Senators slug through second-Round budget debate

Sen. Kate Bolz, background, answers Sen. Mark Kolterman, foreground, in budget debate (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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May 14, 2019 - 5:44pm

The Nebraska Legislature slugged it out through a second round of debate on the state budget today/Tuesday, amid plenty of acrimony and discussion of subjects that weren’t on the agenda.

The second of three rounds of debate on bills is often routine, with arguments for and against having been made on the first round. But Tuesday, senators used the second round of debate on the state budget to vent their grievances on a wide variety of subjects.

Sen. Ernie Chambers, who often leverages the lack of time toward the end of the session to block legislation he doesn’t like, set the tone early on. “I’m thinking about whether or not I should test myself, test your patience, test this system, by just taking seven hours out of one day. But it’s also seven hours, or one day, away from those few remaining in this session,” Chambers said.

Chambers proceeded to discuss subjects including racism, U.S. policy toward Israel and Iran, and tariffs.

That drew a warning from Sen. Kate Bolz, a member of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee. “I appreciate that Sen. Chambers has a few things on his mind this morning, but I just want to rise and articulate how ill-advised it is to indefinitely postpone, or make motions to reconsider or recommit, any of the budget bills,” Bolz said. “These bills are our most important responsibility. It’s the only thing we’re actually required to do, and there are significant consequences if we don’t move this budget package forward.”

Among those consequences, Bolz said, could be a delay in paying for homestead exemption property tax breaks for seniors and disabled people.

Chambers downplayed the possibility the budget would not pass. “First of all, that’s not going to happen. But if it happened, what would happen? We, by a vote of a certain number, can extend the session of the Legislature. The governor can call us into special session. If the governor called us into special session, he is allowed to restrict the subject matter that we can consider. It would be only the budget. And he could keep us here until we pass a budget bill. So that is not something that anybody has to worry about. The budget bills will pass,” he said.

Sen. Robert Hilkemann used a budget bill to ask for a study on what happens to money that’s appropriated to a property tax credit fund. That’s the fund the state uses to pay counties for part of the property taxes residents would otherwise have to pay. “So much of this money goes out of state. And I’ve heard that as much as 40 percent of these dollars are shifted out of state to people who own the land out – they live out-of-state, or corporations who are out-of-state, and so forth. And we had testimony in one county I think maybe three or four percent is all that goes out-of-state. Well, let’s find out, folks,” Hilkemann said.

Sen. Dan Hughes opposed the move. Hughes argued similar scrutiny is not applied to other tax breaks, like those offered to corporations. “We’re looking at a line in the budget with the property tax credit relief fund. We do not see that line with the billions -- and I do mean with a “b” – billions of incentive that are given to corporations that legally meet those requirements,” Hughes said.

Senators voted 25-17 in favor of the study. Chambers objected. “That last vote, and some of the people I ordinarily vote with, was silly. It was silly, and it demeaned what we’re doing with these bills. You’re asking for information that you’re not going to do anything with. If all you were was curious, don’t deal with a budget bill. Why not put up a resolution for a study? That doesn’t hurt anything,” he said.

Sen. Mike Moser said the information received from the study would likely be inaccurate. He said counties would be judging out of state ownership based on zip codes, but that could be misleading if a property had multiple owners, some in-state and some out-of-state. Moser moved to undo Hilkemann’s amendment. “You supported it because the person who made the original amendment asked you to. You voted for it because you told him you would. Now use your common sense and vote the way you should have voted in the first place,” Moser said.

Senators then voted 25-17 to remove the amendment, before giving the bill second-round approval on a voice vote.








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