A new legislative session starts this week with a financial cloud hanging over it.
Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, says a projected $110 million shortfall in the two-year $8.6 billion state budget will have a big impact on this short session.
“I think it’s tempered everyone’s expectations within the legislature of what we can and cannot get done in a 60-day legislative session,” Mello tells Nebraska Radio Network.
The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board met in November and issued its projection that the state budget approved by the Unicameral last year faces a $110 million deficit. It meets again in February and could revise its economic forecast.
In addition to the projected deficit, lawmakers will have to deal with requests for more money, primarily from the Department of Correctional Services, but also from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Mello points out Corrections needs extra money for staffing, health care, and lingering costs from the riot at the Tecumseh prison. Corrections also has requested an additional $26 million to add 150 prison beds to ease overcrowding.
The Department of Health and Human Services needs $11.3 million to repay the federal government to correct errors in the Medicaid program.
Despite the fiscal problems facing state senators, Mello expects them still to consider proposals to cut taxes.
There is a lot to do and little time to do it, according to Mello.
“The clock starts running right away in regards to not only working on legislative bills that are currently in committee, but also new proposals that senators are going to bring forward to hopefully solve some big challenges facing the state.”
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]