State legislators have advanced an $8.9 billion two-year state budget, but not without plenty of criticism of the spending plan and the use of an unusual parliamentarian move.
The spending plan for the state makes across-the-board budget cuts, but relies heavily on a transfer of $173 million from the state “rainy day” fund as well transfers from a number of cash reserves to make up for a revenue shortfall topping one billion dollars.
Some senators prefer to use the term “raids” on cash reserves.
Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, Transportation and Telecommunications Committee chair, failed to convince enough senators to restore $15 million of the $30 million taken from the road construction fund. He told colleagues they are breaking a promise to Nebraska taxpayers to speed-up road and bridge construction.
“We need to stick with it,” Friesen said during legislative floor debate. “We have made a promise to Nebraskans that we will fix those deficient roads and bridges and here we are, the first time we run into a little snag, we start taking money out of roads.”
Friesen found support for his amendment from Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard.
“I don’t believe it goes far enough,” Erdman said. “I believe we should restore all of the road funds.”
Appropriations Committee chair, Sen. John Stinner of Gering, got a bit testy about the criticism.
“We say we shouldn’t do this, this is unprecedented. Well, the whole thing is unprecedented folks. $1.1 billion dollars is unprecedented,” Stinner responded. “Now, I wouldn’t have gone to roads if it weren’t for a $150 million dollar decrease in the last forecast and I’m holding my breath on this one, so hang on, get ready to don the oxygen masks, because it’s going to get a little rough.”
It has gotten a little rougher. The latest projection from the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board lowered revenue estimates by an additional $50 million.
Some senators criticized the proposal, saying it cuts too little. The budget totals $8.9 billion, a growth in state spending of a bit more than 1%.
Lawmakers advanced the budget despite controversy erupting over language restricting Title X federal funding, which reimburses medical clinics for such services as testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Some senators accuse the Ricketts Administration of slyly inserting the new language in an effort to keep money from flowing to Planned Parenthood. Senators have discussed compromise language, but failed to reach any agreement. Work will continue and substitute language might be offered during the second round of debate.
Debate lasted well into the evening Wednesday. Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk took the unusual step of calling for a cloture vote to end debate and go to a vote on the bill. In the end, the legislature voted 36-1 to advance LB 327 with a number of senators abstaining.