Inside the Rotunda, Week Two

The Elephant in the Room

As a proposed ban on elephant and rhinoceros ivory sales failed to advance in the George Norris legislative chamber last week, it was perhaps symbolic of another big elephant looming in the shadows – tax cuts.

The Governor outlined a plan in his state of the state last week that lowers income taxes while attempting to sweeten the deal for a rural contingent of senators who are demanding property tax cuts.  The plan has received mixed reviews thus far. Rumors indicate Senator Briese is about to unveil a compromise plan for a package that would eliminate sales tax exemptions, with those dollars going to fund property tax cuts and investments in education. Coalition members may want to play close attention to the potential impacts of those proposals to both education and poverty in Nebraska.

Meanwhile, another growing elephant in the room hangs over the budget deficit package as Governor Ricketts has proposed ending Title X funding for health clinics that provide abortions. This puts funding for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland at risk. The battle in the Appropriations Committee and the battle on the floor could get volatile.

The Dreaded Fiscal Note

Lean budget times like these provide additional challenges to senators and staff as they work to create proposals that don’t carry fiscal costs. The dreaded “fiscal note” places a price tag on each bill prior to its public hearing, sometimes rendering the bill “dead on arrival” if there is a cost or if the cost is more than minimal. So just where do these fiscal notes come from and who determines what they are? The Legislative Fiscal Office. That’s who.

Among the duties of the Fiscal Office is to determine the cost of a bill. Fiscal analysts research and seek input from relevant government agencies to make this determination. When the Fiscal Office determines a bill will likely have an expenditure impact on the state, the fiscal note becomes the basis for the “A” bills, which are companion bills to the substantive legislation.

Overhead in the Chamber

Leave it to Senator Paul Schumacher to provide a bit of levity during the debate on ivory sales this week, making a tongue-in-cheek reference to his own protection in the Legislature. The maverick Senator was referring to his own, sometimes perceived, status as a Republican in Name Only (RINO).

Elephants, rhinos and tax scares, oh my!

Until next time,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall