Legislators have trimmed the requested budget cuts made by Gov. Pete Ricketts, agreeing to make $137 million in cuts to the current fiscal year.
A last-minute filibuster held up final approval for a couple of hours.
Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse told colleagues they should approve the plan to prepare for an even bigger budget battle later.
“But the end result is we’ve got to talk about a $900 million shortfall, we have the entire session to talk about it,” according to Watermeier. “What this does though is get the first deficit request off our table. We put that last year’s budget aside and we start working on next year’s (budget).”
Gov. Ricketts had requested $157 million in budget cuts to the current fiscal year budget to ease the pain in the upcoming two-year budget. LB 22 passed on a 42-3-3 vote. It makes an initial step toward dealing with a projected $900 million revenue shortfall for the 2017-19 biennium budget.
LB 22 spreads 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.
Legislators restored more than $5 million to the University of Nebraska for research, $4 million to the Supreme Court budget to fund probation-related services, and $3.5 million for services to the developmentally disabled.
Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha led a last-minute two-hour filibuster on final reading, an unusual step in the Unicameral which routinely approves bills on final reading without debate. Krist objected to Ricketts taking out $2.4 million to upgrade the heating and cooling system at the Capitol.
Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus warned colleagues the current revenue shortfall could last well beyond the next two-year budget, arguing that it is unlikely commodity prices will rebound enough to return agriculture to the prosperous times it experienced a few years ago.
“We’ve got financial challenges in baby boomers and retirement plans, so let’s not delude ourselves that we can just cut our way out of this by slashing here and there,” Schumacher remarked during legislative floor debate. “We have to look at revenue and we have to look at getting rid of a lot of the perks that we’ve granted over the years.”
Sen. John Stinner of Gering, chair of the Appropriations Committee, told colleagues they need to act now, so state government can adjust to less money.
“I would ask today that we set aside our differences, get this passed so all of the adjustments and all the exceptions and all the agencies and all the committees have some level of certainty so that we can move on,” Stinner stated.