A preliminary budget has been released by the Unicameral Appropriations Committee with some significant disagreements with the budget proposed by Gov. Dave Heineman.
Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, the Appropriations Committee chairman, calls the $7.8 billion preliminary budget for the next two years a first step in the legislature’s budget deliberations which will be one of the major issues it handles this year.
The biggest disagreement comes in higher education funding.
The Appropriations Committee has set aside nearly $20 million less than the governor for the University of Nebraska four-campus system.
Mello says the committee is waiting to hear from university officials about the deal struck with the governor; which will reward the university with additional state appropriations in exchange for a freeze on tuition.
“How did they come to that number in regards to a tuition freeze? Full well knowing that literally a week after the governor released his budget, the Board of Regents chose to ultimately increase room and board fees, a sizeable fee increase on room and board students at the University of Nebraska, which is also a question I know committee members have brought forward in discussions,” Mello tells reporters at the Capitol.
Mello points out that the University of Nebraska has enjoyed nearly $130 million for capital construction the past two years that other state agencies didn’t receive.
The preliminary budget also allocates less to Nebraska’s other state colleges and its two-year institutions.
The cost of implementing federal health care regulations also differs.
The Appropriations Committee doesn’t anticipate the cost of implementing the new federal health care law to be as expensive as the governor does..
“One aspect though and one issue that needs to be evaluated further is the ultimate cost that could come from the implementation of health care reform on the mandatory side that we ultimately chose lower dollar figures than the governor in regards to implementation,” Mello says.
The committee also hasn’t included the $47 million the governor requested to build a new veterans home in central Nebraska.
“In part, not because the general issue is not being supported within the committee, but this is an idea and a project that has been sprung on the committee with no prior knowledge, information, plans, renderings, or even at this point, our understanding there hasn’t even been a site selected or city selected where this home would be,” according to Mello.
The Appropriations Committee received good news at the end of last week. The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board has revised its estimate on how much revenue the state will bring in; with revenue for the coming fiscal year projected to increase by 5.5% to total $3.87 billion and revenue for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 to grow by slightly more than 3% to $3.96 billion. If the projections hold, the state could increase its cash reserves by $53 million to $493 million.