This week on Capitol Hill, we held the last of the committee hearings on new bills introduced in January. The committee’s work will continue in executive sessions until a decision is made on each bill. The options are to bring a bill up for debate, hold it in committee, or kill it. At this point, only priority bills have a chance of being discussed by the entire legislature, but the committees will still complete their duties.
The Appropriations Committee will work on the final budget proposal for the General Fund, to be presented on Day 40 (Friday, March 11). Then we will have a few more days as a committee to complete our recommendations on the use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal funds. These two packages have priority and will undoubtedly give rise to a substantial debate in the hemicycle.
The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board (NEFAB) met on Monday and released its revenue projections over the next four months, taking us to the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2022. Their analysis was based on what we We’ve seen the past six to 12 months, as well as previous years, and again the forecast was higher. The increase in the forecast for the 2021-22 fiscal year is considered “above certified” and will be transferred to the cash reserve fund, or “rainy day fund”, bringing the projected balance to $1.713 billion on the basis of the preliminary budget of the appropriations committee.
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There are revenue measures, bills passed on the floor and other appropriations that will reduce that figure by $1.713 billion, but for comparison purposes the rainy day fund had never exceeded 760 millions of dollars. When I first took office in 2019, it was around $300 million. It is an indicator of the extent of federal funding that has affected the state and the strength of Nebraska’s economy. Nearly $24.1 billion in non-traditional federal dollars flowed into Nebraska to deal with the covid situation, or 22% of the state’s total personal income in 2021.
In other words, about a fifth of our personal income in the report could be attributed to federal funds allocated due to Covid-19. While this helps explain some of the strong growth in state revenue, it also reminds us that over time federal money disappears.
In the Credits Committee, we continue to deliberate on how quickly revenue and income may decline in the future or whether levels will remain stable for some time. Of particular concern is the fact that FY21 and FY22 show the strongest and third strongest adjusted revenue growth since 1982; yet the years of low revenue growth that have always followed the peaks are not yet known. The forecast committee will meet again in the summer and fall, and these projections will be used to create a new biennial budget in January 2023.
During the morning sittings, we have advanced a number of bills through the process over the past few days. Most of them were non-controversial issues with simple amendments. That will all change next week as we discuss bigger issues including LB 773, a hidden deferral bill introduced by Senator Brewer, the ‘Star Wars’ bill which relates to water projects and the proposed of the Perkins Canal by the Governor.
A constitutional amendment was one of the questions voted on in the next round of debate, LR 282CA. This measure would be particularly beneficial for small and medium-sized airports in the state and would allow the revenue to be used to develop or expand scheduled commercial air service, including LNK, Lincoln Airport. Most states allow this, and several senators have pointed out how important this is for economic growth and attracting new businesses and residents to our state.
One of the bills we advanced this week could affect both District 30 and District 32. The bill would allow Nebraska to compete for selection as one of four regional sites for a “clean hydrogen hub”, driving jobs, economic development and potentially spin-offs. – out of business. As presented to the Natural Resources Committee, the bill cites our state as a prime location, thanks to our power generation capacity and transportation infrastructure. Monolith, located near Hallam, already has an established presence in this industry and is looking to expand.
Speaking of neighboring District 32, after Tuesday’s filing deadline, only two legislative seats are uncontested among the 24 candidates running for office – that of Senator Tom Brandt of Plymouth and mine. It is humbling and gratifying to think that the people of District 30 feel that I am helping in some way; and I’m very grateful for that. I look forward to seeing what can still be accomplished over the next four years. I always appreciate hearing from you. Contact me at [email protected] or call 402-471-2620.