Last week the Legislature took up the budget bills for the next biennium. Very little was changed as they advanced through the first and second rounds of debate. I would like to focus on some of the highlights of the budget.
Eight bills make up the budget package this year, and they have advanced through the first two rounds of debate to Final Reading. The Nebraska Constitution requires that the budget is finished by the 80th legislative day, which is Tuesday, May 17.
The two-year budget will appropriate around $7.1 billion of General Funds. Some of the larger cuts in spending as reported by the Unicameral Update were $19.8 million in public assistance; $29.3 million in Health and Human Services provider rates; $44 million in aid to cities, counties, and Natural Resources Districts; and $67.7 million in agency operations.
Increased appropriations in the budget would include $140 million above current levels for the next two years for Medicaid; state funds to schools will increase $78.6 million for the biennium (because of reduction in federal funds the total funding to schools will be $200 million less); appropriation for the homestead exemption of $20 million; and $18.5 million in FY2012-13 employee salary increases.
LB 377 provided funds for current and new capital construction projects, which Sen. Karpisek from Wilber tried to remove $25 million of the funds designated for the University's Innovation Campus. The amendment failed 5-37, while LB377 advanced 40-2.
Another bill, LB378, which advanced with a 35-0 vote, includes fund transfers of $5.4 million for the Water Resources Cash Fund, $6.3 million for the Ethanol Production Incentive Cash Fund, and $220 million for the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund among others.
There was some last minute good news for the budget from the April meeting of the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Board. Sen. Heidemann, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, offered an amendment to reduce the transfer from the Cash Reserve Fund from $256 million to $75 million because of the projected increase in revenues of $151 million over the biennium above the February forecast.
Over all, I believe Sen. Heidemann did a great job in leading the Appropriations Committee to propose a responsible budget that the rest of the body could agree with.
Finally, the Redistricting Committee has advanced to the floor their redistricting proposals, which are found in five bills, LB700 through LB704. The next step is public hearings to discuss the committee's proposals on Friday, May 13. There will be a morning and afternoon hearing, with videoconferencing sites all across the state. North Platte and McCook will have videoconference sites for the afternoon, starting at 1:00 p.m. CT.
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/.