The Nebraska Legislature resumes its session July 20, Speaker Jim Scheer has decided. In making the announcement, he set a tone of needed fiscal discipline. The virus emergency has knocked the wind out of the state budget, and lawmakers must make a host of fiscal adjustments to put it aright.
State tax receipts for April were down a whopping 46%, though much of the decline stemmed from the state’s decision to move the deadline for paying income taxes from April 15 to July 15. So it won’t be until sometime this summer when state leaders have a clearer picture of the budget situation.
In the meantime, Scheer rightly directed lawmakers to go over their current legislation and look to trim or eliminate cost. This is a familiar mantra from Nebraska legislative speakers during sessions, especially in the face of economic downturns.
“As policy makers we will need to consider the economic impact to the state for everything we do legislatively,” Scheer wrote in a letter to fellow state senators. “Please consider ways to amend those bills to eliminate the general fund impact to this biennium, as those bills may not be able to move forward without such an amendment.”
The Legislature will have 19 days left in its 60-day session, which was suspended on March 17. How clear the budget numbers will be by late July is uncertain, which is why some senators recommended waiting till the fall to resume the session. Lawmakers must be wary of making easy assumptions about the budget. If Scheer needs to suspend the session again till the budget situation is clearer, so be it. The need is to get the budget right, not to get it done by a particular summer date.
In his letter, Scheer stressed the need for proper health protocols for senators and staff, in light of the virus threat. Scheer is working in consultation with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department on sound hygiene directives.
“The floor practices implemented for the three days we met in March will be continued,” he wrote, “along with additional physical and procedural practices. My goal is to cut down on the number of people on the floor at any one time and to provide a modicum of social distancing between members and staff on the floor.”
Safe health habits, responsible budget managements — the speaker is setting the right tone for the next phase of the session. Above all, the senators must be diligent and patient in crafting a soundly adjusted budget.