- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - New funding for Nebraska property tax relief, water projects and state park renovations won initial approval Tuesday from state lawmakers.

Lawmakers gave first-round approval to an updated, two-year state budget of $7.8 billion. The financial plan includes millions for early childhood education, job-training programs and pediatric cancer research.

The vote on all three budget bills came after some lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to remove individual spending items, including $2.5 million for bronze fountains at the Capitol and $60,000 in state membership dues for the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact.

It also followed an unsuccessful attempt to insert an additional $20 million into the state property-tax credit program, on top of the $25 million boost already proposed. The money is distributed each year as a tax credit to property owners throughout the state.

The current property tax credit program distributes $115 million per year, an amount that has stayed flat in recent years even as farm and ranchland values - and the accompanying property taxes - have soared. The current budget proposal would increase the total fund to $140 million.

Lawmakers on Tuesday blocked an attempt to split the budget into individual spending items.

Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion, a member of the Appropriations Committee, argued that senators should have to vote on each budget item individually instead of as a whole. The move drew opposition from several senators, who said the move disrespected a longstanding legislative tradition.

“This is the nuclear option,” said Sen. Heath Mello, chairman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. “This essentially blows up the budget in a way we have never seen in our lifetimes.”

Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln said the action served no constructive purpose.

“This tactic is a cynical obstructive showboating activity and it has no place in this body,” he said.

Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont didn’t support dividing the bill, but he took issue with other senators going after Kintner - an outspoken conservative known to provoke arguments on the legislative floor.

“We’re talking Washington, D.C., politics. Well, I think we rose to that level by lambasting a fellow member,” Janssen said.

The measure that won initial approval also includes $17.5 million for deferred park maintenance, $10 million for a state job-training program and $32 million for water projects by the middle of next year.

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The bill is LB905

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