Inside the Rotunda, Week Seven

The Fish Bowl

The thick glass wall that separates the George Norris Legislative Chamber from the Capitol Rotunda creates an almost zoo-like like atmosphere, giving everyone an opportunity to witness what is happening in the other “dimension,” but also creating mystery and intrigue.  Lobbyists watch Senators move around the Chamber, conversing, gathering votes and making their views known.  Senators and staff emerge from the Chamber to talk to lobbyists in the area directly outside the Chamber – an area sometimes called “The Fish Bowl.” Senators, staff and lobbyists often look for private areas around the Rotunda to convene, argue, strategize and sometimes work out compromises. Everyone watches what is happening on both sides of the glass.

Coming into Focus

As hearing season winds down, the slate of priority bills for this session is coming into focus. Among the bills already designated for priority are two competing property tax cut plans, including LB829 (Erdman) and LB1084 (Briese). Adding to the pressure to reach a potential compromise is a petition drive launching today to put property tax cuts on the November ballot. Any major tax bill in the Legislature will need 33 votes to overcome an almost certain filibuster.

Many look at the state’s budget situation and wonder how Nebraska can afford any tax cut at all, even as last month’s state tax receipts were 11% higher than the January forecast. The University is facing significant cuts that would have enormous consequences, including the elimination of important programs at all four campuses. Meanwhile, the Department of Corrections is still plagued by high turnovers among staff as the Legislature debates longevity pay for Corrections employees. It is clear to many senators that the state’s prisons need a significant investment.

Budget and tax issues, as well as prison issues, will dominate a large part of legislative business during the remainder of session. Another priority bill to watch out for is LB1058 (Halloran), which would open up the avenue for a constitutional convention of states, aimed at cutting government and limiting spending. Read this analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to learn why this a bad idea and how it would open up the door to all kinds of constitutional changes.

Priority Deadline

The deadline for senators and committees to submit priorities is Tuesday by adjournment (usually around noon). The Speaker will announce his 25 priorities on Wednesday. He received 72 requests, meaning a number of senators will be disappointed.

Until next time,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall