LINCOLN — Two years ago, it took Nebraska lawmakers less than four hours to dispatch the state budget.
This year, they have debated for more than 10 hours over two days and appear to have many more hours of discussion ahead.
The controversy over plans to buy a 12-year-old airplane for Gov. Dave Heineman's use could claim several of those hours.
The issue gained new life Wednesday when State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said he will try to block the purchase of the twin-engine Beechcraft Super King Air B200 from the University of Nebraska Foundation.
He plans to offer an amendment on a later bill in the state budget package.
Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha said he welcomed the lengthy discussion about the $7.8 billion, two-year budget.
“I think our constituents expect us to have a robust, hearty debate about the state budget,” he said. “When you contemplate spending this kind of money, it's important to have this kind of discussion.”
Most of the debate Wednesday focused on less than $1 million of the total budget.
But shortly before adjourning, Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala offered an amendment to add $7.5 million each year to the state's property tax credit program.
The program currently provides $115 million a year of credits against property owners' tax bills. Money for the program comes from the state general fund, meaning income and sales tax revenue.
Schilz said the property tax generates more complaints than any other tax in the state and he wants to ensure that a planned tax study this year includes consideration of property taxes.
“Our constituents need to know we're thinking about this,” he said.
In response, Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln said the Appropriations Committee already considered and rejected an increase in the program.
Adding $15 million to the property tax credit program would mean less money available for other priorities while providing only $4.56 worth of credit on $100,000 of valuation, she said.
Lawmakers adjourned before taking a vote on Schilz's amendment. But they rejected two other amendments, and three others were withdrawn without a vote.
The longest discussion centered on a McCoy amendment to shift $150,000 each year away from collecting climate data and into a water management fund.
Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, the Appropriations Committee chairman, said federal funds that have paid for the data collection are disappearing and the $150,000 would ensure that state agencies could continue to get Nebraska weather data.
McCoy questioned whether the loss of federal funds was certain and whether the money would be better spent on water studies. He also questioned whether the budget bill should specify that the data collection would continue to be done by the University of Nebraska.
McCoy eventually withdrew the amendment.
Sen. Scott Price of Bellevue offered, then withdrew, an amendment to cut state support for the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties by $75,000 each year. A frequent critic of the Learning Community, he objected to using state funds to teach English to parents older than 21.
Opponents said cutting the funding would hamper efforts to improve early childhood education programs in the Omaha area.
Sen. Tom Hansen of North Platte targeted a $250,000 per year increase in funding for nurses to visit at-risk mothers and babies. He said that the program was too costly and that new mothers should be getting help from grandmothers, sisters and friends.
Lawmakers voted down the amendment after opponents argued that nurse visitation programs have proven successful in improving the health and well-being of babies.
World-Herald staff writer Paul Hammel contributed to this report.
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