July 23, 2014

Approps chair says Unicameral’s steady, cautious approach worked (AUDIO)

State revenue came in a bit stronger during the last fiscal year than expected and just right according to the legislature’s Appropriations Committee chairman.

The state closed the books on the 2013-2014 fiscal year June 30th with $4.117 billion in state revenue, 2.4% better than the forecast of $4.021 billion.

Sales tax revenue came in 1.7% above forecasts and individual income tax receipts were one percent higher than forecast.

Corporate income tax receipts surged to nearly 16% above the forecast, though corporate tax receipts do not bring in nearly as much money as the sales tax and individual income taxes.

Miscellaneous taxes came in better than four percent above the forecast.

The cash reserve fund is $687 million.

Appropriations Committee Chairman, Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, notes cash reserves settled right around the 16% mark the Unicameral prefers.

“We really based this 16% of General Fund revenue off of historical averages and historical forecasting errors as it relates to the state enduring in the last few recessions,” Mello tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Mello explains that, traditionally, Nebraska experiences about a 4% hit on state revenue for each of four years during a recession. The cash reserves are designed to get the state through a national economic downturn.

It will be used for more than that next year.

Mello points out a few bills will be coming due in the next year. The state will pay a $15 million penalty for mishandling federal child welfare money. A $5.5 million settlement will resolve Nebraska’s lawsuit with Kansas over use of water under the Republican River Compact.

Mello also estimates that the miscalculation of prison sentences by the Department of Correctional Services might cost the state between $25-and-50 million in added expenses.

Still, Mello says there’s enough money to meet needs and have a cushion.

“I think something that the taxpayers across the state can feel good about is that the legislature took a responsible, cautious approach that both reduced their taxes and mitigated potential future tax increases by protecting the state’s rainy day fund.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

Expert: Nebraskans’ premiums may bounce 30% under Obamacare

An official with the Nebraska Health Care Alliance estimates when the federal health care law goes into effect in several months requiring all policies to be compliant, the expense will be staggering.

Paul Utemark, CEO of the Fillmore County Hospital, says premiums in Nebraska could increase an average of about 30%.

“If you look at what the reaction was for the people who were shopping for insurance on their own, some people think it’ll be much greater than that just because of the sheer numbers of people who fall into those type of plans will be that much more,” Utemark says. “I’d like to hope that it would be a smooth transition but there’s definitely a possiblity people are going to be shocked.”

Utemark says some states may see even higher percentage increases in premiums.

The Nebraska Health Care Alliance initially formed to promote a state-based health insurance exchange, which failed to materialize. Now that the federal Affordable Care Act is law, Utemark expects we’ll see a lot of things businesses and individuals will try to make things work.

“Employers have been offering group health plans for a long time and they take a lot of pride in that and feel it’s part of their responsibility to repay their employees for work well done,” Utemark says. “I think there will have to be a lot of thinking and a lot of collaborating and a lot of talking to find out how many options there are and to make the best decision for each individually.”

Utemark says every family and individual experiences a different situation when it comes to health care, which makes it difficult to find a solution that’s acceptable to all. Opinions on the law differ among health care providers and over how they’ll practice health care in the future.

“The concern I see over time is for so much change in the way things have been done,” Utemark says. “The folks who are younger in their career are okay with it because they can adapt. The folks who are in the latter stages of their career are wondering how far they can go and if they can really make it work for them.”

Utemark says the Nebraska Health Care Alliance doesn’t pretend to know all the answers to what the long-term effect of the law will be. So far, about eight-million people have enrolled in health insurance since the ACA went into effect.

What’s not known is how many younger people, who tend to get sick less often, will enroll under the program. Other variables include how prescription drug spending and consolidation in the medical field will affect the future cost of health care.

By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice



Group bashes Heineman over illegal immigrant children stance (AUDIO)

Ben Salazar faces the camera during Capitol Rotunda news conference

Ben Salazar faces the camera during Capitol Rotunda news conference

Harsh criticism of Gov. Dave Heineman flowed freely during a Capitol Rotunda news conference held by Latino advocates who object to the governor’s stance on the estimated 200 illegal immigrant children now house in Nebraska.

In fact, the news conference began with moderator Ben Salazar of Omaha stating he never called Gov. Heineman a racist.

“So, let me set the record straight,” Salazar told reporters. “I don’t recall calling the governor a racist. I may have used the word ‘bigot’. Just to clarify the record: bigotry.”

Salazar and others accused the governor of not caring about the children, because they come from Central America.

The children are part of the more than 50,000 children who have crossed the southern border illegally, unaccompanied by adults. Most seem to have come into the country from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Gov. Heineman has demanded the federal government tell the state where they have been placed and with whom. Federal officials have so far refused to answer any of the governor’s questions.

The Nebraska chamber of the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the governor’s stance. The governor countered.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha took aim at Heineman’s response to the ACLU.

“And whereas he referred to the ACLU as a left-leaning liberal group, I could in all honesty refer to him as a right-wing ideologue, who is narrow minded, bigoted, political, without an ounce of what they call Christian charity or morality,” according to Chambers.

Chambers said the governor’s stance should disqualify him for consideration as the next president of the University of Nebraska.

Salazar rejoined the criticism, widening it to include not just Heineman, but Sen. Mike Johanns, Sen. Deb Fischer, Congressman Lee Terry, and Congressman Adrian Smith who joined Heineman in writing the Secretary of Health and Human Services, asking for information on the children.

“The one word that I think is an apt description also is cowardly. These are the utterances and words of cowards. They think two or three hundred children are going to rob them of their hot dogs?”

Salazar added Nebraska should welcome the children.

“These children can be housed in Nebraska safely, comfortably, and I know in our communities, especially communities of color, doors will open, arms will open to embrace them,” according to Salazar.

Lawyer Shirl Mora James, an immigration attorney from Lincoln, asserted that more than half the children would qualify as refugees and be allowed to stay.

“I have one question for the governor. Would he be sending these children back if these children came from Greece like his wife’s ancestors did?” James asked. “I would dare say he probably would not.”

The Obama Administration has signaled that it plans to deport most of the minors. President Barack Obama has asked Congress for emergency appropriations to speed up the immigration process for the children.

Gov. Heineman’s office released a statement following the news conference:

“According to federal law, the children in question are unaccompanied alien children. The ACLU and others are trying to divert attention from that fact.

This is an issue of transparency and protecting the integrity of taxpayer funded benefits. The State of Nebraska can’t ensure that any illegal individual is not getting taxpayer funded benefits if we don’t know who they are.

The question for Senator Chambers, the ACLU and others is, why do you favor secrecy in government instead of transparency. What is the federal government hiding?”

AUDIO:  Ben Salazar of Omaha opens the news conference. [4 mn.]

Sen. Johanns says Malaysian plane crash poses grave situation (AUDIO)

Sen. Mike Johanns says a plane crash in eastern Ukraine could have grave international ramifications.

It appears a surface-to-air missile brought down a Malaysia Airlines plane in eastern Ukraine, killing 295.

It could have been launched by pro-Russian separatist rebels.

“Very, very risky, difficult situation and I can’t overstate how very challenging this could be in the weeks ahead,” Johanns tells Nebraska reporters during a conference call.

Details are emerging.

United States intelligence has confirmed an anti-aircraft missile shot down the commercial Boeing 777. The jet was flying its regular route from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. As many as two dozen Americans could have been on board.

Johanns says the news shook Congress.

“Everybody here is just amazed and stunned that a commercial aircraft would be shot out of the air by a surface-to-air missile,” according to Johanns.

The tragedy occurred in the region where fighting between Ukraine soldiers and pro-Russian separatist rebels has been fiercest. Both sides have blamed the other.

Johanns says the ultimate question is whether Russia supplied the launcher that fired the missile.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

First case of West Nile reported in Nebraska

A five-county public health district in southeast Nebraska has reported its first human case of West Nile virus this season.

Kim Plouzek of Public Health Solutions Emergency and Environmental Programs, said the first human case in the district discovered Sunday, comes earlier, than usual. The season usually peaks in August or September.

P-H-S would not disclose which county the case came from.  The district serves Saline, Gage, Thayer, Jefferson and Fillmore counties.

The case reported in the district was the second human case of the virus reported in Nebraska, this year.  Plouzek described the P-H-S case as “moderate….not severe”.

The health district also conducts surveillance for infected pools of mosquitoes or birds.  There have been no infected pools of mosquitoes detected, this year.

Plouzek says the district found out about the human case through a physician visit by a person who was not feeling well.

West Nile virus symptoms vary from person to person. Fewer than 1 in 100 persons develop severe illness marked by a high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, convulsions, muscle weakness or paralysis.

Plouzek says persons should take precautions such as eliminating standing water and outside exposure to mosquitoes at dawn and dusk.  It’s recommended persons use a mosquito repellant that contains DEET.

By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice