LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers delivered a final $7.8 billion, two-year state budget package to Gov. Dave Heineman on Monday.
The governor has until Saturday to decide whether to sign or veto the bills or veto specific items in the bills.
Heineman offered few clues about his intentions during a conference call with reporters earlier in the day.
While declining to say if he plans to use his line-item veto on parts of the budget, the governor called it “unfortunate” that lawmakers didn't find a way to come up with tax cuts.
“Certainly the taxpayers deserve some relief,” he said.
The budget would boost state spending by an average of 5.2 percent per year for the two fiscal years starting July 1.
The governor's budget proposal had called for an average increase of 4.9 percent.
State Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, the Appropriations Committee chairman, said higher state school aid figures and money needed to shore up retirement plans accounted for the difference. Both issues were addressed in bills advanced by other committees.
Mello called the final budget a “moderate centrist approach” and expressed optimism that the governor will set aside differences with the Legislature when considering it.
The strong vote in support of the budget shows that lawmakers can work in a “bipartisan, consensus” fashion, Mello said.
“I believe our budget provides a good map for the state to follow,” he said.
The budget bills passed with few dissenting votes.
Three senators voted against the main budget bill and also against a bill appropriating money for various capital construction projects.
The three were Sens. Beau McCoy and Pete Pirsch, both of Omaha, and Charlie Janssen of Fremont. Janssen is running for governor next year.
McCoy said he believes it would have been better to keep state spending growth down.
“The money should have been spent giving it back to the taxpayers where it came from,” he said. McCoy also said he has concerns about some of the capital construction projects.
During debate, senators who often align themselves with the governor raised questions about a $6 million renovation of the Nebraska State Historical Society museum and about a new University of Nebraska Medical Center nursing college building in Lincoln.
Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion, an Appropriations Committee member, said he didn't anticipate many line-item vetoes, given the strong votes for the budget package.
One item on which the governor and Legislature differed was the purchase of a 12-year-old aircraft from the University of Nebraska Foundation. The governor had pushed for inclusion of $2.2 million for the twin-engine Beechcraft Super King Air B200, saying it was necessary for him to continue visiting rural parts of the state.
Although owned by the foundation, the plane has been maintained by the state and used frequently by state officials. The state owns two other aircraft.
Lawmakers voted to remove funds to buy the King Air and instead require an independent analysis of the best way to provide air transportation for Heineman and other officials.
Lawmakers and the governor were of like minds in providing enough money for the University of Nebraska and state colleges so those institutions can freeze in-state tuition for two years.
They also were in agreement on setting aside funds for a new veterans home in central Nebraska, meeting requirements of the federal health care overhaul and boosting payment rates for child welfare, child-care and health care providers.
The Legislature included some items not in the governor's proposal. Among them were funds to serve more people with intellectual disabilities and funds for early childhood education. The Legislature's budget also would add $53 million to the state's cash reserve fund.
World-Herald staff writer Joe Duggan contributed to this report.
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