Gov. Pete Ricketts got his way Wednesday as all his line-item vetoes survived override motions from the Legislature.
Ricketts acted on the state’s mainline budget bill Monday with line-item vetoes that amounted to $56.5 million in budget cuts. Most of the governor’s cuts reduced specific state programs’ budgets by 0.5 percent, but some received more of a cut.
Among the most controversial cuts were to probation services, juvenile justice, state and community colleges, the University of Nebraska, and major cuts in the Department of Health and Human Services.
The first override motion, introduced by Sen. John Stinner of Gering, was intended to return funds to probation services. Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln argued that the courts need this money to hire probation staff. She said without proper probation, Nebraska will end up paying more as criminal recidivism would rise.
The motion failed with a 23-25 vote, seven votes short of a successful override.
Of Ricketts’ $56.5 million in reductions over the biennium, over $34 million came from DHHS. Stinner addressed this with a motion to override the gubernatorial cuts to behavioral health aid, medical assistance and developmental disability aid.
Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said he knew how many senators were going to vote against the override motions, and it would be very hard to pass any motions. But Krist gave an impassioned speech to sway the opposition about healthcare.
“These are healthcare services of the most fragile of our population,” Krist said. “This is what government is about, providing for those who can’t provide for themselves.”
After many more passionate speeches, the motion fell short again, 27-21. Senators then started pulling their motions, realizing that they wouldn’t have the votes.
Several other motions were made later to restore full funds to individual programs, but all failed or were withdrawn.
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, one of the senators to vote no on every motion, explained his position to the Legislature. He said he would’ve supported cuts in other areas like the water sustainability program. Groene said overspending made Ricketts play his hand.
“The governor had no choice,” Groene said. “He took the options away from you.”
Another opposing lawmaker, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, said in a press release that cuts should have been made education. She said the $44 million to teacher’s retirement was too much. She also said funding for K-12 education increased by 2.3 percent, while “everyone else has been asked to make cuts.”
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha ended debate for the day with an attack on the senators who voted no. But it was Ricketts who won the day, sustaining all the vetoes on the state’s budget.