Sen. Heath Mello (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
Nebraska lawmakers began debate Monday on proposed changes to the state’s 2-year, $8 billion budget, and on a proposed ban on selling electronic cigarettes to children under 18.
The bulk of the two-year budget was approved last year. But state tax collections have come in higher than projected, and senators are now considering a host of proposals for more spending or lower taxes.
The Appropriations Committee has proposed adding $25 million to a property tax credit fund. That would increase an existing credit on a $100,000 house from about $61 this year to about $74 next year.
Sen. Galen Hadley proposed spending an additional $20 million a year on the credit. That would add about another $11 to the credit on that same house. Hadley said the proposal raised a basic questions of what senators expect the people of Nebraska to pay for, and how much they are willing to pay. “The last thing we need in Nebraska is some kind of taxpayer revolt – a Proposition 13 like they had in California that decimated their school system, or other states that have had lids put on their property taxes that have caused undue harm. We have to rationally look at this,” Hadley said.
Other senators said the proposal would give little tax relief at great cost to the state budget and other spending priorities. Among them was Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford. “There is no question that should this amendment pass, we will literally decimate the prison reform effort,” he said. Ashford said there is $13.8 million that is expected to go into prison reform. He said it would be spent throughout the state to increase the number of day reporting centers, putting community corrections facilities in three rural counties, expanding mental health services and expanding vocational education.
Twenty senators voted for Hadley’s amendment, but it would have taken 25 for it to be adopted. Debate on the budget continues.
Earlier Monday, lawmakers began debate on a proposal that would prohibit the stores from selling electronic cigarettes to children under 18 years old.
Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, sponsor of the proposal, said research isn’t in yet on health effects of “e-cigs.” “We don’t know that in five or ten years that there’s not going to be a study to come out and say the e-cigarettes were harmful. They have chemicals in them. They have oils in them. Are they safer than cigarettes? Probably. Are they safe? We don’t know,” he said.
Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln opposed the ban. Coash said his opposition was based in part on conversations with parents. “I talked to some parents who said “You know what? If my son came home smoking, as soon as I got done putting his butt around his ears, I’m going to work on getting him to quit. And this the product that I’d like to be able to use,’” he said.
Lawmakers moved on to other subjects before reaching a first-round vote on the bill.