Senator Fischer's Legislative Notes

By Senator Deb FischerThe 102nd Legislative Session begins on January 5, 2011,and we have a significant amount of work to do over the 90 days. As Ihave discussed many times, the budget is the primary concern thissession. Estimates of the budget shortfall have changed over the lastseveral months, with the most recent estimates being $986 million.Standing committees just completed the LR 542 process to identifypotential budget cuts. These potential cuts were made public onThursday, December 16th and include a wide range of options. I willcontinue to focus on what I believe to be the core functions ofgovernment: public education; highways and infrastructure; publicsafety; and taking care of those who truly cannot care for themselves.Over the past year I have been talking about the importance ofdetermining a plan to fund our state highway system into the future andI recently shared my proposal to accomplish this with the public.Providing safe and reliable roads must be a priority for the state, andI believe this upcoming legislative session is the time to make thiscommitment. This plan has no tax increase. It targets a half cent ofexisting sales tax dollars to be put into a newly created State HighwayCapital Improvement Fund over a 20 year period. A half cent of salestax generates approximately $125 million per year. The Fund would beused by the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) to constructhigh-dollar, high-priority capital improvement and reconstructionprojects throughout the state. The projects would be selected throughthe NDOR's normal prioritization process. The bill would have atwo-year implementation delay, taking effect in 2013. Because local communities have the same funding problems faced at thestate level, the proposal calls for $20 million per year to be sharedwith the cities and counties based on the existing allocation formula.Under the plan, the NDOR would be required to spend at least $15 millionper year on completion of the expressway system. Bonding is also anoption under the plan, allowing NDOR to bond for high-priority projectswith a cap of $500 million in issued bonds and a debt service ceiling of$25 million per year. Any bonds also must be issued within the firstfive years of the program. Redistricting will also be an important issue this session. The U.S.Constitution provides that states must redistrict every ten years inconjunction with the census process. The Nebraska Legislature willcreate new district boundaries for itself, the U.S. House ofRepresentatives, the Public Service Commission, the State Board ofEducation, the Board of Regents and the Supreme Court. TheRedistricting Committee will be appointed by the Executive Board of theLegislature. This committee will then work on a proposal to bepresented to the full Legislative body later in the session.The Legislature will likely face important decisions on a number ofother issues including the Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR).The CIR was created in 1947 to resolve public sector labor disputes.Originally the CIR was only focused on public utilities; however, in1969 their jurisdiction was expanded to include all public employees. Iexpect to see several bills introduced to reform the CIR process. Otherbills I anticipate for next session include bills on state aid toschools, water issues, juvenile justice and immigration.While I am focused on preparing for the upcoming Legislative session, Iam also getting ready to spend time with my family enjoying theholidays. It is my wish for you that you are surrounded with love andjoy during this blessed season. We wish all of you a very MerryChristmas and a Happy New Year.As always, thank you for sharing in our legislative process, and I'llvisit with you again in 2011.