Posted 7 months ago
By John Axtell
Nebraska lawmakers Monday completed their major task of this year’s session, giving final approval to the 7 budget bills that make the state’s two-year budget and sending them to Governor Dave Heineman…who can make line-item vetoes.
The package that boosts spending a little more than 5% each year includes increases for early childhood education, $230 million in continued funding for a state income tax credit for property taxes, and a two-year tuition freeze at the University of Nebraska and the Nebraska State Colleges.
Senators also voted to transfer an additional $53 million into the state’s cash reserve. Appropriations Committee chairman Heath Mello of Omaha says increasing the reserve is prudent in case of an economic downturn or approval of tax reforms that might rise from a proposed study of the state tax system.
In other legislative news, lawmakers rejected an attempt to repeal a new Nebraska law that lets cities raise their local option sales tax rates an extra half-cent to a maximum of 2%, as long as they secure voter approval.
Omaha Senator Ernie Chambers opposed the tax, saying it was unfair to the poor, but his repeal bill couldn’t get out of committee.
Last week, he came up just short in an attempt on the floor to amend his bill into an unrelated bill, but one of his supporters switched side after the vote to be able to ask for a vote to reconsider the defeat. That vote was held Monday and also lost.
Supporters of the law argue that any increase would require majority support from local residents, and cities would have to designate a specific use for the money. Chambers has argued sales taxes disproportionately affect the poor, who pay a larger share of their income when buying goods and services.
The legislature also gave unanimous first-round approval to a bill restricting key ingredients in the newest generation of designer drugs that can mimic the effects of methamphetamine, marijuana and LSD.
Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha says he introduced the measure to address newer versions of the synthetic drugs that aren’t currently restricted.
The bill is dubbed “Tyler’s Law” in honor of Tyler Smith, a Bellevue West High School student believed to have been using synthetic marijuana when he committed suicide in September.