The Nebraska Legislature completed its 2013 session Wednesday with praise from the governor for what was accomplished, and reminders of issues left unresolved
The scene was a stark contrast to last year, when the session ended with senators overriding several vetoes by Gov. Dave Heineman, and the governor not delivering the traditional end-of-session speech. This year, the governor came in on the last day and thanked lawmakers for what he said was a good session.
Heineman singled out senators’ work on the state budget, saying "We agreed on the most important funding issues, including a tuition freeze for the University of Nebraska and our state colleges, increased funding for K-12 education, special education and early childhood education, funding for a new central Nebraska veterans home and rebuilding the cash reserve."
At the same time, Heineman pointed to an area of contention when he said "I want to personally thank the many senators who questioned the affordability and sustainability of expanding Medicaid, thereby protecting middle class families from a tax increase or reductions in the funding for their children’s education." The governor’s comments came one day after advocates of expanding Medicaid vowed to renew their efforts next year.
Heineman also touched on taxes, another issue likely to dominate next year. "In 2014 we will have the opportunity to take a giant step forward regarding tax relief and tax reform. The focus should be about lower taxes and more job creation, not higher taxes and more government spending," he said.
This year, Heineman proposed abolishing income taxes by ending sales tax exemptions. The Legislature killed the plan following heavy opposition from farm and business groups.
That plan by the governor was supposed to be "revenue neutral" – not collecting any more or less in taxes overall. Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney, chairman of the Revenue committee, has said the goal of the tax study he will lead is equity.
Asked about Heineman’s recent statements about lowering taxes, Hadley said after the governor’s speech the two goals are not incompatible. "I think one can lead to the other," Hadley said. "Really when you talk about taxes you talk about the base times the rate. And we’re going to be spending a lot of time talking about the base – what should we be taxing? And then we can apply whatever rate we want to that base, and we can get what we need."
Overall, it was a difficult session, Speaker of the Legislature Greg Adams said. But he credited lawmakers with tackling the tough issues. "We didn’t shy away from them. We debated them. At times we were emotional, at times it became very divisive," Adams said. "But you know what? That’s what deliberative bodies in a representative democracy do. It’s not meant to be easy. It’s going to be difficult. But we didn’t back away."
Adams said senators are exhausted. He urged his colleagues to take a break, and then "get right back at it." Legislators will study issues including taxes, education, Medicaid and water for the rest of the year, and then reconvene to consider all those and more next January.
Editor’s note: NET News will have an overview of the legislative session Friday at 6:30 and 8:30 Central on Morning Edition and 4:30 Central on All Things Considered. And you can hear a panel discussion of tax policy with key senators and advocates Friday June 14 at 6:30 p.m. Central on NET Radio, or watch it on television at 8:30 p.m. Central on NET1 and HD.