Greetings District 36. Following CDC recommendations, the legislative session was suspended last week to limit gatherings of more than 10 people. Before the suspension, the Legislature had shifted its focus from property tax and economic development to a debate on the updated biennial budget. Senator John Stinner, Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, presented the budget for first round debate last Thursday. Before that, the budget had advanced from the Appropriations Committee on a unanimous vote. This is the first time in my six years in the body that the budget was advanced from Committee unanimously. I want to thank Senator Stinner and all the Appropriations Committee members for their hard work and commitment to focusing on the financial issues that face our state. Following a lengthy debate, I was extremely pleased the budget also advanced from the first round of debate before the session was suspended.
During the Appropriations Committee’s deliberations in crafting this year’s budget proposal, the members focused on four primary concerns. The first area was increasing the balance of our rainy-day fund. At the end of last session this fund was down to $322 million. With additional revenues coming into the state and other budgetary considerations the proposal would build our rainy-day fund to $731 million. Considering issues facing our state, including the potential cost of the coronavirus, it seems only prudent to build our rainy-day fund.
The second area of focus was maintaining a spending level not to exceed 3%. The budget maintains that modest increase. This increase allows us to maintain critical funding to areas of need and provide slight increases in areas such as problem-solving courts that include juvenile and mental health courts, and skills training for those leaving our prison system. In addition, the budget increases aid to individuals in areas of behavioral and mental health; and it allows funding for our rural workforce housing grant program, and a welcome increase in funding to nursing homes.
The Appropriations Committee’s third area of focus was maintaining structural balance, which is key to a successful long-term budget strategy. Structural balance means matching your revenues coming in with your expenses going out, much like we each do with our own personal budgets.
The final priority was ensuring the budget included enough space for property tax relief and economic development benefits. Property tax relief and economic development incentives clearly have been the two highest priorities for this session of the Legislature, and it is prudent that our budget include sufficient room to accomplish these goals.
The impact of extraordinary pandemic has become an additional budget priority. We are awaiting the details of the stimulus packages passed by Congress and that are directed to the States. Unlike Congress, however, the Legislature is required to pass a balanced budget and the increase in the amount of money in the rainy-day fund will help us immensely now and down the road. In fact, the chair of the Appropriations Committee filed an amendment that we will take up when the Legislature reconvenes. The amendment would appropriate $10 million from the cash reserve for public health emergency response, and another $10 million to the Governors Emergency Program.
I fully support the budget as presented and the pending amendment. There is currently a great deal of uncertainty in the world and in Nebraska. Having structural balance and restrained spending in our budget solutions gives us a strong foundation for Nebraska’s future.
While the Legislature will not be meeting for the foreseeable future, Senators and staff continue to work remotely. You may still reach my office by phone, (402)471-2642, and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.