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.
#NebraskaStrong photos, videos
Nebraska City aerial
Operation Prairie Hay Drop photos
The #NEGuard has been supporting the ongoing response in Eastern Nebraska following massive flooding on the state’s river systems which began a week ago and caused catastrophic damage to the state’s infrastructure and agriculture.— NE National Guard (@NENationalGuard) March 21, 2019
(3/3)#NebraskaFlood #NebraskaStrong pic.twitter.com/N4zQ2zu2Zx
Missouri River at Nebraska 2/I-29
View of the Platte/Missouri
Edge of Offutt
North Bend ovation
Pence with rescuers
Americans like Brad Brown & his airboat co-pilot Jake Rohr are the heart of the heartland. Brad & Jake have been helping victims of the flooding & delivering much needed supplies. Grateful for their service & ALL the volunteers & emergency personnel helping Nebraskans in need! pic.twitter.com/l2PxhwX6a4— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) March 20, 2019
Lincoln help for Santee Sioux
Buying out the bleach
Help from North Platte
@GitRDoneLarry— Chandra Laine (@ChandraLaine) March 20, 2019
We are a group of volunteers gathering donations in North Platte Ne . We sent one semi to Fremont. We have two more semi trailers almost full.Get our 4th semi on Thursday. To the people, Your battle is our battle. We stand with you. We got you! ❤ #NebraskaStrong pic.twitter.com/wsDRTr0Tr9
Help for farmers
Thanks to generious donations to the Disaster Relief Fund, we were able to deliver supplies to farmers along the Niobrara River. We brought them milk replacement for calves and medicine. Help us do more good by donating to the fund: https://t.co/sFi40cxnwG #nebraskastrong pic.twitter.com/dAGUYDKFpo— Nebraska Farm Bureau (@NEFarmBureau) March 20, 2019
Niobrara ice chunks
Sandbagging at Cooper
Pence in Nebraska
Visited the relief shelter at Elkhorn Middle School today to let the Nebraska flood victims know @POTUS and I are WITH them & to thank the incredible military personnel & @RedCross volunteers helping those impacted. THANK YOU! pic.twitter.com/ZA6X7qfeSi— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) March 20, 2019
I-680 Mormon bridge
Sasse surveying damage
Latest from NEMA
Repairing the roads
Beer fridge was stocked!
For those of you that don't know, our state of #Nebraska is going through record flooding. Sometimes though, the world sends you a break. These guys went to their #DuckCamp and found a fully-stocked #BeerFridge. #NebraskaStrong #Flood2019 pic.twitter.com/t8FvdqVQ3g— Fat Boy Wild Game (@gameseasonings) March 19, 2019
Flying in supplies
The Nebraska flooding is so heartbreaking but the whole state has stepped up to help. I can’t be more proud of my brother for flying his plane to Fremont with baby supplies to help. Proud to be from Nebraska #NebraskaFlood #NebraskaStrong @GMA pic.twitter.com/vFZVDj6lm6— Michelle Galles (@WakefieldFCCLA) March 19, 2019
Offutt before and after
I joined the Fremont National Guard in Nebraska today to get an aerial view of flooding impact as we traveled to thank volunteers in Fremont, NE, address a community meeting in Niobrara, and receive a briefing in Lynch.#NebraskaFlood | #NebraskaStrong | #FremontStrong pic.twitter.com/piEXa7TpIq— Scott (@FirstMinScott) March 19, 2019