LINCOLN — Nebraska taxpayers may have to pony up about $50 million to pay the state’s share of costs for recovering from the massive spring floods.

The Nebraska Military Department, which oversees the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, asked for that amount in a budget request submitted last week. The request also sought $3 million to replenish the governor’s emergency fund.

“The historical flooding in March of 2019 required an unprecedented response by the state of Nebraska,” the request said.

NEMA Director Bryan Tuma said federal officials are still reviewing the costs for restoring flood-damaged roads, bridges, water treatment facilities and other public infrastructure in Nebraska.

But he said the total is expected “with some certainty” to reach $400 million. That would leave Nebraska on the hook for some $50 million over the next few years.

The biggest chunk — about $22.5 million of the state’s share — would go to rebuild roads and bridges, according to the request.

Utility repairs would account for the next largest amount, about $9.2 million. The rest would be used for initial cleanup and emergency protection measures, as well as longer-term water control projects, buildings, parks and recreational facilities.

Following a natural disaster, the federal government provides 75% of the funds for immediate response and for restoring public infrastructure. Local governments are responsible for 12.5% and the state must pay 12.5%.

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“This is one (request) that we know we’re going to have to pay,” said Legislative Fiscal Analyst Tom Bergquist. “It’s an obligation, it’s not a choice.”

State Sen. John Stinner of Gering, the Appropriations Committee chairman, already has included flood costs among the state’s budget priorities.

He said the money probably could come from the state’s cash reserve fund, which will be replenished with higher-than-anticipated tax collections for the fiscal year that ended June 30 and from the current fiscal year.

The Revenue Committee chairwoman, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, said she has confidence, after talking with Gov. Pete Ricketts, that Nebraska can take care of the flooding costs and still have $100 million available for property tax relief.

The Military Department requested that all $53 million be provided in the current budget year, even though it would not all be needed this year. Having the money available would allow the state to quickly reimburse local governments, according to the request.

“The inability to quickly repair or replace damaged infrastructure diminishes community resiliency efforts,” it said. “Delays in providing the state cost-share will create additional adverse economic conditions for these struggling communities.”

State agencies seeking changes to their current two-year budget had to submit requests last week. Ricketts will use those requests to craft his budget recommendations, which will be delivered to the Nebraska Legislature in January.

Lawmakers also will use the requests in revising the budget plan that runs through June 30, 2021.

Increased projections of state tax revenue could give state policymakers more flexibility than they have had in recent years. A state panel last week boosted the official revenue forecast by $266 million for the two-year budget period.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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