November 25, 2015

Legislators advance all but one budget bill (AUDIO)

Debate on the state budget has gone slowly this week, but legislators have approved nearly all of the state budget bills.

Budget debate began Tuesday afternoon in the Unicameral on the $7.8 billion spending plan for the next two years. Lawmakers nearly wrapped up budget work late Thursday evening.

The budget proposal approved by the Appropriations Committee increases state spending by a little more than 5%, which is slightly higher than the spending proposed by Gov. Dave Heineman.

The greatest expenditure in the budget would pay for running Nebraska public schools; $137.5 million. That is actually $8.6 million less than anticipated by the Appropriations Committee. The savings comes from the compromise reached on the public school funding formula.

The second biggest piece of the state budget pie belongs to Medicaid, a $105 million appropriation. Medicaid actually will eat up more than that. The new federal health care law, the Affordable Care Act, will require another $51 million which will become part of Medicaid.

Unlike the past few years, the state has some money to spend. Yet, plenty of lawmakers have issued cautions.

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus suggests to colleagues building the cash reserve fund would be the most prudent step to take.

“Folks, if we think we’re rich right now or we think we’re rolling in cash, we’re sorely mistaken and we need to tuck away every bit into that reserve, because we’re going to need it,” Schumacher says.

Legislators approved stashing a projected $53 million surplus in the cash reserve fund, but not until after debating whether the state should rebate any actual surplus to the taxpayers.

The legislature hung up on Gov. Dave Heineman’s request to spend $2.2 million to buy a King Air airplane from the University of Nebraska Foundation, failing to resolve the issue. That prevented it from approving the final budget bill. Debate on that bill will resume on Friday.

Once approved, the budget bills must return and clear another round of debate before moving to final consideration.

Click here for the proposed budget submitted by the Appropriations Committee.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]

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