Crucial decisions this session
Greetings District 36. Well, it’s official. The 104th Legislature has adjourned Sine Die and will not convene again until January 2017, so you can breathe easy unless you follow national politics of course.
Looking back at the last four months, I believe the Legislature made a number of important decisions that help move our state forward.
The Legislature made mid-biennium adjustments to the state budget with a few key investments while maintaining fiscal discipline. Overall, state general fund spending increased by an average of 3.6% over the biennium, a significant decrease from the previous budgets.
Funding from the state’s rainy day fund was used to help cover the costs of improving the levies near Offutt Air Force Base. Offutt is the single largest employer in Nebraska and the $13.7 million of one-time funding will help secure the future of the base in Nebraska.
The Legislature continues to focus on prison overcrowding and the struggles at the Department of Corrections. A one-time investment of $27.3 million will be used to create additional capacity to the community corrections facility in Lincoln.
Additionally, the Corrections Department received $3.3 million for staffing and inmate programming capacity, but money alone won’t solve overcrowding.
The Legislature passed a number of bills to slowly and safely reduce prison overcrowding, including LB 1094 to reform sentencing laws and my bill, LB 919, to expand problem solving courts in Nebraska. Problem solving courts like drug court and veterans court are a cost-effective and more effective alternative to prison.
We did not get into this situation overnight and we won’t solve it in one session either, but I believe we are making progress on alternatives to building a new prison.
Property tax relief was the highest priority for a number of senators this year, and I am pleased we were able to pass $20 million of tax relief specifically for ag land. This is on top of the $204 million of relief on all property tax payers that passed last year.
Changes were also made to the state education funding formula to eliminate the disincentive for school districts to lower their levy. As a result, districts can reduce their reliance on property taxes without risking the loss of state funding, which provides an additional $8 million of property tax relief.
Admittedly these are not home runs, but we continue to make progress to address the unsustainable increase in property taxes on ag land that we have seen in recent years.
Economic growth was also a priority for the 2016 session. Unnecessary and costly regulations on wind production were repealed with LB 824. LB 176 repealed the ban on packer-ownership of swine, which puts Nebraska on a level playing field with our neighbor states. State law governing weight limits for ag equipment was clarified to reflect the size of modern equipment while maintaining local control with LB 977.
Finally, the Transportation Innovation Act, LB 960, invests $450 million in the state’s expressway system, county bridges and key infrastructure investments. Collectively, these bills ensure that Nebraska remains competitive for future investments and economic growth.
During the interim, I will be busy with events in the district. If you have an event that you would like me to attend, please feel free to extend an invitation. I will also be involved in interim studies to develop a statewide plan for entrepreneurship and economic growth, update the banking laws, assess the need for a crime lab and oversee the Corrections Department.
I want to express my sincere appreciation to everyone who contacted me during the last two sessions to share their thoughts. We have much to be thankful for but I believe our best days are ahead of us.