AP NEWS
ADVERTISEMENT

Nebraska lawmakers finalize plan for $137 million in cuts to ease budget deficit

February 14, 2017 GMT

LINCOLN — Adjustments aimed at helping to close the state’s $900 million budget gap are headed to the governor’s desk.

Lawmakers on Monday voted 42-3 to give final-round approval to legislation that would bring the projected shortfall to roughly $760 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019.

The vote came after more than two hours of debate Monday, prompting senators to invoke a cloture motion, which forces an immediate vote on a bill’s advancement.

State Sen. John Stinner of Gering, chairman of the budget-making Appropriations Committee, said the adjustments are needed to provide certainty for state agencies.

ADVERTISEMENT

The committee’s vice chair, Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln, said she’s pleased the plan is moving forward, as tougher decisions are before the committee. The committee is currently working on the 2017-19 biennial budget.

“The (current) changes are changes that are more palatable than others facing the committee at this point,” Bolz said. “I’m glad we could have a consensus moving ahead. I’ll count on the governor to do the same.”

The Governor’s Budget Office is reviewing the budget changes under Legislative Bill 22 and preparing to implement those changes to agency appropriations, said Taylor Gage, Gov. Pete Ricketts’ spokesman.

Ricketts appreciates the Legislature’s swift action and will take quick action himself after fully reviewing the Legislature’s decisions, Gage said.

Under the plan, budget cuts amount to about $137 million through across-the-board cuts, specifics cuts and taking back unspent dollars.

The plan preserves K-12 education, corrections and some Health and Human Services programs, while making across-the-board cuts to most state agencies.

Lawmakers opted to restore some cuts Ricketts had recommended. That includes restoring $5.2 million in unspent 2015-16 research dollars to the University of Nebraska, $4 million to the Supreme Court for probation-related programs and $3.5 million to providers of developmental disability services.

While Ricketts proposed pulling $92 million from the cash reserve, lawmakers won’t do that now. Members of the Appropriations Committee have said they plan to address the cash reserve in the next budget cycle.

Lawmakers also did not count on an expected $11.2 million increase in state sales tax revenue from Amazon purchases, which Ricketts did.

ADVERTISEMENT

State Sens. Ernie Chambers and Bob Krist of Omaha and Dan Quick of Grand Island voted against advancing the budget plan.

Krist objected to cuts to the Legislature that would help with paying for overhauling the State Capitol’s heating and cooling system. He also has raised concerns about Ricketts withholding money from all state agencies, not just those under the governor’s control, in an effort to control their spending.

Stinner said he believed the Legislature shouldn’t make an exception for itself, and that everyone should share in the budget pain. Bolz said she’s confident the committee will work out a solution in the 2017-19 budget.

emily.nohr@owh.com, 402-473-9581