State lawmakers approved the last of the budget bills and sent them to Gov. Pete Ricketts.
But, passage didn’t come without a last-minute floor fight which nearly resulted in a key budget bill not receiving the 33 votes necessary to insure it goes into effect when the state fiscal year begins on July 1st.
Appropriations Committee chair, Sen. John Stinner of Gering, addressed the chamber, telling his colleagues they were in danger of causing state government to shut down for a couple of months.
“Just trying to keep a grip on my feelings right now. There’s a little anger, a lot of disgust, a lot of frustration,” Stinner stated after calling for a reconsideration of the vote.
Appropriations Committee vice chair, Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln joined in Stinner’s disgust.
“Colleagues, that was not a responsible vote,” Bolz stated, pointing out that without 33 votes, spending authorization wouldn’t become effective until September.
Even Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk criticized lawmakers for not giving the bill the 33 votes needed.
“It seems to me we’re playing a game of chicken here,” Scheer told colleagues during floor debate. “None of us were sent here to play chicken.”
Legislators agreed to reconsider the vote and then passed the bill.
The budget battle wasn’t over.
Criticism of the budget bills and the work of the Appropriations Committee continued as the debate continued on another budget bill.
Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard charged the Unicameral lacks the will to make the budget cuts needed.
“We have what we have, because some people weren’t willing to step up and say we’ve got to make the hard decisions,” Erdman said.
The biennium budget, which runs through June 30th of 2019, totals $8.9 billion in general fund spending. It provides for a one percent growth in state spending.
State lawmakers faced a billion dollar state tax revenue shortfall when they convened. The Appropriations Committee recommended approximately $700 million in budget cuts, then took $173 Million from the state “rainy day” fund, swept cash reserves from a number of state agencies, and lowered the minimum budget reserve from 3% to 2 ½%.
The budget does increase spending on public education and corrections while adding to the Property Tax Credit Fund.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]