LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — Nebraska lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Thursday to override Gov. Pete Ricketts’ budget vetoes.
The governor had cut funding for a hike in provider rates, community corrections programs, urban housing and completion of a bike-hike trail, saying funds needed to be preserved for tax cuts.
State Sen. John Stinner of Gering, who heads the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, argued in favor of restoring the spending. His primary focus was restoring $52 million to increase pay for private providers of services to the elderly, developmentally disabled and those needing mental health care.
Wage inflation, Stinner said, has led to workers in nursing homes and care centers leaving for higher paying jobs, creating vacancies and a decline in access to care. Nursing homes in Mullen, Valentine and Arapahoe have closed, he added.
Meanwhile, the senator said, the state has provided salary hikes of 20% to 30% to ensure staffing at state veterans homes, prisons and other 24/7 facilities.
“Suddenly we have enough staff to accommodate patient loads at (the veterans home in) Kearney, imagine that,” Stinner said.
He added that the state’s budget was crafted with a 15% increase in private provider rates so that nursing homes and other facilities can start to refill vacancies that had reached 30% in some agencies.
The Speaker of the Legislature, Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers, also urged senators to override the governor’s vetoes, saying lawmakers have a chance to accomplish a “significant trifecta,” by passing the largest tax cuts in state history, building the cash reserve fund to $1.3 billion and funding important priorities, such as the provider rate increases.
The votes on the three override bills drew, respectively, 42, 42 and 41 “yes” votes in the 49-member Unicameral. It takes 30 votes to override a gubernatorial veto.
Several lawmakers, earlier in the week, struck an agreement not to block the advancement of the tax-cut proposal, Legislative Bill 873, in exchange for approving the veto overrides. LB 873 won final approval Thursday.
The third veto override bill, which drew five “no” votes, will provide $8.3 million to complete a hike-bike trail linking Omaha and Lincoln and will grant $20 million to middle-income housing in urban areas.
Trail spending questioned
Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman questioned how it could cost $8.3 million to complete eight miles of trail when a four-lane highway in his district is costing about $1 million a mile.
Omaha Sen. Robert Hilkemann, an avid biker, made completing the trail a priority this year.
It has been a longtime dream to link the state’s two largest cities with a recreation trail, but the final link had met hurdles in finding a route acceptable to local residents.
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