Session hits half-way mark, plenty of work remains
March 11th, 2011
Lincoln, NE – When the Nebraska Legislature resumes Monday, it will be the 45th day of the scheduled 90-day session. Senators have identified their priority bills, and will begin debating the issues that will dominate the rest of the session.As the Legislature reaches the halfway point of its 2011 session, some of the high profile proposals it was expected to deal with appear off the table. An Arizona-style immigration bill is bottled up in committee. So is a bill to return to the winner-take-all system of electoral college votes. And proposals for state regulation of oil pipelines, like the one proposed through the Sandhills, are apparently going nowhere.
But thereâ€™s still plenty left on the plate. This week was the deadline for senators and committees to identify their priority bills, which will be scheduled for debate ahead of others. Looking over those lists, legislative Speaker Mike Flood sees lots of dollar signs.
â€œYouâ€™re going to see a lot of bills that eliminate, reduce, or otherwise modify state spending,â€ she said. â€œEspecially from the health committee, certainly from the transportation committee, the education committee has already moved a number of bills. So job number one down here is reducing state spending to address a gap in the budget.â€
Among the bills with the biggest impact on the budget gap is one to change state aid to schools. As introduced, it would reduce that aid by more than $300 million compared to what the formula currently in state law would call for. Total state dollars going to education would still increase, but with the loss of federal stimulus dollars, the total amount going to schools from non property tax sources would decline.
At the same time, there are plenty of priority bills that would authorize spending more money, or tapping new sources to avoid cuts. Among them is one to let cities increase local sales taxes by half a percent, with a vote of the people. Another bill would set aside half a cent of the existing sales tax and authorize up to $500 million in bonds for road construction.
Still another would let counties use their sales tax authority for roads and public safety capital improvements. There are also proposals to increase fees for using parks and courts. And thereâ€™s one to put a new tax on nursing homes, with the idea of generating more federal matching funds. Flood still gets to name 25 more proposals as Speaker priority bills by Monday, when the Legislature resumes its business.
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