The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

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By Steve Erdman
47th District 

Straight Talk From Steve: Budget Debate

 

March 23, 2022 | View PDF

Last week the Nebraska Legislature debated the main budget bills for the State.

These budget bills always tell State Senators what the State cannot afford, but we end up spending the money anyway. That’s very easy to do when you are spending other people’s money.

Budget bills are always controversial. Although the main budget bill (LB 1011) survived the first round of floor debate by a vote of 40-6, every State Senator in the Unicameral Legislature believes the State’s money should be spent differently. Nevertheless, there are three budget issues that are generating the most controversy this year, so today I will tell you what those issues are, why they are controversial, and why they are so important to our state.

The first controversial issue relates to funding sex education in our public schools. Every year the Governor sends his budget to the State Legislature, and the Appropriations Committee takes it up. I serve on the Appropriations Committee. When Gov. Ricketts sent his budget to us, it contained a proviso that the State Department of Education could not use any of their funding to advance new sex education standards for our public schools.

Sen. John Stinner of Gering, is the chair of the Appropriations Committee. Sen. Stinner is a purist, who does not like putting any political statements into the Appropriations Committee’s budget bills. So, the proviso was removed from the budget. This prompted Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston to introduce a series of amendments to put the proviso back into the bill. Her last amendment is intended to ensure that she would have the opportunity to amend the bill when it reaches the last round of debate.

Because so many concerned parents flooded the hearing rooms to oppose the State Board of Education’s newly proposed sex education standards when they were proposed last year, and because the State Board of Education contains activists who are tied to Planned Parenthood and other far Left activist groups, this proviso is necessary to prevent a runaway activist State Board of Education.

Another controversial issue relates to the Perkins County Canal Project contained in LB 1015. In 1923 Colorado and Nebraska signed a compact, allowing Nebraska to divert 500 cubic feet of water per second out of the South Platte River during the non-irrigation season and 120 cubic feet of water per second during the irrigation season, but this requires the building of a canal with a hefty price tag. Building the canal would cost the State $500 million.

Gov. Ricketts had proposed spending $400 million out of the State’s cash reserve fund and using $100 million from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) to pay for it. If the State does nothing, we could face a 90% reduction in the flow of the South Platte River according to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. Instead of funding the entire project this year, LB 1011 includes $53.5 million for design, permits, and options for purchasing land.

Finally, Gov. Ricketts wants to build a new prison. In his State of the State address, Gov. Ricketts said that our State’s correctional facilities have been underbuilt for the past 40 years. Currently, our facilities can house 5,300 inmates. Building a new correctional facility for $270 million would expand that number to 6,400 inmates.

Those who oppose the building of a new correctional facility complain that the State ought to be looking at correctional reform to reduce recidivism instead of building more prisons.

They favor rehabilitation over punishment in our penal system and complain that sentences are too stiff and police make too many arrests. For instance, Sen. John McCollister complained that the number of incarcerations went up when the crime rate was falling. However, doesn’t it also make sense that the crime rate would fall when you take the bad guys off the streets?

The fact of the matter is that our corrections system requires both stiff penalties for committing crimes as well as rehabilitation that works, and finding that perfect balance is what lawmakers in Lincoln must do this year.

 

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