Heineman’s budget plan steers away from fights

Heineman’s budget plan steers away from fights

By Martha Stoddard January 17, 2013 5:34 pm Comments

 Gov. Dave Heineman’s proposal to get rid of state income taxes has overshadowed his budget plan, ever since he announced both on Tuesday.

Lawmakers and lobbyists alike foresee battles over the tax proposal. The governor appears to be expecting the same, given that he has let Nebraskans fantasize for a few days about avoiding income taxes before he offers details about where we would feel the pain of replacing that tax revenue. 

His budget plan, meanwhile, seems designed to avoid major fights. One senator observed that the plan looked like a recommendation made by a “moderate Democrat” instead of by a tight-fisted Republican. The governor offered something for most of the interest groups that had been gearing up for battle. 

It has a 5 percent increase each year in state school aid, instead of the 3 percent that education groups had feared. What’s more, it includes 5 percent each year for special education. It provides better-than-average increases for the University of Nebraska and other public higher education institutions.

The plan offers a 2.25 percent increase each year for provider rates, that is, payment rates for doctors, therapists and other providers of health care and human services. That’s in contrast to the rate cuts that the Department of Health and Human Services had proposed.

It fully funds the child care provider rates called for in current law and puts more into community-based developmental disability services. It even sets aside money to build a new veterans home in central Nebraska, without anyone mounting a major public push for the project.

True, Heineman didn’t go so far as to embrace the Medicaid expansion envisioned under the federal health care law. Observers are stocking up on popcorn and peanuts to watch that fight between the governor and the Legislature.   

But he promised his tax plan would be revenue neutral. That had to be welcome news to the coalition of groups that, obviously fearing he would seek to cut tax revenues, held a pre-emptive press conference Monday. They called for “investing” in education, health, safey streets and strong communities, not cut taxes.