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The Legislature's Appropriations Committee offered a preliminary budget to senators Wednesday after working through numbers handed down by Gov. Pete Ricketts in January. 

The $9.4 billion in general fund spending detailed in the preliminary budget tracks closely to Ricketts' proposals, said Appropriations Chairman John Stinner. 

The Appropriations Committee offered about $24.5 million more in spending than the governor's proposal, a 3.3 percent increase. 

But looming over those budget figures is a meeting Thursday morning of the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board, which by all indications will lower the projected revenue available for this budget period. 

Stinner emphasized to senators on Wednesday morning that the budget proposal was preliminary because "the world may change on Thursday depending on the (forecast) numbers."

"We're anticipating a fairly significant decrease in the forecast," Stinner said. 

The revenue collections were down $16 million for February with two days to go, he said. That's consistent with revenue slowdowns in November, December and January. 

If the forecast goes down, the committee will have to start cutting the budget, he said, and while he has ideas, those cuts will be based on the committee's priorities. 

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The governor's priorities in his proposal were for full funding of state aid to schools, Department of Corrections increases, Medicaid expansion funding and property tax credits. 

The preliminary budget offered Wednesday lays out the nine-member Appropriations Committee's priorities, he said, and how it differs from the governor's proposal.

The committee will have a final budget recommendation after hearing from the forecasting board and it has a series of hearings with state agencies about their individual budget requests, which began Wednesday. 

One of the committee's priorities was to restore some funding for Department of Health and Human Services service providers. In the last budget, the Legislature took about $58 million out of those provider rates. The committee proposed restoring that $58 million and including a bit of a rate increase, in the end giving providers about $39 million more for increases than the governor did. 

The committee backed down aid to public schools by about $38.5 million from Ricketts' proposal, with $26 million in savings coming from a bill (LB588) introduced by Stinner.

Renee Fry of the OpenSky Policy Institute commented at a hearing Wednesday on the governor's budget proposal as to the $51 million annual property tax credit fund increase, bringing the total to $272 million a year. The Appropriations Committee, in its proposed budget, left that amount intact.

Fry said that given the pending news from the forecasting board, the Appropriations Committee should leave the property tax issue to the Revenue Committee, especially because the committee may have to make tough choices if the revenue projections move downward.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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