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With the long session of the Legislature complete, Sen. Dan Hughes has rejoined his son, Tyler, and daughter,  Ashley Colglazier, in the operation of their family farm in northwest Chase County. (Johnson  Publications photo)

Senator Hughes completes third session in Unicameral

Having to balance two budgets makes for tough session, senator says

    Like every Nebraska legislative session, senators experience highs and lows. That played out again this year for 44th District Senator Dan Hughes of Venango.
    Hughes just completed his third session of the Legislature and will finish his first term next year during the 60-day short session.
    Hughes said this week he will seek re-election to the seat he won in 2014. As of now, no challengers have emerged but the election is still nearly a year away.
Highs and lows
    For Hughes, the most encouraging result of the session came in the fact that a comprehensive tax plan made it out of committee and onto the floor for discussion.
    Granted, the bill did not advance, which disappointed Hughes. Major legislation like this sometimes never makes it out of committee, he noted.
    The mere fact the bill got to the floor for discussion represented a huge accomplishment, the senator said this week.
    “We learned some lessons this year and will come back at it next year,” he said.
    Hughes said one of his goals will be to put more emphasis on property tax relief than income tax relief.
    He’s said often his primary reason in running for the Legislature was to seek property tax relief.
    He plans to continue pursuing that next session, as well.
    The lows for the session dealt with having to pass two budgets this session—the first to balance the current budget year that ends June 30 and the second to craft a new two-year budget bill.
    Nebraska’s constitution does not allow the Legislature to adopt a negative-balance budget.
    That meant cutting nearly $1 billion from the budget to keep it in balance.
    Gov. Pete Ricketts said over the weekend it’s possible senators could be called back for a special session for more budget cutting if state tax revenues don’t improve.
    Hughes said those circumstances made for a tough legislative session.
    Another downside came from the state raiding nearly every cash fund in state government to come up with money to balance the budget.
    While most government agencies saw cuts to the growth of their budgets, senators approved increases to state aid to schools and prison funding.
    Health and Human Services didn’t get any of the increases they had budgeted for.
State aid formula broken
    Since going to Lincoln, Hughes said the formula to calculate state aid to schools is broken.
    When it was originally developed nearly 30 years ago, Hughes said senators never anticipated growth of property valuations in a particular class. That particular class just happens to be ag property.
    Statewide, ag valuations increased by more than 200 percent in a short span of three to four years.
    That meant less school state aid for those rural districts with high property valuations.
    Hughes said urban senators  don’t see a problem with the formula because they haven’t seen the kind of valuation increases that occurred in ag land.
    Had those increases occurred in the urban housing market, Hughes held little doubt the formula would have been re-worked.

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