State legislators might have approved the $8.6 billion state budget, but the battle over the budget seems far from over.
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte took to the floor of the legislature Monday to renew his contention that state spending would grow by more than the 3.1% figure touted by the legislature’s Appropriations Committee. Groene has argued this session that the 3.1% figure is misleading.
While the spending bills that make up the state budget hold spending down to an increase of 3.1%, other bills approved this session will increase that percentage.
Appropriations Committee Chairman, Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, took exception to Groene’s comments.
“So, that’s factually not accurate what Sen. Groene just said and neither myself nor any committee member said we’re always going to be at 3.1% at the end of the session,” Mello said during legislative floor debate. “I think I specifically said during the budget debate what the committee recommended was the same number the governor had recommended.”
Gov. Pete Ricketts recommended holding the growth of state spending down to 3%.
Mello contended the budget approved by the Appropriations Committee and adopted by the Unicameral does just that. Mello further stated Gov. Ricketts expected spending to grow beyond that, because the governor left room to pay for prison reform and other measures the Unicameral might approve.
Groene stated all spending, not just the spending approved in the budget bills, should be counted in assessing the growth of state spending over the next two years.
Groene fired back at Mello’s criticism, reiterating his claim that once this year’s legislative session is completed, the spending growth will be closer to 4% than 3%.
“That’s truth. Personalities be damned. I ain’t attacking anybody,” Groene replied. “This is fact. I have a real hard problem with 3.1% turning into four.”
Groene said he will push for changes in the budget process, saying that the nine members of the Appropriations Committee have too much power over state spending.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:55]