Cutting nearly $1 billion from the state budget is a thankless job, but someone had to do it.
The nine-member Appropriations Committee kicked off this legislative session with that unenviable task, as an anticipated $900 million shortfall awaited them. Despite the obstacles, the senators made innumerable difficult decisions in constructing the balanced budget required by the state constitution.
Chairman Sen. John Stinner of Gering did an admirable job navigating the committee through choppy waters. He and the other eight senators serving on Appropriations — in alphabetical order, Sens. Kate Bolz, Robert Clements, Robert Hilkemann, John Kuehn, Mike McDonnell, Tony Vargas, Dan Watermeier and Anna Wishart — crafted a compromise biennium budget.
Disappointing forecasts for state tax revenues trickled in during the debate. Higher education, human services and a variety of tax-reform efforts took their lumps both by the committee and other senators before the mainline budget bill advanced to the full Legislature on a 6-3 vote.
The end result seemed to excite few while being grudgingly accepted by many, a sign of success in politics.
Despite the committee’s arduous work on it, the appropriations bill was opposed by a small contingent of senators who felt the cuts weren’t yet deep enough.
On final reading, the budget passed, albeit without the 33 senators needed to trigger the emergency clause to make it active upon the governor’s signature. Had it passed in that state, Nebraska wouldn’t have had a budget for nearly two months. A motion to reconsider finally garnered enough support for the appropriations bill to take effect immediately.
Even then, Gov. Pete Ricketts used his line-item veto power to strike $56.5 million in expenditures from the budget. Though the committee moved to override a few of Ricketts’ vetoes — joined by a few other senators on single items — none of those efforts yielded the 30 votes needed for an override. Getting to a budget was difficult. Successfully battling on the floor for its passage was a win for the committee, while the failed override efforts represented a loss for the majority who supported the attempts.
But, hey — that’s representative democracy at its best. Nebraskans elected these 49 men and women to represent them in Lincoln, and the budget crunch surely led to both wins and losses for all senators.
As the first year of this tense legislative session approaches its scheduled conclusion Tuesday, the real-life applications of this two-year budget are just beginning to be felt. This budget was the result of a tedious slog that hit but overcame many roadblocks along the way.
Accordingly, the Appropriations Committee deserves plaudits for excelling at its difficult work in this trying session.