No unanimous vote by committee on 2017-19 budget

April 12, 2017 GMT

The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee took a vote Tuesday on the $8.9 billion spending plan it will offer to the full Legislature for 2017-19.

But unlike most years -- when committee members have been united, or maybe one vote off -- this budget plan netted a 6-3 outcome, with Sens. Robert Clements, Dan Watermeier and John Kuehn voting no.

The committee has struggled to get to a balanced budget in a particularly tough year in which Gov. Pete Ricketts suggested cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services, providers of Medicaid services and the University of Nebraska, and increases to the Department of Correctional Services and state aid to schools.

The Appropriations Committee put its own unique stamp on the budget that will go to the Legislature for debate later this month. It represents a 1.1 percent average increase in spending over the two years.

The committee voted on Tuesday to take $180 million from the state’s rainy day fund, or cash reserve, to balance the budget.

It took away some of the increase Ricketts wanted for corrections staff, much to the governor’s dismay, and restored a few of the cuts Ricketts made to HHS.

Clements said he felt the funding for the Department of Economic Development was too restrictive.

“It’s a tough time, but I was hoping we could provide more funding,” he said.

Watermeier said the committee needed to do more cutting on the budget in a year like this.

“I think we’re going to be hammered on the floor that we didn’t cut enough,” he said. “I haven’t heard that specifically yet, but this is going to be a hard one for me to swallow. ... We had a chance to lower our base, and we didn’t do that.”

The committee also approved too many transfers from cash funds to balance things out, he said.

Kuehn, too, said he disagreed with the raiding of cash funds, some that came as a surprise to directors. Money was swept from some of those funds without the committee thoroughly vetting those decisions, having a public process or knowing what the implications would be for particular departments or state committees.

Kuehn is concerned about coming years, he said, if the state’s economy doesn’t grow as projected and the slowing agriculture situation doesn’t turn around.

“This creates a complicated scenario going forward,” he said.

The committee is expected to formally amend and advance the budget bills next week.