NORFOLK — Reconciling a budget deficit that totals in the hundreds of millions of dollars will again dominate the Nebraska State Legislature. The Unicameral opened its 2018 session cordially on Wednesday morning and tended to routine business like scheduling and appointments.
But, a projected deficit of nearly $200 million looms over the senators and comes just one year after they made massive cuts to balance what was a forecasted $1 billion shortfall.
Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer says erasing the nine-figure deficit will have a big impact on state programs.
“You know, that’s a big chunk of change,” Scheer said. “We reduced a substantial amount last year so anything we continue to do this year is just deeper cuts and more severe loss of either product or services to the people in the state of Nebraska.”
Scheer says the legislature’s job is to figure out what’s best for the state by trying to minimize the damage done to any one program because everyone has already taken the hit. He says he’s in favor of trying to equalize the remaining cuts rather than deciding which program gets hit the worst.
“I would prefer to try to come up with something that broadens the damage so that maybe everyone’s hurt but hurt a little bit, not a lot,” Scheer said.
The senator from Norfolk says he’s excited for this second session as speaker but expects it to fade when business picks up.
“Then something goes haywire the first day or two and you start coming to reality that the session is long, it’s grueling, it’s less days but it’s still packed with emotion,” Scheer said.
Scheer outlined parts of the schedule for the body on Wednesday, saying the first 10 days are for introducing new bills and that public hearings will begin on January 16th. Governor Pete Ricketts will outline his agenda in the State of the State Address on January 10th.