A few grumbles were aired, but adjustments to the $8.6 billion state budget have won tentative approval in the Unicameral.
The main feature of the budget bills advancing after legislative debate was transfers from the state cash reserve fund to pay for three capital improvement projects.
The largest transfer, $50 million, would create the infrastructure bank recommended by Gov. Pete Ricketts. Ricketts initially proposed a $150 million transfer to create the bank which would fund road construction projects as well as economic development projects.
The budget bills moving forward also would transfer $27 million from cash reserves to add prison beds in Lincoln, a first step in the state’s attempt to ease prison overcrowding. Another $13.7 million would be transferred to upgrade the Missouri River levee that protects Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha.
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte complains the projects won approval in an unconventional fashion.
“Not even through the budget process, but through a cash reserve transfer. We are creating precedent here that is not good for this state, not good for this body,” Groene tells colleagues during legislative debate.
But, Appropriations Committee Chairman, Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, says such transfers are nothing new.
“In 2007, the legislature made a one-time appropriation from the cash reserve to the Department of Natural Resources to provide a loan to Republican River Valley NRDs,” according to Mello.
Other lawmakers grumbled a bit about the increase in spending, up nearly 4% from the previous two-year budget.
Despite the complaints, the budget bills easily move on to the next round.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]