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Jim Scheer

Speaker Jim Scheer

Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk said Tuesday that the Legislature stands ready to respond to the storm and flood damage disaster that has swept across the state, but suggested it still is too early to assess state funding options and requirements.

"How we go about funding is the $64,000 question," Scheer said during an interview in the speaker's office.

"The needs are there, but we already have utilized (access to) the state's reserves" in meeting state budget and funding requirements, he said.

"The only way to get additional dollars would be to reduce expenditures or perhaps utilize some funds that are not being used or, if we need more money, change some tax exemptions or perhaps raise the sales tax," Scheer said.

"It depends on what kind of support may be needed," he said, as well as the time frame for meeting those needs. 

As flooding continues, damage assessments remain in flux, Scheer said. Some damage isn't even visible or can't be assessed until the waters recede, he noted.

It may be mid-April or so before a more accurate picture emerges.

Federal disaster assistance generally provides for 75 percent federal funding matched by an up to 25 percent state and local share.

Losses to Nebraska's agricultural economy from the weather disaster have been estimated to exceed $1 billion.

State highway and bridge damage exceeds $200 million; hundreds of millions of dollars of losses have impacted local government infrastructure and the private sector. 

"It will take at least several years to regain what we have lost," Scheer said.

"Patience is going to be a virtue," he said.

"The governor will have his folks come up with a game plan and try to make the state whole," Scheer said.  

Although nothing is scheduled yet, the speaker said he imagines that he and Appropriations Committee Chairman John Stinner of Gering will sit down with Gov. Pete Ricketts and the governor's team to "come up with a composite of what we are looking at."

Scheer's own community was "really lucky," he said, avoiding what first appeared to be the likelihood of extensive flooding by the Elkhorn River in Norfolk.

People were evacuated as a preventative measure, he said, "but everything held" and the city escaped serious damage.

Scheer flew with Ricketts on a damage-assessment helicopter trip across northeastern Nebraska and on to Omaha on Friday. 

"It was flooding miles-wide and continuously," he said. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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