Roads bill steamrolls through


April 20th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – A roads construction bill moved to within one vote of final passage in the Nebraska Legislature.

It was another day of being squashed under a legislative steamroller for opponents of the roads construction bill. In its latest form, LB84 would set aside one quarter cent of the state sales tax – about $65 million a year – for road construction. The money wouldn’t start to be set aside until 2013. Governor Dave Heineman has said it’s too early to be making financial commitments for that far in the future, especially considering economic uncertainty. And he’s warned that reserving a part of the existing tax base for roads could mean shorting other programs, like education and health. That’s found the Republican governor with some unlikely political bedfellows, like Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, a Democrat.

Lawmakers pushed a bill to increase funds for roads construction, despite opposition from the Governor (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

“Very rarely do the governor and myself wholeheartedly agree on any particular issue,” Mello said. “And it’s unique that this legislative session it appears we’ve agreed on more than we have the last two years, and this is another one of those examples, where fiscally we can wait to enact LB84 next year.”

Heineman acknowledged the unlikeliness of his allies on this issue, and kept a straight face, mostly, in suggesting it might be the start of a trend.

“It’s a unique situation, I’ll say that,” Heineman said. “And I’m glad to know that certain members of the Legislature are beginning to understand the wisdom that comes out of the governor’s office and they’re now quoting me rather frequently on the floor. I hope they remember that on a couple of other bills that are coming up in the near future.”

For her part, Fischer, also a Republican, wasn’t buying any suggestions of delay in setting aside more money for roads, no matter where those suggestions came from.

“We need to act now because we haven’t acted in the past. It’s always next year,” Fischer said. “It’s always “What’s the rush?” We need to act now and I’d say if members want to act now and put that quarter cent in that new fund, I’d support that.”

Legislators rejected a move to postpone further consideration of the bill until next year. They then voted 36-12 to give the bill second round approval. Eleven of the 12 “no” votes came from Democrats. The governor refused to say if he will veto the bill, but if he did, he’d need to peel off seven votes from among those who supported it in the latest vote to avoid an override.

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