated this past month due to a continued slowing of the state’s economy.