CAPITOL UPDATE from Sen. Matt Williams

Greetings District 36. Tuesday, May 23, was the last day of the 2017 legislative session. The final week of the session was filled with several topics, none more important than the adoption of our state’s budget.

Governor Ricketts vetoed a total of $56.5 million in spending from the state’s $9 billion budget. He commented that the budget sent to him by the Legislature was balanced with gimmicks. I disagree with this comment. The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee worked hard to propose a budget which recognized our states revenue shortfall while continuing to support priorities for our state. The spending increase in the 2017-2019 budget that was sent to the Governor was 1.1%. With his vetoes, Governor Ricketts reduced that increase to .6%.

I fully supported the budget as originally adopted by the Legislature. Further cuts to the University of Nebraska, state colleges and community colleges will have long-term negative effects. While I’m concerned about these cuts, our higher education system must be part of the solution in these difficult times.

Health care provider reimbursement rates were also hit hard by the Governor’s vetoes. By my count, we have 5 critical access hospitals and numerous nursing homes in District 36. I’m proud of our hospitals and nursing homes and recognize how important they are to our communities. As passed by the Legislature, reimbursement to nursing homes and hospitals would have been flat for the next two years. The additional cuts taken as a result of the vetoes will limit the ability of these organizations to provide care to many of our most vulnerable citizens. Here is a direct quote from a hospital administrator in our area:

“Cutting Medicaid reimbursement will only worsen an already critical situation. The health care community cannot sustain continued cuts in reimbursement and remain viable.”

I fear these cuts will harm our rural hospitals and nursing homes. For this reason, I voted to override the cuts to Medicaid provider rates including cuts for those with developmental disabilities and behavioral health needs. The override was unsuccessful. I look forward to hearing the Governor’s recommendations to ensure that rural Nebraskans will have access to quality health care services.

There are some bright spots in the budget. We protected the property tax credit fund from any cuts. We also funded modest but necessary increases for the Department of Corrections to address prison overcrowding. We have an estimated $370 million in our “raining day” fund for future use if state revenue continues to decline. Most importantly, we closed a $1 billion budget gap without increasing taxes on Nebraska families or businesses.

This has been a challenging legislative session. I’m looking forward to going home to spend time with family and friends. I will also be traveling in the district to visit with constituents. Thanks again for your input and your continued support during the session.