Greetings District 36. We have now passed the 22nd day mark of the 90 day legislative session. We have been deeply involved with debating the mid-biennium budget adjustments. As everyone is aware our tax receipts are lower than were originally projected when the current budget was enacted. The Governor decided this past fall not to call a special session of the Legislature. As an alternative, during the first week of this session, the Governor introduced an interim budget bill to balance the budget in the current fiscal year. The Appropriations Committee held extensive hearings on this proposal and after making a number of good changes, debate has moved to the floor of the Legislature. These discussions are difficult because we are asked to cut funding for programs that were previously approved by the Legislature. While this is not the best way to run the business of the state, we have a constitutional requirement to balance the budget so changes must be implemented.
I have been particularly concerned about how the proposal affects our ability to continue addressing our prison overcrowding issue. The original budget cuts proposed by the Governor included substantial cuts to probation and drug court services and programs. I testified in front of the Appropriations Committee making the case that cutting these programs would increase costs in the future. If these programs for probationers and drug court participants are cut, judges have no alternative but to send people to prison. Prison costs substantially more than offering rehabilitative services to probationers and drug court participants. The annual cost of incarcerating offenders in our correctional system is $36,000 per year as compared to the cost of about $5,000 per year for a participant in drug court. Fortunately the Appropriations Committee agreed and reduced the funding cuts to the judicial system.
On a lighter note, I would like to commend an outstanding young leader from District 36, Carlin Daharsh. Carlin is serving as a legislative page at the unicameral for the second time. Carlin was recently awarded the Sally Gordon Outstanding Legislative Page award. This special honor recognizes her outstanding contribution to the Nebraska unicameral. Carlin is from Gothenburg and attends Nebraska Wesleyan University. We are very proud of her and enjoy having her as part of the process.