Erdman says legislature wrong to override Ricketts’ vetoes

A state senator that represents the Panhandle believes the legislature made a mistake in overriding vetoes from the Governor on three bills. 

In his latest column, Steve Erdman of Bayard says the legislature was wrong to override Pete Ricketts' rejections of LB 108, LB 147 and LB 306. 

LB 108 expands eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from 130 percent of the federal poverty rate to 165 percent. This means someone whose gross income is 65 percent above the federal poverty rate could qualify for food stamps. 

Erdman calls the bill "smoke and mirrors" and "highly deceptive" in his column, saying it does not affect the net income limit, another step in the application process. 

"Many families will be greatly disappointed to find out that their family’s net income still does not qualify them for SNAP benefits," Erdman wrote. "Raising the gross income limit without also raising the net income limit constitutes a slight of hand maneuver by the State Legislature."

LB 306 did something similar, expanding the income eligibility level for the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP helps qualifying residents with paying for utilities. The income cap is now 160 percent of the poverty rate instead of 130 percent. 

Erdman says this bill will result in less money going to people who actually need it. He says over 8,300 households are estimated to be added to he program with the expansion. Erdman claims this will raise administrative costs and result in reduced benefits for those already enrolled in the program. 

"In other words, LB 306 will rob from the poor in order to help those who are less poor," the senator wrote. 

LB 147 requires the state to manage the pension system for Omaha Public Schools through the Nebraska Public Employees Retirement Systems, beginning in 2024. The system manages retirement funds for several other public agencies already, including other school districts and county and state employees. 

OPS' pension fund currently has a $848 million shortfall. The bill's introducer, state senator Mark Kolterman of Seward, said the language of the bill makes it clear resolving the shortfall is the district's responsibility, not the state's.

In his column, Erdman's concerns are in line with Ricketts' who called the bill a "slippery slope."

"Although the bill supposedly holds Omaha Public Schools responsible for funding their own outstanding liabilities, there is nothing in the language of the bill which prevents OPS from asking the State for additional funding to meet its obligations," Erdman said.

Erdman voted to uphold the vetoes on all three bills. State senators need 30 votes to override a governor's veto. All votes were close to that mark. LB 108 passed with a 30-19 vote. LB 147 passed 31-18 and LB 306 got 32 votes in favor of overriding Ricketts' veto. 

You can read Erdman's full column below:

Last week the Legislature voted to override Gov. Rickett’s vetoes on three bills: LB 108, LB 147 and LB 306. LB 108 and LB 306 expand Nebraska’s welfare benefits, while LB 147 requires the State to take over management of the Omaha Public School’s teacher pension plan. So, today I would like to explain why the Legislature was wrong to override the Governor’s vetoes on these three bills.

LB 108 is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. The bill raises the gross income limit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from 130 percent of the federal poverty rate to 165 percent of the federal poverty rate, but it does not change the net income limit. Whenever a family applies for SNAP, the family’s gross income is considered first. If the family’s gross income falls within the new rate of 165 percent of the federal poverty rate, then the family’s net income will be considered next. When calculating the family’s net income, deductions are made for such things as housing and daycare. The family’s net income must fall at or below the federal poverty rate in order to qualify for SNAP, which is no different than how the old system worked.

LB108 is a highly deceptive bill. Many families will be greatly disappointed to find out that their family’s net income still does not qualify them for SNAP benefits. Raising the gross income limit without also raising the net income limit constitutes a slight of hand maneuver by the State Legislature. This bill makes State Senators look good, but does practically nothing to actually help our most economically challenged citizens.

A similar bill is LB 306 which raises the income eligibility level for the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) from 130 percent of the federal poverty rate to 160 percent of the federal poverty rate. But, there is a dirty little secret about this bill. Permanently expanding these utility benefits up to those with incomes at 160 percent of the federal poverty rate will result in reduced benefits for those living at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level. In other words, LB 306 will rob from the poor in order to help those who are less poor.

LB 306 merely puts a temporary bandage on the problem of paying utility bills. LB 306 is estimated to add an additional 8,313 households to the LIHEAP program. This will increase administrative costs and result in reduced benefits for those already enrolled in the program. Here’s why. After the American Rescue Plan dollars run out in two years, this LIHEAP expansion program will get billed to the State with a price tag of $20 million. So, unless State revenues miraculously increase somehow, benefits will get reduced for everyone enrolled in the program.

LB 147 requires the State to take over management of the Omaha Public School (OPS) System’s teacher retirement pension program. The OPS teacher pension program has been underfunded by $848 million. Although the bill supposedly holds Omaha Public Schools responsible for funding their own outstanding liabilities, there is nothing in the language of the bill which prevents OPS from asking the State for additional funding to meet its obligations. Consequently, LB 147 blurs the lines of distinctions between the State’s teacher retirement plan and the OPS teacher retirement pension plan. The intention of OPS administrators has been to merge these two plans for quite some time.

LB 147 constitutes a real and present danger to property tax relief. This year the Legislature appropriated an estimated $790 million in property tax relief. Should the State decide to absorb the $848 million in outstanding liabilities created by mismanaging the OPS teacher retirement pension plan, the decision would wipe our efforts to reduce your property taxes this year.

For these reasons, and more, I voted against overriding the governor’s vetoes on these three bills. While I believe it was wrong for the Legislature to override the governor’s three vetoes, my votes on each of these three bills still counts as only one vote per bill.

 

 

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