Budget cuts will wait, but Nebraska lawmakers 'buckle down' to get things done

Rural senators talk on the first day of the Nebraska Legislature's 2018 session. Pictured are Senators John Kuehn, Mike Groene, Curt Friesen, and Tom Briese (NTV News)

The Nebraska legislative session begins under a cloud, with more budget cuts to make. Those decisions will wait, but lawmakers say they're not wasting time.

“We need to buckle down and make sure we get the things that need to be done, finished by the 60th day,” said Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango.

One absolute is addressing a budget shortfall of around $200 million, but senators will wait for economists to weigh in.

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson said, “The new revenue forecast comes in in February, there's no reason to get excited. If that one has an upturn in revenue, our problem won't be near as severe. If it has a downturn, then we have a more serious problem.”

Hughes said senators will be cautious about spending money from their emergency savings.

He said, “We're very fortunate in Nebraska we do have a lot of money in our rainy day fund but I'm not advocating we take very much of that.”

The budget is set two years at a time. 2018's numbers are set, but may have to be tweaked during this short, 60-day session.

Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard said, “We will whine and cry about it for 30 days, and then there will be 20 days of filibuster, whatever that may be, and then we'll have ten days to get something done.”

Last year, lawmakers debated their internal rules for weeks.

This year, the speaker announced the intent is to begin debate on major issues soon.

Friesen said, “I know a lot of people have bills ready to go, I would say we'll be on track to keep our record in that 12 to 1,400 bills.”

Budget cuts and tax reform are guaranteed, but senators say unexpected issues always arise.

“At time theater and at times drama on the legislative floor, so it is an extremely interesting place to work,” Hughes said.

He said it’s not really Democrat versus Republican or urban versus rural.

“Although you do see that occasionally. Majority of things we deal with we come together as lawmakers as senators for the state and try to find the best solution we can,” he said.

At the top of the list for rural senators is property tax relief and how to do that without hurting education.

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