On Tuesday, May 9, the three main budget bills passed and were sent to the governor’s desk.The governor does have the option to line-item veto individual appropriations within the entire budget.
The combined budget of $10.8 billion (for the next two years) includes the general fund budget, which is funded by state tax and fee receipts and federal money (Medicaid, Education, etc.).
The $4.5 billion annual general fund budget is the focus of our legislative actions. We are increasing it by 1% annually over the biennium budget. To do so, we had to reduce our cash reserves (savings account) from $637 million to $379 million over a two-year period, and by using an accounting trick, we lowered our general fund minimum reserve (checking account) requirement from 3% to 2.5%. Therefore, we could claim we cut the budget by another $44 million.
Another problematic assumption on the budget is that our economy will rebound quickly and state revenues over the next two years will increase from 1% this year to a healthy 5% annually over the next two years. The last two times we had a budget crisis was after unique incidents -- credit banking corrections and tech bubble stock market crashes. Those recovered quickly with federal intervention and stock market rebounds.
This time, the state’s revenue reductions are due to downturns in two of our basic economic engines -- agriculture and energy. Those are not so easily reversed.
I joined 11 other senators voting no on LB 331, which included the provision to lower the minimum reserve from 3% to 2.5%. I fear that we will be back next year with two options: cutting spending more or increasing the tax burden on citizens.
Felons & voting
LB 75, Sen. Justin Wayne’s attempt to give felons voting rights at the time they complete their parole, was vetoed by the Governor. Presently, it is restored to them after two years if they have stayed out of the criminal justice system.
Originally, I voted for the bill. I do believe in redemption, but I voted to uphold the veto. It may well be that the proposed law was unconstitutional. Our state Constitution seems to clearly state that only the parole board can restore civil rights to felons, not the Legislature.
LR 1 CA was Sen. John Murante’s attempt to put a constitutional voter ID requirement on the 2018 ballot for voter approval. I supported the effort.
This issue is not about race or the economic status of a citizen. It is a reaction to a huge influx of immigration and the fact that we are a mobile society. Americans should be proud to prove they are citizens and should be willing to prove they reside in the district where they are voting. I have personally started a habit of showing my ID when I vote; I am proud to be an American.
The measure failed to advance, it did not have enough votes to overcome a filibuster.
• LB 171 would provide for claims against the state.
Every budget cycle, the legislature must budget for lawsuit settlements against the state of Nebraska. For example, this year the state settled a lawsuit where the Department of Roads failed to immediately replace a stop sign after construction work and an individual was harmed in an automobile accident. Also, included in the appropriation are workman compensation claims. The cost of the claims is $2.9 million.
• LB 478, allowing felons to own archery equipment, was signed May 9 by the governor. It includes an emergency clause so those individuals can enjoy spring and summer hunting seasons and prepare for fall hunting excursions.
Our legislation legitimized by statute what was already happening, but a recent state Supreme Court ruling enforcing a state statute forbidding a felon from possessing a knife with a blade over 3.5 inches in length cast doubts on felons possessing archery equipment. Clarification needed to be made.
We are still working with other senators to press forward on property tax relief. Our LB 640 is still alive.
Please do not hesitate to contact our office at email@example.com or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.