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By Steve Erdman
District 47 Senator 

Straight Talk With Steve: Overriding Vetos

 

Last week the Legislature voted to override Gov. Rickett’s vetoes on three bills: LB 108, LB 147 and LB 306. LB 108 and LB 306 expand Nebraska’s welfare benefits, while LB 147 requires the State to take over management of the Omaha Public School’s teacher pension plan.

So, today I would like to explain why the Legislature was wrong to override the Governor’s vetoes on these three bills.

LB 108 is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. The bill raises the gross income limit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from 130 percent of the federal poverty rate to 165 percent of the federal poverty rate, but it does not change the net income limit. Whenever a family applies for SNAP, the family’s gross income is considered first.

If the family’s gross income falls within the new rate of 165 percent of the federal poverty rate, then the family’s net income will be considered next. When calculating the family’s net income, deductions are made for such things as housing and daycare. The family’s net income must fall at or below the federal poverty rate in order to qualify for SNAP, which is no different than how the old system worked.


LB108 is a highly deceptive bill. Many families will be greatly disappointed to find out that their family’s net income still does not qualify them for SNAP benefits.

Raising the gross income limit without also raising the net income limit constitutes a slight of hand maneuver by the State Legislature. This bill makes State Senators look good, but does practically nothing to actually help our most economically challenged citizens.


A similar bill is LB 306 which raises the income eligibility level for the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) from 130 percent of the federal poverty rate to 160 percent of the federal poverty rate. But, there is a dirty little secret about this bill. Permanently expanding these utility benefits up to those with incomes at 160 percent of the federal poverty rate will result in reduced benefits for those living at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level. In other words, LB 306 will rob from the poor in order to help those who are less poor.

LB 306 merely puts a temporary bandage on the problem of paying utility bills. LB 306 is estimated to add an additional 8,313 households to the LIHEAP program. This will increase administrative costs and result in reduced benefits for those already enrolled in the program. Here’s why.


After the American Rescue Plan dollars run out in two years, this LIHEAP expansion program will get billed to the State with a price tag of $20 million. So, unless State revenues miraculously increase somehow, benefits will get reduced for everyone enrolled in the program.

LB 147 requires the State to take over management of the Omaha Public School (OPS) System’s teacher retirement pension program. The OPS teacher pension program has been underfunded by $848 million. Although the bill supposedly holds Omaha Public Schools responsible for funding their own outstanding liabilities, there is nothing in the language of the bill which prevents OPS from asking the State for additional funding to meet its obligations.


Consequently, LB 147 blurs the lines of distinctions between the State’s teacher retirement plan and the OPS teacher retirement pension plan. The intention of OPS administrators has been to merge these two plans for quite some time.

LB 147 constitutes a real and present danger to property tax relief. This year the Legislature appropriated an estimated $790 million in property tax relief.

Should the State decide to absorb the $848 million in outstanding liabilities created by mismanaging the OPS teacher retirement pension plan, the decision would wipe our efforts to reduce your property taxes this year. For these reasons, and more, I voted against overriding the governor’s vetoes on these three bills.

While I believe it was wrong for the Legislature to override the governor’s three vetoes, my votes on each of these three bills still counts as only one vote per bill.

 

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