A budget debate has begun in the Unicameral, but it’s a debate on adjustments to the current budget and only a foretaste of budget battles to come.
Sen. John Stinner of Gering, chair of the Appropriations Committee, brought the budget bill to the floor for debate Tuesday.
“It’s kind of like the saying, ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ We have a problem,” Gering told colleagues as he opened floor debate.
As Stinner and his committee members see it, the state has a $900 million problem.
State revenue has fallen sharply, leading the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board to project a $900 million dollar shortfall for the next biennium budget, the state’s spending blueprint for the next two fiscal years.
But, before legislators begin debating the upcoming budget, they are dealing with the current budget.
Gov. Pete Ricketts has asked the Unicameral to approve a series of budget cutbacks his administration began implementing last year, when state revenues began tapering off and projections worsened. Ricketts has argued that if the legislature approves cuts now, it will make it easier to deal with the shortfall over the next two fiscal years.
Stinner and his committee have agreed with the assessment. That doesn’t mean it has been easy for them to agree to the budget cuts they have proposed the Unicameral adopt.
“This was ugly, gut-wrenching, pound on the table, stuff,” according to Stinner.
Not everyone is happy with the recommendations brought to the floor for debate.
Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln objected to the 2% cut to the University of Nebraska budget.
“To me, the $50 million in cuts to the university and several other agencies is entirely unacceptable and I will not accept them if that’s what’s brought to this floor,” Morfeld said.
Legislators return to the budget debate this morning.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]