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Sen. John Stinner on budget debate: ‘What I’m trying to do is bring people back to reality’

March 23, 2018 GMT

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Legislature has until end-of-day Friday, March 23, to approve a state budget or default to the governor’s proposed budget cuts — which include a 4 percent cut to the state’s university system.

“The pressure’s starting to get to everyone because we’re talking everything to death,” said State Sen. John Stinner during a Thursday conference call. “We had 30 items to consider on Tuesday and got through four of them in 15 hours.”

One of the budget disputes on Wednesday was over Gov. Pete Ricketts’ inclusion of Title X. That provision would prevent health clinics from accepting federal family planning funds if they perform abortions or make referrals to groups that do.

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Stinner said if the Legislature doesn’t take action on Friday, a lot of bad things could happen. It’s the last day to pass the budget from select file to final reading, which would take place next Tuesday before it goes to the governor for his signature.

“If the budget doesn’t get a vote, all the cuts we’re talking about don’t take effect,” Stinner said. “People might think that’s a good idea but there’s $83 million of deficit increases that don’t get funded either. It also leaves a lot of folks in limbo about where the next cuts will be.”

Stinner said his Thursday would be spent trying to get support from colleagues before showing Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer he has 33 solid votes to invoke cloture.

“What I’m trying to do is bring people back to reality,” he said. “Sometimes you have to compromise, and sometimes it really hurts.”

One section of the budget bill would transfer money out of the rainy day fund to the general fund to help support the state’s cash balance.

“I don’t want the rainy day fund to go below $250 million,” Stinner said. “It’s a contingency fund and if we go much lower than that, we’ll have a problem recapturing those funds and getting back to a level of safety we need to have.”

Much of the debate has been over the university system, which has a $1.3 billion budget with about $261 million of that coming from state taxes.

Ricketts’ budget includes a four percent cut to the university, but was eliminated by the Appropriations Committee, which Stinner chairs. The Legislature’s version has a one percent budget cut.

Sen. Steve Erdman tried to re-establish the 4 percent cut, but that proposal was voted down.

“The university has already implemented about $30 million in cuts which will take effect over a three-year period,” Stinner said. “It’s not correct to say the university is doing nothing. The numbers show that management has done a prudent job of running the university.”

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The university has been active with outreach and extension programs to rural parts of the state, including a nursing and dental hygienist program in the local area. Stinner said those programs are vital to training new professionals who will want to work in rural Nebraska.

“The university wants to be a part of the entire state and I think they’re trying to do as good a job as they can,” Stinner said. “They’ve taken budget cuts just like the rest of us. Forty-nine million isn’t chump change. We’re trying to treat everyone fairly and take a balanced approach.”