State lawmakers have taken the first step in dealing with declining state revenue, advancing proposed fixes to the state budget.
Legislators have advanced a spending plan meant to close a nearly $200 million revenue shortfall after some offered dire warnings, none quite as dire as that from Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus.
“You are in freefall with a noose around your neck. And you may hope and pray that there will be a gust of wind to take you back up, but you all know where you’re headed and that’s a pretty painful jerk at the end,” Schumacher told colleagues during legislative debate Tuesday on three budget bills.
Lawmakers first advanced LB 946, which approved a transfer of $100 million from the state Rainy Day Fund; down from the $108 million recommendation from Gov. Pete Ricketts. A revised revenue forecast gave the fund a $25 million injection. With the transfer, the state cash reserves will total slightly less than $300 million.
A second budget bill, LB 945, authorized the sweep of cash reserves from several state agencies, totaling $16 million.
Controversy erupted during floor debate on whether to maintain language requested by Gov. Ricketts which would restrict the distribution of federal Title X funding. The governor inserted language which would prohibit any of the federal family planning money from going to clinics which perform abortions. Opponents claimed the move was an effort by the administration to keep the money out of the hands of Planned Parenthood.
Though an amendment to modify the language was offered, it was withdrawn without a vote taken. The bill, with the language intact, advanced.
LB 944 also contained budget cuts, though cuts scaled back considerably from those recommended by the governor.
Critics complained the Appropriations Committee didn’t cut deep enough, but chair Sen. John Stinner of Gering defended backing off Ricketts’ proposed cuts even as he acknowledged risks lie ahead.
“We still have to be mindful that there are some extraordinary risks out there as it relates to the economy, as it relates to interest rates and all the things that we discussed,” Stinner told the body.
Ricketts recommended across-the-board budget cuts of 2% during the current fiscal year and 4% in the next fiscal year. The committee scaled back the second round of cuts to 1%.
The budget bills must clear two more rounds of voting to head to the governor’s desk.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]