The head of the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee had a simple message for fellow lawmakers Friday: The state does not have enough money to pay for all of the new spending being proposed in dozens of bills.
“Ultimately, the Legislature cannot spend money it doesn't have," said Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha. "The state does not have a blank checkbook. We cannot simply write checks for legislation we like.”
The committee earlier submitted a $7.8 billion preliminary budget for the two years beginning in July.
But Mello said there likely only will be about $18 million left for new projects and programs proposed in scores of new bills. So he told senators who introduced bills with new spending proposals to prepare to pare down the so-called "A-bills" -- that call for spending money -- or risk an up-or-down vote on the measures.
That $18 million easily could be swallowed by any one of several pending bills.
Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, for example, has a bill (LB96) that would put Nebraska agricultural machinery repair businesses on par with surrounding states by exempting purchases of repair and replacement parts for agricultural equipment from sales and use tax. It would cost the state some $17 million over two years.
"Not all A-bills and not all pieces of legislation will pass, because there is only a set amount of money available," Mello said. "On every bill and every piece of legislation, (you) will have to consider ways to reduce its fiscal cost.
"I will probably be repeating this statement ... on pretty much every senator's bill," he said. "Ultimately, the Legislature cannot spend money it doesn't have. The question becomes: What are the priorities of this Legislature?"