A budget bill, designed to get a quick start on closing a $900 million revenue shortfall, has advanced in the Unicameral.
Legislative Bill 22, which modified cuts enacted by Gov. Pete Ricketts, advanced this morning on a 46-to-1 vote despite some legislators contending the governor violated the constitution.
Appropriations Committee chair, Sen. John Stinner of Gering, rejected that notion and told colleagues his committee did its work.
“So, what are we doing? We have a program. It just so happens that the governor took the initiative, because he had started this as opposed to the legislature digging down through the fiscal office to try to come up with a program,” Stinner said during legislative debate. “We’ve got the program. It’s sitting in front of you. We’ve gone through the process.”
The Appropriations Committee trimmed the budget cuts proposed by the governor. Ricketts had proposed $151 million in cuts to the current fiscal year budget. The committee proposed $137 million. LB 22 spread the pain of budget cuts across state agencies, with the exception of public school funding and money for the Department of Correctional Services as the state attempts to ease prison overcrowding.
Supporters argued that making cuts now will make it less difficult to make cuts for the next 2017-19 biennium budget, the state spending blueprint for the coming two fiscal years. The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board projects a $900 million dollar revenue shortfall for the upcoming biennium.
Debate on LB 22 lasted all week. Critics didn’t target the content of the bill as much as the process it took to get to the floor for debate.
A number of state senators contended Ricketts violated the state constitution by unilaterally making budget cuts without input from the Unicameral. They said the governor should have called the Unicameral into special session last year when the revenue picture began to look bleak.
Instead, the governor notified state agencies and ordered them to cut back on their spending.
Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus told colleagues they haven’t wasted their time during the prolonged debate over four days.
“We are in the midst of a good debate, laying a good foundation for some hellish decisions that we will make this session and the folks that are going to be here four, six, eight years down the road are going to have to make in a much harsher way,” according to Schumacher.