AP NEWS

Mainline budget bill impeded by filibuster

May 15, 2019

It took a full day of budget discussion Tuesday, and the Legislature still wasn’t able to advance its mainline $9.3 million spending bill to final reading.

Senators did, however, get to debate a lot of different aspects of state spending: prisons, property tax cuts and how credits are distributed, nursing homes, Medicaid providers, the University of Nebraska, and medical research.

Five of seven of the budget bills advanced, but two were left hanging when budget supporters fell two votes short of the needed 33 votes to force a vote on the mainline budget bill (LB294) after three late afternoon hours of talk.

As a result, the mainline bill is scheduled again for debate Wednesday night at 9:30 p.m., after senators debate Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart’s medicinal cannabis bill (LB110).

A number of senators had filed amendments on the mainline budget bill: Sens. Kate Bolz, Andrew La Grone, Robert Clements and Steve Erdman. Five are still pending and three were withdrawn.

Budget supporters wanted to avoid getting to Clements’ amendment that would have stripped funding for development of a strategic study of nursing home sustainability and future trends amid statewide access to the increasing demands for an aging population. The Department of Health and Human Services already completed a long-term care redesign study, Clements said, and spending more money on more study was unnecessary.

Erdman said the failure to get cloture to vote on the budget without the amendment was good.

“We need to start making some decisions here that make sense, and not slip things in under the door,” he said referring to the addition of the long-term care sustainability study.

One of the amendments that was withdrawn on Tuesday would have reduced increases for the University of Nebraska. The budget contained salary increases of 2 percent for faculty, based on agreements with bargaining units at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and 2.2 percent for all other employees. The committee also offered a 2 percent increase in funding for utilities.

Appropriations Chairman John Stinner defended the money earmarked for university salary and utility increases.

“Higher education. I’m sorry, I’m aspirational,” he said. “I want the University of Nebraska to be the best they can be. I want the state colleges to be the best they can be.”

Previously, the state took away 8.5% from the university, he said.

Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell said it seems the university is constantly under attack. “And I don’t quite understand that,” he said.

In his South Omaha district, he has 536 Nebraska students, 1,954 alumni, and 159 university employees.

“It’s staggering what that university is doing for our state, and it seems like we’re not giving them credit,” he said. “The university is doing a great job for our young people and for the future of the state of Nebraska.”

Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, whose District 27 holds four prisons and 51 percent of the inmate population in the state, said the Department of Corrections was bleeding prison employees because of low wages, high amounts of overtime and little or no merit raises.

“I am thrilled that with LB294 we are able to finally put money into raises for correctional officers and some form of longevity pay (but) it’s not enough,” she said.