Gov. Dave Heineman praised state lawmakers for their work during the 90-day legislative session, but added that work left undone this session will need to be tackled next year.
Heineman addressed the Unicameral briefly on the last day of the session at the Capitol in Lincoln Wednesday.
Heineman pointed out that he and the legislature agreed to a large extent on the priorities contained in the $7.8 billion state budget for the next two years, the major piece of legislation that must be accomplished during the 90-day session. The legislature overrode about half of the line-item vetoes the governor made to the budget it approved.
The budget provides more money for public schools, provides enough higher education funding for state universities to freeze tuition for the next two years and authorizes funding for a new veterans home in central Nebraska.
Among the bills highlighted by Heineman during his speech to the legislature, three tax cut bills and juvenile justice reform.
“This law is a forward-looking and innovative approach to dealing with youth who break the law,” Heineman stated. “This reform will reduce our reliance on detention and focus on rehabilitation for youth while keeping families involved.”
Heineman praised the legislature for one thing it didn’t do.
“There were other issues where the legislature was divided and there were long hours of debate,” Heineman said. “I appreciate those discussions and I want to personally thank the many senators who questioned the affordability and sustainability of expanding Medicaid.”
The governor proposed tax reform at the beginning of the session. His plan would have scrapped the state income tax, both individual and corporate. In exchange, about half of the sales tax exemptions the state grants would be eliminated to make up for the loss in state revenue.
Two days of brutal public hearings led the legislature to scrap that plan and opt instead for a study of the state tax code.
The failed tax reform effort was on the governor’s mind during his speech to the legislature.
“We made good progress, but we have more work to do. We need a business climate that is more small business-friendly. We need to lower taxes on Nebraskans. We need a tax code that is simpler and fairer.”
And Heineman no doubt what should be the outcome of the tax reform debate.
“The focus should be about lower taxes and more job creation not higher taxes and more government spending.”
AUDIO: Gov. Dave Heineman addresses the Unicameral on the final day of the legislative session. [5:35]