Nebraska Legislature passes budget that funds canal and new prison

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Over the past several days, the Legislature has been passing bills related to the state’s budget.

On Thursday, the main budget bill was passed and will now head to the governor to be signed.

The bill, LB 814, funds several government agencies and will raise state spending by 2.3% over the next two years.

Sen. Danielle Conrad said the budget this year has covered a few contentious issues, but she feels positive about what senators have accomplished.

“The budget impacts really every area of public policy, from education to natural resources, to economic development, to criminal justice to health care,” she said. “It is definitely not perfect, but I take seriously my constitutional obligation to ensure state government operations can continue.”

Conrad said there are two major parts of the budget that she disagrees with.

The first was the decision to spend $575 million to build the Perkins County Canal, which would divert water from the South Platte River in Colorado to farmland across the Nebraska border.

The second was the decision to build a new $366 million prison.

Sen. Rob Clements supports the new prison and the canal and said that overall, the budget has been a success.

“I’m glad,” he said. “It’s a real grind; it’s a lot of work. And I’m pleased that the budget process went well, and it will serve the state well.”

Sens. Justin Wayne and Terrell McKinney have spoken against the new prison and said the state should instead be focused on criminal justice reform to reduce overcrowding.

Sen. John Cavanaugh said there are several projects within the budget where the money is coming from state trusts or cash funds that were meant for other purposes.

For instance, this budget will divert millions of dollars from the Nebraska Environmental Trust fund to the canal.

“Raiding other sources of funds to fill holes in the budget, that we shouldn’t be doing,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re taking money away from the environment and from needy kids, and I think that’s inappropriate.”

Some of the less controversial budget bills passed include an extra $25 million to the Department of Corrections to increase salaries and pay other expenses.

There’s also $160 million going to the Department of Transportation to match federal funding for road and bridge improvements.

There were also adjustments to the compensation of state senators. They will still be paid $12,000 a year but will now earn per diem money based on how far away from the Capitol they live.

Finally, $34 million has been allocated for the salaries of state constitutional officers, judges and other elected officials.

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