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Last week the legislature debated the 2017-2019 state budget bills and gave the final approval on May 9. LB 331 was one of the last three components of the state’s two-year budget, which would create/make funds transfer and lower the minimum cash reserve requirements from 3 to 2.5 percent for the current biennium. This bill initially failed to meet the thirty-three votes needed to pass with the emergency clause meaning no funds could be transferred or created immediately. Some details regarding the 2017-2019 biennium budget are as follows: The Legislative Fiscal Office and the Department of Revenue certification of the February NEFAB forecast projects $533,348,408 net General Fund tax receipts for the month of April 2017. However, the actual net General Fund tax receipts were $477,844,852 which is a difference of $55,503,555. In Nebraska, unlike some other states, the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch has always agreed to budget from the forecasting board projections. The forecasting board bases their projections off of information provided to them by both the Nebraska Department of Revenue and the Legislative Fiscal Office. In order to meet the fiscal year projection, we would need May and June receipts to increase by 5.35 percent each month, which is unlikely to happen.
This past Tuesday, May 9, I attended and spoke at a press conference, with twelve other senators, about our concerns with the budget bills. I did not like the budgeting bills because I believed that the forecasting numbers were not accurate. The numbers will eventually be lower moving forward because the Ag economy is down as of now. The urban economies have yet to be impacted by the ripple effect however, it is still coming. We have also been under forecast on receipts for fourteen out of the last twenty-two months. Ultimately, the legislature needs to cut more spending.
These bills went to Governor Ricketts’ desk for him to decide whether to sign them or to make line-item vetoes. The governor has stressed his opinion about wanting more cuts, as well as, not lowering the minimum reserve. By the time you read this article we will know what line items he has vetoed and which lines the legislature sustained or over road.
Congratulations to all the recent high school and college graduates from the district! I would also like to congratulate all of the athlete’s from the 44th Legislative District who qualified for the state track meet. Congratulation’s and Good Luck!
On May 2, we debated LB 461 which was the Governor’s and Revenue Committee’s comprehensive tax plan. After six hours of debate it fell short of the needed votes to pass. In its original form I did not support LB 461 but after several hours of negotiating with multiple senators we came up with an amendment that would have provided significant property tax relief, as well as, income tax relief that would have been triggered based on revenue growth of the State of Nebraska in future years. This would have been a good bill but in the end not enough senators were comfortable with the concept of triggers based off the forecasting boards’ projection for revenue growth for the state of Nebraska.
LB 98 was debated on general file for close to six hours and unfortunately ended up two votes short of breaking the filibuster. LB 98 would provide over and fully appropriated Natural Resource Districts with an additional 10-year extension, of an existing sunset date, on a 3-cent levy to attempt to reduce water consumption within their NRD boundaries. Although, we were unable to break the filibuster this year, LB 98 is an important issue that I believe we will need to revisit next year.
This week we are dealing with the final passage of our biennium budget. Although, this budget contains more spending than I am comfortable with, ultimately, the State of Nebraska needs to have a budget in place to begin our fiscal year, July 1.
Each Legislative session senators have an opportunity to extend an invitation to the ministers, in our respective districts, to offer the morning prayer. The Chaplain of the Day gives the invocation in the morning before the start of the legislative work day. There is an effort every year to have a faith leader from each district in Nebraska on at least one day. This past week wrapped up with final Chaplain of the Day Pastor Jack Whitcomb from First Congregational United Church of Christ in Stockville, NE. Other chaplains from Legislative District 44 that volunteered to give the morning prayer are: Pastor Rob Clay from Imperial Bible Church in Imperial, Preacher Wayne Vogel from McCook Church of Christ in McCook, Pastor Johnny Walker from West First Chapel in McCook, Pastor Phyllis Dunlop from First Christian Church in Elwood, and Pastor Jason Dowell from Freedom Baptist Church in Stamford. Again, I would like to thank each Pastor for taking the time to travel to Lincoln and offer the morning prayer to the legislature. If you think your pastor might be interested in volunteering for next year feel free to contact my office for more information.
We have started all day debate and even though this session got off to a slow start we’re starting to get a lot of bills moving. This past week my bill LB 182 was debated on the floor of the legislature. This bill would clarify the qualifications for a program that provides financial assistance to cities and rural water districts to build safe drinking water projects. Also this week the legislature heard two more of my bills, LB 535 and LB 317. LB 535 provides an exception for filing a statement with the register of deeds when recording an oil, gas, or mineral lease. LB 317 provides for a re-levy or reassessment of a special assessment for cities of the second class or village. All of these bills were advanced to select file.
This week, the Natural Resources Committee’s two priority bills advanced to the next stage of debate. LB 566, which would enter Nebraska into the Interstate Wildlife Violators Compact and strengthen penalties for Game Law violations, and LB 182, which helps cities and natural resource districts that run public water systems to qualify for funding and loan forgiveness from the state’s drinking water loan fund. The bill did not add new funds, it just clarified that NRDs are eligible for the available federal funding. Both of these laws will help Nebraska by providing additional tools to keep bad actors from hunting here, and by ensuring public water systems, and the NRDs who run them, are able to use federal funds available for their upkeep.
Another bill to help NRDs did not fare as well this week. Sen. Friesen’s LB 98 would extend the sunset date of the law that allows a three cent levy authority for districts that are fully or over appropriated until 2026. The levy can only be used for groundwater management and integrated management activities. The bill was filibustered by senators who do not understand the value of helping NRDs fund the water management tasks that are needed to help them out of their appropriation statuses. This is an important tool to generate matching funds revenue to access the state’s Water Sustainability Fund.
I had the opportunity this week to take some of my staff along with me to Imperial for a portion of the Upper Republican NRD’s water conference. While it was a long time in the car on one day, I was pleased that we were able to travel through the district, so my staff could see the area I proudly represent.