Nebraska lawmakers receive a lot of requests each year asking for tax relief that’s targeted to specific economic activities or groups of residents. This year is no exception.
The causes often are worthy and usually receive impassioned support from individual groups. Requests this legislative session include tax-relief proposals to promote a wide array of causes. Here are just a few examples:
Affordable housing. Energy diversification. Compensation for customized software development. Native American needs. Cities’ economic development projects. Student loan relief. An income tax exemption for active-duty military personnel.
In addition to the various tax relief ideas, state senators will hear numerous requests for additional spending.
Still, in any budget year, there is only so much revenue to go around.
The Nebraska Constitution requires the state budget to be balanced. Lawmakers must make sure that the state’s spending commitments square up with available revenues for the state’s two-year budget, which currently totals about $8.7 billion.
As a result, state senators need to deliberate and set priorities. Sometimes they can say “yes” to requests. Often, they have to say “no” or else agree to provide only a partial loaf.
That undoubtedly will be the case again this year, and it’s important for interest groups and the public to understand this big-picture need.
The Legislature’s first order of business, after all, is to plug a $140 million shortfall in state revenues, under the most recent projections.
Plus, on the spending side, Gov. Pete Ricketts is recommending that $175 million be tapped from the state’s cash reserve. That would pare the cash reserve fund to about $531 million by mid-2019, down from the $708 million under the current budget.
Most of those funds would go toward a proposed “infrastructure bank” to provide funding for road and bridge projects, as well as for prison needs.
Additional spending proposals this session include the University of Nebraska’s first capital funding request to lawmakers since 2006.
Lawmakers have much work ahead in debating and deciding priorities amid this welter of tax- relief and spending requests. The only sure thing is there’s no way to please everyone.