Things in the Legislature have finally began moving along. Since the beginning of session, 678 bills and substantive resolutions have been introduced. To date, 35 bills have been passed by the Legislature. Out of the 678 items being brought to the Legislature, only 5 of them have been brought to a full filibuster.
This session I introduced twelve bills. One of my bills has already been passed and two more sit on the final round, called Final Reading, before being debated. Another of my bills has been amended into one of those on Final Reading making a total of three. I expect to have at least four of my bills passed before the end of session.
The four bills I expect to have passed are LB99, 101, 151, and 222. LB99 is a bill that will require business entities to give notice to their lenders when they convert their form of incorporation. It has already been passed and signed into law by the Governor. LB101 makes the bidding process for the State’s main administrative arm, the Department of Administrative Services, more competitive by putting limitations on contract renewals and extensions. It has been amended into LB151.
LB151 would add oversight measures to state agencies during the auditing process by empowering the State Auditor to conduct post-audit reviews. As mentioned already, it has LB101 amended into it along with three more bills appropriate to the theme of responsible state agency management.
LB222 also follows along the theme of responsible agency management. It has been one of my most anticipated bills of the year. It would restructure the Nebraska Tourism Commission into an 11-district system based on lodging revenues. It would implement oversight measures by requiring the adoption of formal rules, regulations, and would clarify its innovative grant program to promote the tourism industry in Nebraska.
Ever since first arriving to the Legislature in 2015, I have worked hard implementing oversight measures into the Commission to save taxpayer dollars. Many of the issues I witnessed came to a head when its Director was fired last year for misuse of state funds and unethical management behaviors. LB222 is the culmination of those efforts to realign the Commission to its mission and purpose.
As most are likely aware, the biggest discussions this year will be on the state’s budget. We originally faced a $910 million dollar shortfall which was addressed through a deficit budget request early in the session for the end of fiscal year 2016-17. The preliminary budget for the 2017-18 & 2018-19 biennium demonstrates that a $134 million shortfall needs to be addressed with a transfer from the Cash Reserve Fund, or what is known as the “Rainy Day Fund.” The Forecasting Board met in February and increased the revenue shortfall by $153 million, leaving a $287 million shortfall to be resolved.
As the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, it is my responsibility to ensure that the Legislature fulfills its responsibility to balance the state’s budget, as set out in the Nebraska Constitution. There has been much impassioned discussion already on what the state’s priorities should be. The Appropriations Committee has put in many long days and nights to prepare our proposal before sending it to the Legislature as a whole.
In addition to the $287 million shortfall, we will have to make adjustments as legislation is passed. Any changes in the state’s budget either through additional expenditures or revenue may change the number we have to work with.
In the coming weeks, the Legislature will debate not only the state budget but also a number of tax bills on the revenue side of the ledger and an education bill. Some of those bills that will be discussed are LB409, 461, and 640. LB409 is an education bill by Senator Groene that would adjust the state aid to education formula (TEEOSA) to match the Appropriation Committee’s proposed state aid to public schools. State aid to public schools is our biggest budget item and remains a priority in our proposed budget.
LB461 is a comprehensive tax cut proposal by Senator Smith. Under Senator Smith’s proposal, the top individual and corporate income tax rates would be cut from 6.84% to 5.99%. Currently, this threshold is reached at roughly $30,000 for individuals and $59,000 for married filers. The bill would also cap increases in agricultural land valuation at 3.5% annually. In addition, it would raise the earned income tax credits for low-income taxpayers to 12% of federal earned income tax credits and compress four tax brackets to three, giving middle income taxpayers additional relief.
Lastly, LB640 is a bill introduced by Senator Groene that is intended to address property tax burdens. Under his proposal, $224 million of the property tax credit fund would be added to state aid to school districts with the heaviest reliance on property taxes. Increasing state aid to those schools will ease the pressure put on them to fund their schools through property taxes. In theory, they would lower their property tax levies.
One other bill I have had great interest in comes from Senator Williams. His bill, LB518, would address the rural workforce housing shortage that many communities face, such as those in Scotts Bluff County. Under his proposal, it would create a rural workforce housing grant program with a one-time transfer of $7.3 million to assist in building low and middle-income homes. Smaller communities have a lower supply of housing due to higher costs and less return. This bill will incentivize construction companies to build much needed housing to attract workforce to rural areas.
My bill, LB496, is related to Senator Williams’ bill and would be a great compliment to his legislation. LB496 would allow the construction of workforce housing to be eligible for tax increment financing (TIF) in cities with a population of 100 to 100,000 people. Like LB518, LB496 would address workforce shortages in rural Nebraska by incentivizing investment in housing developments. Without affordable housing, workers are less likely to move to our communities.
As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.