The Legislative Session hit the half way point last week – halfway through the scheduled 60 working days. So what are the benchmarks and what is next? For senators, staff, advocates, and journalists – 60 days of session may feel like a race, but don’t be quick to compare 60 days of working to 60 minutes on the treadmill.
Unlike marathons, session isn’t about “setting a pace”. It’s more of a Warrior Dash – or a triathlon for the extreme among the group. The first ten days, that is the real push – it’s exciting – everyone is hopeful and fresh from pre-race rituals like family time and checking in with allies. Then it hits you, the hearings. Hearings can be like crawling through the mud pit or maybe a better analogy would be running through a tunnel with people hitting you with those big foam bats…
A bill you support has a hearing today and you plan on testifying. Perfect. How about a snow storm to clog the interstate? Feeling all warm and fuzzy about how great a bill will be for Nebraskans? Well, let’s just throw a giant fiscal note on it and see how that goes. Luckily, there are at least one or two people running through that same tunnel in front and behind you all aiming toward the same goal and you get to hand off the baton and share in the hearing victory or defeat. Now that we have overextended that metaphor…let’s get back to the technical.
That giant fiscal note – it’s commonly called “death by fiscal note”. After all, the official fiscal note is not published until the day before the hearing in most cases. Even if you have a general idea of the cost, there is fingernail biting until those revenue and expenditure numbers are published.
Which brings us to arguably the biggest – all too overlooked – halfway mark of the 60 day session: The February Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board Meeting. It’s more exciting than it sounds. This is when the Appropriations Committee, the rest of the Legislature, and the Governor find out if the revenue estimates that are used in budget setting will be adjusted.
A February surprise can throw off budget plans, change priorities and positive or even steady news can leave some “breathing room” for priorities. On February 26, 2016, the Forecasting Board met and raised estimates for the biennium by $30 million. How’s that for a re-fuel stop at the snack and Gatorade tent?
Don’t get too excited though, the climbing wall (all day floor debate) is up next…and hopefully that second wind.