LINCOLN, Neb. — Gov. Pete Ricketts’ budget vetoes survived several override attempts on Wednesday despite warnings that the governor’s cuts would hurt some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.
Lawmakers fell three votes short of the support needed to restore $32.4 million in funding for groups that serve the elderly and people with developmental disabilities.
“I can’t believe what we have done,” Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said after lawmakers rejected one of his attempts to override a veto. “I’m only proud of the fact that I’m not a part of the decision to cut these services.”
Senators who supported the veto said the governor’s action was prudent given a shaky farm economy and state revenues that have lagged behind projections. Ricketts has said he opposed the Legislature’s decision to lower the minimum amount of cash lawmakers are required to keep in the state’s general fund.
Ricketts announced Monday that he had line-item vetoed $56.5 million from the two-year state budget. The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee recommended that lawmakers try to restore $32.7 million of that funding, most of which went to Medicaid service providers. Lawmakers voted 27-21 to override the veto but needed 30.
Other expenses were spared from cuts, including a state fund to lower property taxes and K-12 public school funding.
Alan Zavodny, the executive director of NorthStar Services, said the vote will probably force his nonprofit group out of business. NorthStar Services serves 200 residents and provides 500 jobs in a 22-county area in northeast Nebraska.
The cut will cost NorthStar an estimated $300,000, Zavodny said. NorthStar relies on state funding to provide employment services for people with developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome or fetal alcohol syndrome, and day services for the elderly.
Zavodny said the group has already cut staff and canceled leases to save money, and could have survived if state aid was held flat.
“This is devastating. It’s just catastrophic,” he said. “This is the darkest day we’ve ever had — easily.”
Sen. John Stinner of Gering, the Appropriations Committee chairman, said the cuts would undermine nursing homes and other service providers, and the problem could compound if their costs rise.
“We’ve got to take care of folks,” he said.
Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus said he would reluctantly support the governor’s veto because it would help the state endure its budget crunch, even though the state aid “is probably money well-spent.”
“God, what a mess,” Schumacher said. “It’s not a small amount of money, but we’re probably taking it from people who cannot help themselves.”
Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha acknowledged that the cuts would hurt providers but said she was also concerned about the state’s financial future. Linehan said the cuts could be worse in the future if lawmakers don’t scale back now and the economy worsens.
“The governor’s budget, at least as I view it, is based on the belief that it’s not going to get better,” she said.
Lawmakers also fell short of the support needed to override Ricketts’ veto of $300,000 for probation services. Senators voted 23-25 in favor of the override. In January, Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican warned lawmakers that cutting probation services could undermine their efforts to reduce the state’s prison population.
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