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Senator Fischer's Legislative Notes

December 20, 2010

By Senator Deb Fischer

The 102nd Legislative Session begins on January 5, 2011,
and we have a significant amount of work to do over the 90 days. As I
have discussed many times, the budget is the primary concern this
session. Estimates of the budget shortfall have changed over the last
several months, with the most recent estimates being $986 million.
Standing committees just completed the LR 542 process to identify
potential budget cuts. These potential cuts were made public on
Thursday, December 16th and include a wide range of options. I will
continue to focus on what I believe to be the core functions of
government: public education; highways and infrastructure; public
safety; and taking care of those who truly cannot care for themselves.

Over the past year I have been talking about the importance of
determining a plan to fund our state highway system into the future and
I recently shared my proposal to accomplish this with the public.
Providing safe and reliable roads must be a priority for the state, and
I believe this upcoming legislative session is the time to make this
commitment. This plan has no tax increase. It targets a half cent of
existing sales tax dollars to be put into a newly created State Highway
Capital Improvement Fund over a 20 year period. A half cent of sales
tax generates approximately $125 million per year. The Fund would be
used by the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) to construct
high-dollar, high-priority capital improvement and reconstruction
projects throughout the state. The projects would be selected through
the NDOR's normal prioritization process. The bill would have a
two-year implementation delay, taking effect in 2013.

Because local communities have the same funding problems faced at the
state level, the proposal calls for $20 million per year to be shared
with the cities and counties based on the existing allocation formula.
Under the plan, the NDOR would be required to spend at least $15 million
per year on completion of the expressway system. Bonding is also an
option under the plan, allowing NDOR to bond for high-priority projects
with 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 first
five 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 in
conjunction with the census process. The Nebraska Legislature will
create new district boundaries for itself, the U.S. House of
Representatives, the Public Service Commission, the State Board of
Education, the Board of Regents and the Supreme Court. The
Redistricting Committee will be appointed by the Executive Board of the
Legislature. This committee will then work on a proposal to be
presented to the full Legislative body later in the session.

The Legislature will likely face important decisions on a number of
other 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, in
1969 their jurisdiction was expanded to include all public employees. I
expect to see several bills introduced to reform the CIR process. Other
bills I anticipate for next session include bills on state aid to
schools, water issues, juvenile justice and immigration.

While I am focused on preparing for the upcoming Legislative session, I
am also getting ready to spend time with my family enjoying the
holidays. It is my wish for you that you are surrounded with love and
joy during this blessed season. We wish all of you a very Merry
Christmas and a Happy New Year.

As always, thank you for sharing in our legislative process, and I'll
visit with you again in 2011.

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