Lawmakers passed a package of bills Monday that make up the state’s $7.8 billion two-year budget.The budget represents a 5.2 percent increase in spending over the previous biennium.
The bills passed with overwhelming support, but Sens. Beau McCoy and Pete Pirsch of Omaha and Charlie Janssen of Fremont voted against the main budget bill and a bill to appropriate funds for state construction projects.
Some of the highlights:
• Nearly $2.2 billion in state aid to schools -- including equalization aid and special education reimbursement -- a 5 percent increase.
• About $1.1 billion in funds for the University of Nebraska, which translates to an increase of $66.5 million.
• More than $140 million over the next 10 years for construction projects around the state, including $47 million this year for a new veterans’ home in Central Nebraska.
• About $230 million in property tax relief.
• The $2.2 million for a state-owned aircraft was removed, with language added calling for an independent study to assess the state’s air transport needs.
Boost in pay
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha introduced an amendment to remove from the budget $1.2 million for salaries of members of the Legislature.
The proposal failed on a vote of 3 to 45.
Among those who supported removing the salaries was Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus.
“If you’re hired to do a job and you don’t do it, you shouldn’t get paid,” he said.
Schumacher accused some lawmakers of abusing parliamentary procedure to avoid bringing important issues to a vote.
He specifically cited bills to expand Medicaid and repeal the death penalty, both of which were indefinitely postponed when supporters failed to muster the 33 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.
“It is not the intent of the people that 17 people should rule this body,” he said, referring to the number of votes necessary to block a bill from coming to a final vote.
Chambers also introduced an amendment, which he later withdrew, to reduce funds appropriated for the attorney general’s office by about $900,000 over the biennium.
He accused the attorney general’s office of not being transparent, citing Attorney General Jon Bruning’s recent $19,000 fine by the Federal Election Commission for violating campaign finance laws during his 2012 Senate run.
“This is the top law enforcement officer in this state,” Chambers said.