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Nebraska lawmakers approve new $9.3 billion, two-year budget

By GRANT SCHULTEMay 21, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers approved a new $9.3 billion, two-year budget Tuesday despite objections from some fiscal conservatives who wanted to cut spending and take money from the state’s flagship university.

The main budget bill won final approval on a 35-12 vote. It now heads to Gov. Pete Ricketts, who can approve it, reject it or use his line-item veto power to cut specific items.

The budget includes $51 million annual boost to the state’s property tax credit fund, which is used to reduce the total amount owed on property tax bills. It also boosts funding for health care, child welfare and behavioral health services.

State spending under the new budget will increase by an average of 2.9% per year, which is less than the 3.1% increase proposed by Ricketts. Some lawmakers complained that that budget doesn’t call for spending cuts, although others noted that it follows two years of belt-tightening due to sluggish tax collections.

“I’m not at all pleased with this budget,” said Sen. Steve Erdman, of Bayard, a member of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee. “We continue to spend more year after year.”

Erdman, a frequent critic of the University of Nebraska, proposed an amendment that would have taken $7.3 million away from the university and given it to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The money is slated for employee salaries and rising utility costs. Erdman argued that students and professors are younger than nursing home residents and better able to handle the cut.

Senators rejected the attempt to shift the money, saying both were important priorities.

“There’s no running a nursing home without nurses. There’s no running a nursing home without doctors,” said Sen. Kate Bolz, of Lincoln, another committee member. “The University of Nebraska trains over half of Nebraska’s 11,000 doctors, dentists and health professionals.”

Bolz said lawmakers were treating the university “in a very fair, even-handed manner,” and noted that salaries at its campuses are either below or on par with the averages of peer universities.

Sen. Anna Wishart, of Lincoln, said pulling the money away from the university would shift the costs onto students in the form of higher tuition at a time when Nebraska is struggling to attract and keep young people.

“That is not acceptable to me,” she said.

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