Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer regrets hot button issues kept the legislature from focusing on the spending priorities of the state budget.
Big disagreements on spending federal family planning money and proposed cuts to the University of Nebraska dominated discussion on the state budget.
Speaker Scheer, a state senator from Norfolk says that changed the focus.
“There were an awful lot of things in there (the budget bills) other than just higher education dollars and Title X wording and we really didn’t get an opportunity to discuss that,” Scheer tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Others made similar suggestions about the budget debate this year.
A nearly $175 million decline in state revenue from the projections upon which the $8.8 billion biennium budget was based combined with an increase of more than $55 million in child welfare service costs forced legislators to find savings and dip into cash reserves to shore up the budget approved a year ago.
Budget concerns overshadowed legislative work during the short, 60-day session.
Initially, much of the attention turned to Gov. Pete Ricketts’ proposal to cut the higher education budget, including the budget for the University of Nebraska, by 4% in the next fiscal year. The legislature’s Appropriations Committee backed off the proposal, trimming the cuts down to a 1% decrease.
Then, the focus turned to language Gov. Ricketts inserted in the budget bill restricting the use of nearly $2 million in federal Title X funding. Protests from enough legislators to the language twice derailed approval of the main budget bill. The bill cleared the legislature only after lawmakers agree to compromise language, even though that compromise still would keep the money out of the hands of Planned Parenthood.
Scheer says a decline in farm income led to a drastic drop in state revenue.
“Agriculture is having a harder time than it has in the past,” Scheer says. “Certainly, when crop prices were at their historical highs (it) helped our budget substantially and that has cooled, and it is much tougher to turn a profit in agriculture. I get that.”
Scheer does see things beginning to turn around.
Legislators agreed to transfer $100 million from cash reserves, sweep $16 million from various fund balances, and enact 2% across-the-board budget cuts both this fiscal year and next year for most state agencies. The University of Nebraska system will see cuts of 2% this year and 1% next year.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]