Inside the Rotunda, Week 18

Big Decisions  
It’s show time for the Nebraska Legislature’s budget and tax packages. Tuesday afternoon, state senators will take up LB289 (Linehan), which is the Revenue Committee’s tax proposal. AM1572 contains all the key provisions, but expect further amendments on the floor. The showdown will cross party and ideological lines as a diverse array of interest groups oppose the bill. The Governor also opposes it. To many, it would appear there are currently too many in the opposition camp to create a “sweet spot” for compromise. At a briefing for senators and staff on Friday, Senator Linehan was asked about funding losses for urban schools that would occur as part of the bill. Senator Linehan didn’t dispute that urban schools would lose out, causing a few senators to scratch their heads and wonder how they could possibly support a package that would have negative consequences for their schools, while also increasing the tax burden on their low-income constituents through a sales tax shift. Among sales tax exemptions that would be eliminated are auto repairs, haircuts and plumbing, heating and air conditioning work. These are the kinds of expenses that can be particularly hard on low-income people. Meanwhile, a group is pushing for a ballot initiative that would provide a 35% refund on property taxes. Even Senator Linehan, never accused of harboring liberal leanings, calls that effort “dangerous” and drastic” because of the effects it would have on the general fund. 

After what is expected to be a rigorous tax debate Tuesday, the Legislature will dive in to the budget package on Wednesday. Expect debate to be focused on issues like Medicaid expansion, prison overcrowding, state aid for schools and Department of Health and Human Services provider rates. The budget includes a 2.5% increase in overall spending, but 3% when you include Medicaid expansion, which was approved by voters last year. No doubt the previous day’s debate on taxes will carry over into the budget discussion. Wednesday’s budget debate could last into the evening. There are seven different budget bills, so there are lots of opportunities to hold up debate and use time. 

Consent Calendar on Friday
The Speaker is scheduling consent calendar bills for Friday. As a reminder, the consent calendar mechanism provides an avenue for relatively noncontroversial bills to be considered and quickly advanced (15 minute debate time for each bill). To be eligible for consent, a bill may not have general fund impact and must have moved out of its committee without any dissenting votes. Sometimes more substantive bills can make their way on to consent if the Speaker is feeling generous. It is a fairly subjective process. Consent calendar bills will be listed on Thursday’s agenda so that everyone has a day’s notice on what the Speaker selected before they are up on Friday. 

It’s going to be an interesting week. 

Until Next Time,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall