LINCOLN — The Legislature's Appropriations Committee signed off Monday on a $7.8 billion, two-year state budget proposal.
The proposal would boost state spending by an average of 5.2 percent annually, including increases in state school aid and in the state contributions to retirement plans.
State Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, the committee chairman, praised the committee's product.
“I feel today's a positive first step to getting a budget on the floor with no dissenting votes,” he said. “It's a good budget.”
Before wrapping up their work, committee members voted to take $51 million of projected tax revenue off the table and add it to the state cash reserve fund.
That's the amount that Nebraska's official forecasting board added Friday to their estimates of tax state revenue for the two fiscal years beginning July 1.
The $51 million addition would push the cash reserve fund to an estimated $625 million.
Mello argued that moving the money to the cash reserve would be fiscally prudent. But he predicted other lawmakers will not be happy with the idea because it would not be available for new programs or tax cut measures.
One committee member, Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion, raised objections. He said he would rather give the money back to taxpayers than collect it in a state fund.
Others said that the money still could be used for tax cuts once a planned tax study commission finishes its work. The commission is expected to work over the summer and fall to develop tax reform ideas.
Kintner ended up abstaining on the motion.
Earlier, Sen. Tyson Larson of O'Neill abstained on approving a bill to fund capital construction projects. He said he has concerns about renovations at the State Historical Society and about some University of Nebraska and state college projects.
But the main budget bill won unanimous 9-0 support from the sometimes fractious committee.
The bill would provide higher-than average increases in spending for higher education, which the university and state colleges have said will allow them to freeze tuition for two years.
The budget proposal includes money to serve more people with intellectual disabilities who are on the state waiting list and payment rate increases for child welfare and health care providers.
It also includes money to meet requirements of the federal health care overhaul.
Among the more controversial items in the proposal is $2.2 million to buy an airplane from the University of Nebraska Foundation.
The budget proposal will be delivered to the full Legislature on Wednesday, the 70th day of the session. Debate on the budget is slated to start next week.