Senators to Heineman: Give Us More Time to Ponder Budget-Cut Plan
by Nancy Hicks
Lincoln Journal Star
October 23, 2009
Gov. Dave Heineman should give the Legislature and the public more time to scrutinize his budget-cutting plan, say two state senators on the Appropriations Committee.
A briefing just a day or two before the special session doesn't provide enough time to give it a thoughtful look, said Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha.
The state could be looking at a $200 million to $300 million deficit in the two-year, $6.9 billion budget, said Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha.
"This needs to be a thoughtful debate because of the crisis we are in," he said.
Heineman has told committee members he will get his proposal to them Nov. 2 or Nov. 3. The session starts Nov. 4.
Nordquist and Mello say they asked for at least a 72-hour window, with budget plans provided to the committee by Friday.
But the governor said he couldn't have the information ready by then, said Committee Chairman Sen. Lavon Heidemann.
The state will have an official new budget figure Tuesday, when the forecasting board provides a new forecast for the two-year period.
But budget analysts for both the Legislature and governor have been working for several weeks on potential options.
Although Heineman has said every area is on the table for cutting, a number of senators hope there will be no attempt to cut state aid to schools for this fiscal year.
"I am working under the assumption we will not have cuts in the current year," said Sen. Greg Adams, chairman of the Education Committee.
School boards have set budgets and tax rates, and they sign contracts with teachers that generally don't allow layoffs.
Not cutting state aid this year "is just generally the right thing to do if we can avoid it," Adams said.
But the governor is not promising anything, according to an e-mail from his spokeswoman, Jen Rae Hein.
"It would be premature to take anything off the table prior to the forecasting board meeting," she said.
Heineman has said he will propose a combination of options, including across-the-board cuts.
Heineman was quoted by a South Dakota radio station as saying he was specifically looking at cuts in education, Medicaid and the Beatrice State Developmental Center.
Hein said the governor did not mean he will recommend across-the-board cuts in those areas.
In fact, they are areas in which more attention needs to be paid to the details of cutting, and they do not lend themselves to across-the-board cuts, she said.
Reach Nancy Hicks at 473-7250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.