State lawmakers attempting to overturn Gov. Pete Ricketts’ line-item budget vetoes have fallen short of the votes they needed to restore $32.7 million to the budget the legislature approved earlier.
Sen. John Stinner of Gering, chair of the Appropriations Committee, brought recommendations to override the governor’s budget vetoes to the floor Wednesday morning; first an attempt to restore $300,000 to probation services, then and attempt to restore $32.4 million to reimburse Medicaid providers, including hospitals, mental health providers, and agencies which care for the developmentally disabled.
The attempt to override the governor’s veto of $300,000 from probation services couldn’t even muster a majority, going down to defeat on a 23-25 vote.
The attempt to restore provider reimbursements came much closer and sparked much sharper comments during legislative floor debate. It still failed on a 27-to-21 vote, falling three votes short of the 30 needed to override a gubernatorial veto.
Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha told colleagues the three percent cut to providers would have a profound effect on nursing homes, on recruiting doctors to rural Nebraska, and on rural hospitals. Hilkemann urged colleagues to dip into the state “rainy day” fund rather than cut provider rates.
“Are we broke?” Hilkemann asked the body. “No, we’re not broke.”
But, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn responded a bit later in legislative floor debate that the financial situation is dire.
“Somebody asked a minute ago if we are broke,” Linehan stated. “And I thought to myself, well not yet, not yet.”
Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha rejected the notion that the state didn’t have the money to restore the provider rates.
“We have money,” McDonnell said. “We have money to help those people. We have $350 million in a rainy day fund and it’s definitely raining. So, now the decision we have to make is based on the desire to help people; we’ve got the programs out there to help people, and we have the money, how are we going to spend it?”
The legislature had kept provider rates flat in the budget it approved.
Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston argued budget cuts enacted by the governor would do real harm.
“Aid to individuals is 32% of our state budget,” Riepe pointed out. “I’m all for a smaller government and being fiscally conservative, but I feel we are no longer trimming the fat.”