- Associated Press - Thursday, May 14, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska’s new $8.7 billion state budget, given final approval on Thursday, includes an increase in state aid for property tax reductions, education and prison expenses.

Senators passed the two-year package with little debate, having reached compromises on various spending items over the last few weeks.

The budget headed to Gov. Pete Ricketts includes a total of $408 million over two years for the state’s property tax credit fund - $8 million more than the Republican governor had requested for the fund, which uses state money to reduce what taxpayers owe to local counties, school districts and natural resources districts.

The package also would add millions for state K-12 school aid, prisons and a 3 percent funding increase for the University of Nebraska, state colleges and community colleges.

“We incorporated the governor’s priorities and the Legislature’s priorities within our budget,” Appropriations Committee chairman Sen. Heath Mello said. “It’s a good blueprint that moves the state forward.”

The K-12 aid formula will see a 4.3 percent increase in state funding in the upcoming fiscal year and a 0.8 percent increase in the year that follows. The Department of Correctional Services will get an extra $3.7 million annually to hire additional security and behavioral health staff, largely in response to a lack of services for inmates.

Senators were spared from having to make major cuts after a revenue forecast in April showed that the state will likely collect more than expected.

The state’s forecasting board projected last month that revenue will grow 5 percent during the fiscal year that starts on July 1 and 4.3 percent in the following year. Prior to the board meeting, many lawmakers had speculated that state revenues would decline and force them to trim the budget to avoid a deficit.

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