Everything must be on table as budget work begins
So it begins, the only work the Nebraska Legislature is required to do—adopt a balanced budget for the next two years.
The nine-member Appropriations Committee, five Republicans and four Democrats in the officially non-partisan Legislature, have begun public hearings with agency directors to scrutinize their spending plans and weigh them against the committee’s proposed budget and a similar document from Governor Pete Ricketts.
This is important work with the expectation that it will take $8.9 billion to fund government during the next biennium. The committee includes two bankers, two farmers, two non-profit executives, a labor educator, a retired podiatrist and a consultant.
That’s a fairly representative mix of background and expertise. They are served by veteran legislative fiscal staff and receive prompting from the fiscal analysts in the executive branch, as well.
This is difficult work given that the state’s Economic Forecasting Advisory Board predicts lower than expected revenue from taxes and has recommended that lawmakers lower spending by at least $298 million to keep things in balance.
The end result is usually a blend of ideas, often a compromise between what the legislature wants and what the governor wants. The differences make for interesting political fodder and speculation as the process heads through three rounds of debate by the full Legislature and final scrutiny by the governor.
Pressing issues such as a projected revenue shortfall of more than $1 billion and the governor’s desire to provide property tax AND income tax relief, either of which would diminish the cash flow needed to cover the shortfall.
Throw in a blaring urban-rural split—perhaps the most decisive in years—and things get complicated. Farmers are adamant about receiving property tax relief, yet they want more money for schools—and not money that’s going to come out of their pockets.
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