A crucial vote could come this morning as the Unicameral decides whether to move forward with a modified version of the budget cuts implemented by Governor Ricketts.
The governor proposed $151 million in budget cuts to deal with a state revenue shortfall. The legislature’s Appropriations Committee reduced it to $137 million. State revenue is expected to fall $900 million short of the projections for the next two-year state budget.
Debate on the budget bill, LB 22, has dominated the Unicameral this week with debate taking place each morning prior to the Unicameral breaking for committee hearings in the afternoon.
Critics have been harsh, not necessarily against the budget cuts proposed, but as to how the legislature got to this point. Some legislators have claimed Gov. Ricketts violated the constitution by acting on his own to pull back spending without consulting the legislature, which appropriated the money.
Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln defended the committee work during debate Thursday, arguing that if the legislature takes action now it will make the upcoming budget decisions less painful.
“This is really an effort to try to make the decisions that are less difficult, decisions that are less challenging to the agencies,” Bolz told colleagues.
Bolz also rejected suggestions the committee simply moved the governor’s recommendations to the full body to consider. She pointed out the committee held hearings and reached its owned decisions before bringing the bill to the floor for debate.
Still, some lawmakers insisted Ricketts should have called the Unicameral into special session last year so he and legislators could have dealt with the falling state revenue together. Some have compared Ricketts’ action to asking forgiveness rather than asking permission.
Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha faulted the process.
“The way we found out that cuts were being made was from a memo,” according to Harr. “That’s not the way it should be done.”
A vote to move forward with the process should come today.
All of this comes before the Unicameral begins work on the biennium budget, the spending blueprint for the next two years. The governor has asked the legislature to approve LB 22 so that state governmental agencies might be better prepared the tough budget process for the next two fiscal years.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:55]