Budget, child welfare selections on 2012 legislative menu
Wigthman: Federal funding cuts take surplus revenue.
A thriving farm economy may bolster state revenue but federal cuts in Medicaid and Medicare and funds for state aid to schools will eat up much of any surplus.
Sen. John Wightman and his state senator colleagues will deal with these issues and others during the 60-day session of the 2012 Nebraska Legislature which begins Wednesday (today).
Wightman said state officials are projecting a $265 million surplus at the end of fiscal year 2012.
The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board will meet again in February to certify new revenue estimates.
“But there’s also a tremendous shortfall expected in the next two years,” he said.
As a member of the appropriations committee, Wightman will hear from some agency officials who want money to cover new programs.
“We’ve not seen a lot of that recently because of pressure due to revenue,” he said.
Wightman said the state-aid -to-education formula will likely change and money sought to replace stimulus funds, given to schools, that are no longer available.
Federal cutbacks in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement will risk the loss of health-care suppliers such as hospitals and nursing homes, he said.
Wightman said the county’s three hospitals, that receive federal subsidies as critical access hospitals, are vital.
Legislators will also wrangle with how to deal with an insurance exchange program that the federal government requires under the new national health care law.
The exchanges are intended to offer a one-stop shop when buying health insurance.
What to do about the state child welfare system is another hot topic, Wightman said.
“There’s a split between what the health and human services committee and the governor want,” he said, noting that Gov. David Heineman wants to continue the privatization of the system while the committee would like to see the state reclaim management from private contractors.
Wightman said he thinks contractors underbid what they thought privatization would cost while the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services did not consolidate the number of employees once the change was made.
“I think the HHS committee is proposing something that will return a lot of it (management) to the state,” he said.
The senator said he thinks the Keystone XL oil pipeline issue will be revisited with attempts by environmental groups to stop further development of fossil-based energy.
He said 20,000 wells have been drilled over the Ogallala Aquifer (not many in the Sandhills) through the years and that farm chemicals such as fertilizer have seeped into the water supply.
Because of that, Wightman said he didn’t think the Keystone pipeline posed a huge risk.
Some other major legislation, he noted, includes:
the resurfacing of the abolishment of the death penalty. Because of legal costs involved with a death-row prisoner, which are more than housing someone with a life sentence, Wightman said a few more senators may vote for abolishment.
more abortion restrictions such as cutting funding to providers and eliminating insurance coverage.
Wightman said he thinks exceptions to outlawing abortion, such as in the case of rape or incest, should be allowed.