When a temperature above zero feels like a heat wave, you appreciate the strength and tenacity of Nebraska’s people - and livestock. My dad always said that over a long enough period of time, the weather evens out back to average. Here’s hoping that doesn’t have to happen this summer.
The Appropriations Committee is still meeting in both the morning and afternoon. When we have heard from all state agencies and finished hearing the bills sent to our committee, we will work on putting together a budget to present to the full Legislature. At this point, we hope to have that finished up by early to mid March.
Two of my own bills were heard by the Appropriations Committee on Friday. LB 361 would allocate funds to the Department of Education to be used by our state’s Educational Service Units (ESU). ESUs were established by the Legislature in 1965 to provide more cost effective services for school districts through a cooperative effort. There are 17 service units across the state which are funded through grants, contracts for services with schools, and through a 1.5 cent levy of property tax. Ten years ago the budget for the ESUs was about $15.5 million. Due to budget cuts throughout the last decade, the ESU budget was down to $13.3 million in 2020. Like every other entity, the ESUs have seen increases in salaries, the cost of health insurance, and increased operational expenses. This bill would begin to bring the ESUs back to the level of funding they had ten years ago.
LB 103 is a short, simple bill that could have a big impact on Gage County. I introduced this bill after several months of discussion with the county board and state government officials. The bill would appropriate $2 million in fiscal year 2021-22, and another $2 million in FY 2022-23, to any county that has a judgment in excess of $25 million rendered against it by a federal court for a violation of federal law, if the total cost of the judgment is equal to 20% or more of the county’s annual budget. The money could only be used in payment of such a judgment.
Three members of the Gage County Board and one from the Chamber/Tourism testified in support and did an excellent job of presenting the perspective of local government, local businesses, and individual taxpayers. The director of NACO (Nebraska Association of County Officials) also testified in support. There were no opponents.
As I explained to the committee, on January 1st of this year, Gage county had paid around $14.2 million towards the federal judgment in the “Beatrice Six” case. That leaves roughly $16.8 million remaining to be paid, including interest and legal fees. The award of about $5.9 million from insurance really helped accelerate paying off the judgment. The new sales tax, which includes revenue from anyone passing through Gage county and making a purchase, should generate near $1.5 million in the first year. That also helped speed up the process of paying off the judgment. However, property tax collections have dropped a bit due to lower property values, from around $3.8 million to around $3.25 million. While that may sound beneficial, in the long run it slows down completion of the payments, meaning the levy stays at the maximum and the sales tax continues until the judgment is paid off.
In discussions with state officials, it was clear that no additional assistance would be considered until all other avenues of paying the judgement were exhausted. With the insurance claim settled, we have now reached that point. All the legal aspects of the case are over, and only the payment remains.
As I visit with fellow senators, they are all very aware of the economic burden on Gage county residents. There are senators who believe the state should pay the entire judgment, those who feel the state should help in part, and those who believe the county should be entirely responsible and receive no state funds.
The success of this bill will depend on working with enough senators to support the effort, other budget requests, and on the revenue predictions that will come from the State Economic Advisory Board on February 26th. So far, the state economy and revenues have been strong in spite of the pandemic. I will work diligently to educate my fellow senators on the importance of this bill and the impact it will have on District 30.
Email continues to be the best way to reach me with your concerns and opinions. Your communication is appreciated as it educates and raises awareness on general issues and specific bills. Thank you for contacting me. firstname.lastname@example.org 402-471-2620