Hard choices on the line at Capitol

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January 5th, 2011

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Legislators are back in session today, and the work begins to plug a $1 billion shortfall (Photo courtesy Mawhamba, Wikimedia)

Lincoln, NE – The Nebraska Legislature begins its 2011 session today. And there’s a short list of things lawmakers have to do, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy.

Budgeting, and redistricting. Those are the two things legislative Speaker Mike Flood says lawmakers have to get done this year. Just as in alternating years since 1987, senators must approve a spending plan for the next two fiscal years.

What makes it hard this time around is a projected gap of nearly $1 billion. That reflects the difference between how much the state expects to collect at current tax rates, on the one hand, and how much it’s projected to spend to maintain current programs, on the other. Obviously, something has to give, and the talk for now is all about spending cuts: reducing school aid, cutting Medicaid payments to doctors, hospitals and nursing homes, and so on. By mid-May, lawmakers and the governor will have to agree on a plan. Meanwhile, the state will have received detailed local population numbers from the Census by April 1st, and work will begin on redrawing political district boundaries. Census figures are expected to show population continuing to shift from rural to urban areas, sparking partisan and parochial battles over how to accommodate that shift. Beyond these must-dos are a host of other proposals that senators will introduce for debate. They include everything from an Arizona-style law against illegal immigrants, to further restrictions on abortion, to expanded family planning services. The legislative session is scheduled to end June 8th.

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