The chairman of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee defends the $8 billion state budget against criticism by the governor.
Appropriations Committee chairman, Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, calls Gov. Dave Heineman’s criticism of the budget misleading and inaccurate.
Mello defends the budget which won preliminary approval in the Unicameral this week against comments by the governor that the budget lacks balance, because it increases spending by $136 million, but only provides $25 million in additional tax relief.
“You know, I think the bigger issue is the legislature right now has shown its independence in trying to tackle big issues facing this state,” Mello tells Nebraska Radio Network in an interview.
The legislature approved the two-year budget last legislative session. It took up revisions to the budget this year.
Heineman insists that Nebraska has between $370-and-500 million to devote to both income and property tax relief. The governor has advocated slicing some from the state rainy day fund to pay for the tax cut and has said that natural growth in the state budget could fill in the rest.
The governor has said the legislature should reconsider its spending plan and include more money for tax cuts. [See earlier story]
Mello says the Appropriations Committee has been listening to the Unicameral, including the priorities legislators have outlined, such as money to fund long-term water policy, to catch up on deferred maintenance at state parks, to fund job training and early childhood education, and to reduce the waiting list for those seeking services for the developmentally disabled.
The budget that advanced this week also carves out $91 million for bills that will be debated later this session, such as prison reform, which might carry hefty price tags.
“I feel the budget that we put forward is a balanced, measured approach to try to address some long-term issues facing the state while also trying to provide direct property tax relief by adding $25 million in an on-going basis to the property tax credit fund.,” according to Mello.
An effort to add another $20 million to the property tax credit fund fell five votes short during debate on the budget.
Mello says more adequate state funding of public schools will take pressure off districts that rely on property taxes for funding.
Legislators will have one more chance to make changes in the budget, then they will take a final vote on the spending plan.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]