With Economy Improving, Lawmakers Asked for More Money
From her farm in the hills of Nance County, Senator Annette Dubas sees how agriculture has boosted the state's economy.
While the improving picture has prompted many groups to petition the legislature for more money, Dubas says Nebraska is "still in recovery mode."
"And while Nebraska's weathered the economic downtown much better than most of our states across the nation, we still have to be cautious and not get too far ahead of ourselves, especially when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars," she said.
The rainy day fund has grown to nearly $400 million. The state is also collecting more taxes than expected.
Despite that, Dubas said there really isn't that much more money to go around. But that hasn't stopped people from asking.
She said, "When you didn't have money it was easy to say no, we don't have money. Now that there's money out there, there's pent up demand and people coming forward with demands."
Gov. Dave Heineman proposed cutting taxes. However, his plan to eliminate the income tax and collect more sales tax proved unpopular. Senators are regrouping, and plan to come back with a new plan next year.
At the halfway point of the 90 day session, lawmakers have yet to talk about school funding.
"And that was something we made cuts to the last several years and schools are hoping we'll pick up the pace a little bit and re–implement some dollars that were cut back on in the past. That will be one of the more spirited debates I would guess," Dubas said.
Lines have also been drawn over health care. On one side is the governor, who strongly objects to expanding Medicaid. While Senator Kathy Campbell has proposed LB 577 which would do just that.
Heineman called it "a bill to bring President Obama's massive unfunded Medicaid expansion to Nebraska."
Hospitals, doctors, the AARP and Catholic leaders all back that Medicaid expansion.
Heineman said, "To no one's surprise, liberal advocacy groups have voiced support for the optional expansion, but ultimately it would be at the expense of our state priorities, including education. What you don't hear from them is a discussion about the enormous and unsustainable costs of this expansion and who's going to pay for it."
Senator Dubas said she hasn't made up her mind, but sees it as a critical issue in both urban and rural areas.
She said, "We're paying through premiums as well as other ways for people who don't have insurance and are seeking medical services whether emergency room care or other care."
Lawmakers await an important economic forecast at the end of the month, and that's when these budget issues should really heat up. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn the first week of June.