Raid on the environmental fund and the construction of new prisons were criticized
LINCOLN. Gov. Jim Pillen should end his raid on the Nebraska Environment Fund and reconsider a policy that appears to require not one but two new state prisons, the legislative committee said Monday.
Pillen’s proposed state budget would redirect $14 million over the next two years from the Environment Trust, which is funded by state lottery revenue, to the state water fund.
Critics said it would divert funds from worthy recycling and conservation projects to the government’s efforts to uphold state water treaties, projects that should be funded by state taxes.
One witness described this as a “blatant disregard” of the Environment Foundation’s intentions and possibly a constitutional violation of the foundation’s intention to “preserve, improve and restore the natural environment…”.
“Too often in recent years some of the (Trust) money has been used to fill holes in the state budget and favor more worthwhile projects,” said John Bender of the Friends of the Nebraska Environment Foundation, a citizen group. .
Audubon, Neb., a conservation organization and a retired Lincoln attorney testified against the exit from the trust.
Fund change called ‘good fit’
The transfer of funds from the Foundation, which makes up more than a third of the lottery funds it allocates annually, has been defended by the Pillan administration as a “good solution” to cover millions of dollars of projected water project liabilities. .
Critics of the plan said they agreed that projects funded by the State Water Fund were worthy of consideration, but said they should apply for a grant from the Trust like everyone else.
Spike Eickholt of the Nebraska ACLU testified against the governor’s proposal to complete funding for the new 1,512-bed state prison.
Eickholt said the $96 million allocation is just the beginning, and that a recent study of prison conditions suggests another 1,500-bed prison worth more than $300 million will be needed before 2030.
“This commitment should not be made without significant criminal justice reforms,” he said, “to allow for cheaper and more effective alternatives to sending petty offenders to jail.”
Monday was the first day that the Legislative Assembly Committee on Appropriations held public hearings on the development of the state budget for the next two fiscal years.
Lee Will, administrator of the governor’s budget, testified in favor of Pillen’s budget, saying the plan follows a government spending line and prioritizes tax cuts and increased spending on K-12 education.
Will said that with a $543 million budget surplus and $1.6 billion state cash reserve, he has enough money to support the governor’s spending plans, which include a new prison and a $574 million allocation for the Perkins County canal.
Joey Adler Ruan of the OpenSky Policy Institute disputed this, saying the plan is not financially sustainable and may require future cuts in public services.
The NU distribution system is unlikely to be supported
He also said that the proposed 1.3% increase in spending over the next two years is insufficient in a time of high inflation. According to Adler Ruan, a 2% increase in the University of Nebraska’s budget is “unlikely to support” the university system.
Aside from Will, the only witness in favor of the governor’s budget was Mitchell Clark of First Five Nebraska, who advocates early childhood education programs.
Clarke said the organization supports Pillen’s plan to provide an additional $166,000 a year to the State Patrol to expedite the criminal background checks needed for child center workers.
What used to take seven to 10 days to review now takes about 25 days, Clark said, slowing down the hiring of childcare workers at a time when there are shortages and a 40% turnover rate.
He said that recently the need for such checks has increased by 20%.
Monday’s hearing was the first of many that the Appropriations Committee will hold over the next few weeks as it develops its budget. Later hearings will focus on the state agency’s budget requests.
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