When funds are tight and state priorities have to be revisited, it can make for long debates on bills with a fiscal impact. That is what happened last week regarding the Select File debate of a roads funding bill, LB 84, introduced by Sen. Fischer of Valentine.
For eight hours many amendments were debated on Select File before a cloture vote of 39-9 ended all debate. Sen. Fischer's amendment AM1216, which I supported, was adopted 39-9 and the bill advance to Final Reading with a 36-12 vote.
On April 12, Speaker Mike Flood from Norfolk designated LB 84 a Speaker Major Proposal that was approved by the Executive Board, which under the rules of the Legislature allows the Speaker to order amendments and motions to facilitate a more productive debate on bills of high importance and contention.
Sen. Fischer's amendment that was adopted removed the bonding provision from the bill and reduced the redirection of a portion of the current state sales tax revenue - starting in FY2013-14 through FY2032-33 - to a quarter of one cent, instead of the original proposal of a half cent. This is roughly $63 million per year from the current sales tax for roads.
Sen. Conrad filed an amendment, AM1236, which would allow an appropriation of up to $65 million per year by the Legislature when the funds were available. This amendment was defeated 13 to 18.
Sen. Louden also filed an amendment, AM1228, which would have raised the state gas tax by five cents so that roads funding would remain solely a "user fee." Raising the state gas tax at this time was not supported by the Legislature and the amendment lost 4 to 38.
Another amendment by Sen. Mello proposed to redirect half the excess revenues, when available, which are above the budget forecast that normally go to the Cash Reserve Fund, to roads. This was defeated due mainly to the unreliability of providing consistent funds. Sen. Mello's AM1229 also failed 10 to 33.
The fourth amendment considered last week on LB 84 was proposed by Sen. Council. Her AM1248 would have transferred $230 million dollars from the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund, which provides credits for property taxes on real property. This idea was defeated with the others on a vote of 5 to 32.
Again, Sen. Mello filed an amendment that was determined not germane to the bill and Sen. Conrad's motion to bracket the bill until next year was defeated.
Finally, Sen. Nordquist offered AM1268 to cap the appropriation of sales tax each year to $10 million; this proposal also was lost on a 10 to 38 vote.
As you know, there are no easy decisions when the budget is tight, costs are up, and user fees and taxes are stagnant. That is the place Nebraska has found itself regarding the maintenance and construction of roads. In the end with my support we decided not to increase any taxes or fees, but live within our current tax levies and direct a portion of sales tax to roads.
If you have comments, concerns, or questions about this bill or any other issue, please, call my office at 402-471-2805 or for more information you can view my legislative website at http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist44/