Senator John Stinner Sr. talks about the budget

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SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. (KNEB) District 45 Senator John Stinner visited Scottsbluff residents via conference call this morning. Century Link allowed for citizens to link their office phones to the conference call, and the Chamber of Commerce hosted the call in their offices, as well.

Budget meetings, the hemp bill, nursing homes, and Medicaid were among the issues Senator Stinner touched on. He referenced the legislature’s Revenue Committee for testimony today. Stating that he is “hopeful that something productive will come out of this session, we’ll just see how it all evolves.” Members of the public asked about bills and issues that concerned them during a Q&A session following.

He cited the state budget is $80 million down for the months of November, December, and January. “Whereas the forecast was supposed to be ‘up $69 million’.” He stated that there may need to be some questioning state tax dollars and federal tax changes. He said that they’ll be taking a look at those figures to see with the new regulations if those numbers are reconciled somewhat. “It’s a long way from 69 million up when you’re 80 million down. So, we’ll see if that corrects.”

Regarding the hemp bill, Senator Stinner noted that NSP requests a $300,000 survey be conducted in order to differentiate hemp vs. marijuana. Stinner noted that a request like that is reasonable. When hemp could raise billions of dollars in our state, $300,000 is a good investment to meet the needs of law enforcement. But, he also said that it may stop the hemp bill from passing.

He also said that nursing homes are a need in Nebraska. Citing multiple closures recently including the Skyline nursing homes. He said that Nursing homes are “definitely a budget issue.” He recalled the biennium provider rates were cut or held steady, which amounted to about $58 million in cuts. He also said that providers from all over the state have told him that they are having a hard time attracting and retaining people at currently offered wages and benefits. “They’re providing good services, but they have less and less folks.”

A lot of talk during the call focused on Property taxes and Property tax relief. Stinner said that there are many ideas about how to relieve property tax, but it is important to focus on ways to supplement the loss of that income. He said not to worry too much about contentions, as he thinks that lawmakers will decide on something that will generate income without raising taxes, and “somehow provide immediate tax relief for everybody.”

Senator Stinner touched on Medicaid as a large part of the budget, citing the physical note of around $62 million, for now. An upcoming April deadline to submit a waiver approaches, and a 9 month approval period following. Senator Stinner said, “We’re hoping that by January of 2020 would be a start date for Medicaid.” 90,000 participants are expected in the Medicaid program, setting the budget figure proposed for about $80 million.

Senator Stinner said that his committee has 49 different proposals, and that a lot of them have to do with requests to take more money out of the Health Care Cash Fund. He said in no uncertain terms that “there is no money in there.” Explaining that the budget covers the basics, as it is. There is “no room for any extra stuff.”

Stinner summed up his message, saying that the cash budget is not very optimistic as far as cash funding is concerned, but that he is optimistic that something can be done for property tax relief. He hopes that the February forecast will be more robust. He surmised that the $80 million down has something largely to do with state taxes and the new Federal tax changes, and expects that gap between what was projected and what numbers we are actually dealing with will be figured out, stating that the “offage is probably in that tax part.”

He then opened the floor for questions which he answered in turn for another 15 minutes, and then he excused himself to check in on the floor. State Revenue committee will be meeting today.

Senator Stinner will be available by conference call again February 28th, March 14th, March 28th, April 11th, April 25th, May 9th, May 23rd, and June 6th if you would like to voice your concerns and learn about issues that affect your community and business.

You can contact the Chamber of Commerce offices at (308)632-2133 for more information.

The Chamber of Commerce office is located at 1517 Broadway Suite 104, Scottsbluff.