The 106th Nebraska Legislative Session commenced on Jan. 8. This session is referred to as the ‘short session’ because it is only 60 days long. Even though it is only 60 days, nearly 500 bills have been introduced. They will all be given a hearing as required by law.
The session will be dominated by two major pieces of legislation. First, the Revenue Committee has worked diligently on proposing a major property tax relief bill which provides for approximately $500 million over three years. This is in addition to the $275 million already in the property tax relief fund. This bill (LB 974) was given a hearing by the Revenue Committee on January 22. In short, the bill would provide a dollar-for-dollar reduction in K-12 property taxes with state aid.
The second major piece of legislation is LB 720 which is the state’s major incentive program bill to replace our current business incentive package which sunsets this year. I believe our state would be severely diminished in its ability to attract and retain businesses to Nebraska without passage of this bill. Senator Mark Kolterman has done a wonderful job crafting this bill by consulting the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and many other organizations that have helped create this package. I expect both LB 974 and LB 720 to be up for debate very soon.
There are several other issues facing us this session; however, there is good news: December receipts were well over the certified forecast and currently stands at $178 million. These funds are scheduled by law to go into the Rainy Day Fund. This should bring the fund to over $500 million which is the minimum reserve our state needs to maintain.
The Governor released his Mid-Biennium Budget Recommendations last week. I first want to personally thank the Governor for including $3.8 million to help assist in the temporary repair of the tunnels that collapsed as a part of the Ft. Laramie canal failure this past summer. This irrigation failure affected thousands of acres in Scotts Bluff County. Other priorities include $53 million for disaster relief in response to last year’s flooding and $9.2 million to help counties to cover additional costs associated with the floods. The Governor also recommended up to $16 million towards workforce development.
As you may remember, the Legislature passed a Biennial Budget last year that would fund the Nebraska government from July 1st, 2019 until June 30th, 2021. But over time, agencies’ financial needs may change, and the state’s collected revenue may be more or less than the Economic Forecasting Board previously predicted. Those predictions are what shaped the Biennial Budget. Now, in the so-called ‘off-year,’ the Legislature must adjust the original budget to fit these changes. In effect, if the original budget was a four-story building on 20th and Broadway, the Mid-Biennial Budget is a remodel of the fourth floor – and perhaps an additional fifth floor.
The Governor’s recommendation is the first step in the budget process for a ‘short session.’ Next, the Appropriations Committee – of which I am honored to serve as Chairman – will meet this week to discuss the Governor’s recommendations, look over adjustment requests from agencies and come up with suggestions for what to do with any surplus revenue.
Then, the Committee will hold hearings; first, to hear the Governor’s budget recommendations, then to hear the agencies’ requests for changes to their original appropriations from the original budget. After that, the Committee will meet again multiple times to decide what recommendations will be made to the full Legislature. The deadline for the Committee to put any new budget bill onto General File is the 40th legislative day – or, March 12th. Just as we did last year, the bill(s) will then require passage on General File, Select File and Final Reading (the three-step process used for every piece of legislation in the Unicameral). After passage on Final Reading, the only remaining step is the Governor’s signature.
I will be carrying several pieces of legislation, and you may have already heard about a few of them. I will detail these in my next letter. Until then, if you have any questions, concerns or comments, you are welcome to email me or call my office at 402-471-2802.