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Ricketts praises lawmakers for "Nebraska grit" in balancing budget

2017 legislature.jpg

Lawmakers have answered the billion-dollar question, but call it quits for 2017 with unfinished business.

“We demonstrated Nebraska grit,” Governor Pete Ricketts said, as he provided closing remarks.

He praised lawmakers for prioritizing schools and prisons as part of a balanced budget.

He said, “We have done something that is unprecedented. It has not happened in recent memory that we passed two budget bills in one session.”

Governor Ricketts said lawmakers deserve credit for dealing with an immediate shortfall in the current fiscal year, while also closing the projected gap in the budget for the next two years.

“What we were able to accomplish is close that $900 million problem we were talking about, balance the budget, have a three percent reserve to cushion us all without raising taxes,” he told us in a one-on-one interview in his office.

If the economy continues to stumble, the governor tells us he hasn't ruled out a special session to make deeper cuts.

Senators say the cuts they've already made have been painful.

Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg said, “We tried to do as little harm as possible but I tell you when you're looking at cuts they affect people, that affect provider rates, that affect the University of Nebraska, a lot of things important to us.”

The budget was just one element in a tough year. Lawmakers spent about a third of their session debating their own rules.

“This is the most unusual session I've been involved with,” Williams said.

The legislature's senior member closed with one of his trademark “Erniegrams” about the year.

Sen. Ernie Chambers said, “More than four decades ago was my first, far and away this session was worst.”

Senators say the divide was sometimes along partisan lines (in the officially non-partisan unicameral), and at other times a rural/urban split stymied legislation.

Sen. Curt Friesen said, “This year was probably the toughest, yeah. We thought we were going to get a few things done and we ran into a lot of roadblocks again, so it was really frustrating.”

But the governor credits lawmakers for doing the hard work to shore up the state's finances, while also streamlining government.

Many rural lawmakers leave with a sense of unfinished business, as two property tax relief bills failed.

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