An overflowing crowd gathered to hear area senators forecast the 2019 legislative session as part of the Chamber's Legislative Kick-Off event December 13 at First National Bank.
During the hour long session, which featured a question and answer portion, state senators Dan Quick, John Lowe and Curt Friesen detailed the major issues facing the Unicameral ahead of its 90-day session beginning on January 9.
Medicaid expansion will have a strong effect on the state's budget. There are numerable problems within Nebraska's corrections system, most notably overcrowding. Farmers are struggling to combat tariffs and high property taxes. And workforce development, especially in rural parts of the state, needs to be emphasized. These emerged as areas of focus during the discussion, and below are some of the highlights:
Lowe: "This is a mandatory $50 million extra dollars costing the state, and it was essentially voted for by two counties...There are no specific ideas on how to pay for it. The belief was that the revenue generated from the internet sales tax would go towards property tax relief. (In order to pay for Medicaid expansion) other agencies may have funding cut.
"(Medicaid expansion) is said to bring $600 million to our state, but the federal government doesn't run on a balanced budget so that money will have to be borrowed.
"There's less money coming in to nursing homes. Smaller towns are losing their nursing homes. That's one more reason everyone will move towards Lincoln or Omaha."
Quick: "We need more physicians and mental health care providers in Nebraska. The first year of (Medicaid expansion) will be tough, but hopefully over time the money gets invested into the medical community."
Friesen: "The state is $95 million short on budget projections, which means revenue is not growing as fast as it usually does. Cash reserves are at minimum levels, so there's not a lot of money to throw at new projects...They are predicting a possible recession in 2020, so how can we prepare for that? What keeps us safe is a balanced budget, which we will get."
Lowe: "I have a problem with the size of government and government spending. We reduced spending to six percent, but that's still too much."
Lowe: "Our farmers are dying. They are paying more in property tax than what they're bringing in - if they are bringing in anything at all."
Friesen: "A lot of blame is being put on the tariffs. But we really are doing too good of a job. We are overproducing corn and soybeans. It's not just a local market, now it's a global market."
Friesen: "There's a lot of trouble in our prison system. It will take a lot of work to fix and require extra revenue - even though people want property tax relief.
"The one thing I heard that disturbs me is that prisoners would rather stay in prison for their full sentence rather than get released early under heavy supervision. They just want to wait to get released without supervision or probation so they can get back to doing what they were doing before prison."
Quick: "For me, the prisoners are not getting the programming they need to enter back into society. There's not enough staff."
Friesen: "Nebraska needs to advertise itself better. We have good jobs and its cheaper to live here. We are going to look at policies that will help grow the state, especially the rural community."
Quick: "It's not just workforce development. It's also workforce housing. I will be introducing a bill for a land bank, which will provide more living spaces for people in the workforce that's within their economic levels. We've been working on it a lot this past year, and we're going to try and make sure it works at the rural level.
"Early childhood development is also important. We can reduce the costs on the back end by getting them on the front end."
Other Notable Highlights
Quick: "I've been working closely with Grand Island Public Schools on a bill about vaping. Vape companies are targeting children. There are things called Juuls that look like a flash drive that can be hidden in a back pack. Children have no idea how much nicotene is in these products."
Friesen: "It's so important to get broadband expansion into the rural area. We are losing population in the rural community. Everyone is moving east. We have a lot of state senators that are from areas east of 27th street in Lincoln. If we don't have people representing the western part of Nebraska, than not a lot of projects are going to get done there."