The state's mainline budget bill endured another filibuster Tuesday, primarily from rural senators, but the Legislature succeeded in getting that and its other spending bills past the finish line and to Gov. Pete Ricketts for his consideration. 

Although all seven of the budget bills passed, only one (LB296), which contained salaries for constitutional officers, got through with no negative votes. Twelve senators voted no on the $9.3 billion, two-year mainline budget bill (LB294).

Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard moved to pull the main spending bill off final reading and return it to a second round of debate. If that had succeeded, he would have attempted to amend the bill to take $7.3 million from the University of Nebraska for salary and utility increases and allocate that money to increase funding for long-term health care provider rates for nursing homes.

"We have discussed that issue several times on the floor of the Legislature, about taking care of the least, the last and the lost and those that most need help," he said. "This would be an opportunity for us to do that." 

It would bring those providers closer to how they should be reimbursed, he said. The dollar shortage as he has been told is $30 to $40 daily for each nursing home resident. The $7.3 million would go a long way toward keeping nursing homes open, he said. 

Those getting raises at the university are teachers and professors who can stand to not get portions of the $7.3 million, he said. 

"Those people in the nursing home facilities do not have an option," he said. 

Appropriations Committee Chairman John Stinner said he shared Erdman's concern about nursing homes, but all Medicaid providers needed to be treated about the same, as were those higher education institutions. 

"So this idea that we pull from one because we don't like that category, and we push it to another, I'm sorry. That is not a fair and balanced approached," Stinner said. 

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said half of the state's doctors and health professionals are trained by the university. 

While provider rates should be improved, she said, the state also needs to pay attention to investments in its higher education institutions. The university generates $4.5 billion in total annual economic impact, and for every $1 invested by the Legislature, the university returns $7.  

The university has not received an increase in appropriations for operations, exclusive of salaries, since 2006-07, and since that time the consumer price index has increased 17.2%, or 1.6% annually, she said. 

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Erdman has been arguing the Appropriations Committee, of which he is a member, does not set priorities and that state spending is too high, and getting higher every year. 

As passed, the university would get $16 million each year of the two-year budget for salary increases and $941,800 each year for increases in utility costs. 

NU President Hank Bounds said in a statement the university was grateful for the commitment a strong majority of the Legislature has shown to Nebraska’s young people, particularly the system's 52,000 students, and the long-term economic and workforce growth of the state.

Overall, state spending will increase by an average of 2.9% per year.

Senators voted to stop debate before Erdman's amendment could be introduced. 

The budget passed on a 35-12 vote, with an emergency clause attached. That means it will become effective immediately after Ricketts signs it or the Legislature overrides any vetoes he may make.

Senators also took some opportunity to talk about needed property tax reductions. Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson said he was not happy the Legislature didn't prioritize property tax cuts the way it should have. 

Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon voted no on the budget bills because over the weekend he got into some tough conversations with constituents on how the Legislature was putting off doing something about property tax cuts, especially for farmers. 

"It isn't just my district," he said. "Winter storms have not been kind to them. The flooding, the low livestock prices and the loss of livestock have put them in a position where you're going to see unprecedented losses this year. And it appears to them we just don't care."

The Legislature is going to go home early, and, obviously, if senators cared more they would have stuck this session out, he said. 

The budget sends an additional $51 million a year to the state's property tax credit fund, which is used to reduce the amount owed on property tax bills.

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

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


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