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State Senators debate, advance $9 billion budget

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LINCOLN — Senators passed two state budget bills July 31, including $55.2 million for damage from the 2019 floods, $10 million to the rural workforce housing investment fund and $3.7 million increase in developmental disability provider rates.

LB1008, presented by Speaker Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk at the request of Gov. Pete Ricketts, is the $9.4 billion mainline state budget bill. After final reading, bills are submitted to the governor. The governor must sign, veto or line item veto the budget within five calendar days, excluding Sunday.

Before the Nebraska Legislature’s session was suspended in March, the Legislature passed an Appropriations Committee amendment to replace LB1008. The amendment included $55.2 million to address damage from the 2019 floods and provisions for 19 additional bills costing $15.2 million.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature expected to have $133.8 million leftover to fund bills pertaining to property tax relief and business incentives. After the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board met July 23, the board projected approximately $89 million will be available for the legislative floor to fund bills like property tax relief and business incentives.

The Legislature may still debate property tax relief and business incentives. According to the Clerk of the Legislature’s office, the introducers of these bills need to prove to the speaker that they have 33 votes for the bill to be placed on the agenda for further debate.

On July 31, Sen. Justin Wayne introduced a motion to delay consideration of LB1008 until Aug. 11. The motion failed. Wayne wanted to wait to pass the budget bill until Congress recesses Aug. 7. He said this would give the Legislature time to discuss additional federal funds.

“We shouldn’t pass a budget when we know within the next 14 days there could be an influx of dollars that would go right back to relief for COVID-19,” Wayne said.

Sen. John Stinner of Gering, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, proposed an amendment on July 27 to LB1008 that was adopted 33-0. The amendment would allow any leftover coronavirus relief funds identified as of Nov. 15, 2020, to be reoffered through a grant process to meet unmet needs, if allowed by federal law.

Stinner said the funds received by the federal government in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act, have to be spent by Dec. 31, 2020, or returned to the federal government.

The session is scheduled through Aug. 13.