Legislature wraps up year

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June 6th, 2013

Lincoln, NE – The scene was a stark contrast to last year, when the session ended with senators overriding several vetoes by Gov. Dave Heineman, and the governor not delivering the traditional end-of-session speech.
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This year, the governor came in on the last day and thanked lawmakers for what he said was a good session. Their work on the state budget was one thing he singled out:

“ We agreed on the most important funding issues including a tuition freeze for the University of Nebraska and our state colleges,” said Heineman. “Increased funding for K-12 education, special education and early childhood education, funding for a new central Nebraska veterans home and rebuilding the cash reserve,” said Heineman.

At the same time, Heineman pointed to an area where he disagreed with many senators:

“I want to personally thank the many senators who questioned the affordability and sustainability of expanding Medicaid,” said Heineman. “Thereby protecting middle class families from a tax increase or reductions in the funding for their children’s education,” said Heineman.

The governor’s comments came one day after advocates of expanding Medicaid vowed to renew their efforts next year.
Heineman also touched on another issue likely to dominate next year:

“In 2014 we will have the opportunity to take a giant step forward regarding tax relief and tax reform. The focus should be about lower taxes and more job creation, not higher taxes and more government spending,” said Heineman.

This year, Heineman proposed abolishing income taxes by ending sales tax exemptions. The Legislature killed the plan following heavy opposition from farm and business groups. That plan by the governor was supposed to be “revenue neutral” – not collecting any more or less in taxes overall.

Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney, chairman of the Revenue committee, has said the goal of the tax study he will lead is equity. Asked about Heineman’s recent statements about lowering taxes, Hadley said after the governor’s speech the two goals are not incompatible:

“I think one can lead to the other,” said Hadley. “Really when you talk about taxes you talk about the base times the rate. And we’re going to be spending a lot of time talking about the base – what should we be taxing? And then we can apply whatever rate we want to that base, and we can get what we need,” said Hadley.

Overall, it was a difficult session, Speaker of the Legislature Greg Adams said. But he credited lawmakers with tackling the tough issues:

We didn’t shy away from them. We debated them,” said Adams. “At times we were emotional; at times it became very divisive. But you know what? That’s what deliberative bodies in a representative democracy do. It’s not meant to be easy. It’s going to be difficult. But we didn’t back away,” said Adams.

Adams said senators were exhausted. He urged his colleagues to take a break, and then “get right back at it.” Legislators will study issues including taxes, education, Medicaid and water for the rest of the year, and then reconvene to consider all those and more next January.

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