Senator Stinner Discusses Tough Budget Session

Article Courtesy of Jerry Purvis, Staff Reporter, Star Herald Newspaper, Scottsbluff, NE

Providing adequate health care and nursing center care continue to be a challenge with a shrinking state budget, but it’s one of State Senator John Stinner’s priorities in the next legislative session.

Stinner talked about the two issues on Tuesday at Heritage Estates in Gering during the Nebraska Health Care Association’s Western District summer meetings.

Stinner, who heads the Appropriations Committee, said that setting priorities is necessary in any budget session.

“Health care providers and especially nursing homes are something we wanted to protect,” he said. “During the listening process with health care providers, we were also dealing with a projected $153 million budget shortfall. So we had to start adjusting on the fly.”

While the legislature kept health care funding the same as last year, Stinner said it was still preferable to the originally proposed 3 percent cut.

“Governor Ricketts and I have visited often enough that he knew we weren’t going to concede on that,” he said.

Stinner said the state still isn’t finished with its revenue shortfall. The last two months of the current fiscal year were off another $34 million.

“We’re trying to figure out what’s happening and we’ll be discussing some of the things we’ve passed legislatively that might be impacting our revenue,” he said. “Plus we’re going to look at how much we’re losing to online sales where no state sales tax is collected.”

Big issues in rural western Nebraska include access to behavioral health services and nursing homes. The area is above the state average for the number of people receiving Medicaid.

“The legislature will do its share in making sure those services are available,” Stinner said. “The governor is also trying to get his arms around the agencies he supervises and has hired some excellent people. But in this current environment, we just have to manage ourselves through it as best we can.”

While fielding questions from the health care providers at the meeting, Stinner said there are only about five senators west of Kearney. Consequently, providers will need to remain active in state government and paint an accurate picture of western Nebraska’s needs.

“It’s still unknown how the federal government will react,” Stinner said. “We may see some kind of block grants for health care. We might also see caps on how fast those black grants will go up, which will be a challenge for us in appropriations.”

Stinner said the 2018 legislative session will continue to be an adjustment period the state will have to come to terms with. With revenue down, the state needs a strong summer. However, he still predicts there will be continued revenue shortfalls.

“I think we’ve cut about as much as we can,” he said. “In the long term, agencies might be challenged to look at their mission and decide what services they’ll eliminate.”