Legislature faces work on Medicaid expansion, property taxes, prisons

Nebraska legislators had better have a relaxing holiday season, because they’ll have more than enough to do when they reconvene Jan. 9.
    Among the most pressing issues will be dealing with Nebraskans’ statewide vote approving Medicaid expansion.
     The measure on the Nov. 6 midterm election ballot garnered a 53 percent yes vote. It expands Medicaid coverage to require the state to provide Medicaid to those under the age of 65 and with incomes equal to or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line. Gov. Pete
Ricketts had earlier passed on the expansion.
    District 44 State Sen. Dan Hughes said it’s going to take a while both to find the money and set up mechanisms to enable the change.
    “Mediaid expansion is not going to happen Jan. 10,” Hughes said. “There’s a lot of logistics that have to be put in place; it’s the nuts and bolts of running out a new program in Health and Human Services. It takes software and training people. All the Legislature has to do is find the money.”
    Hughes said he hopes some of the money could from taxes on internet sales, which resulted from a Supreme Court ruling last summer.
    But part of the problem in deciding how to fund the expansion is that nobody knows yet how much it will cost.
    “We don’t know how many people will sign up,” Hughes said. “We’ll make a best guesstimate.”
    If not enough money is found, he said, the Legislature may have to pass a deficit spending bill in a subsequent session.
    But the state already is facing financial problems that could complicate the issue.
    “Our current revenue is not matching expectations for our current biennium budget that ends June 30,” Hughes said. “We may be short of money filling this budget as well. We just don’t know; a budget is just projections.”
    The three biggest expenses for the state are K-12 education, Health and Human Services and the University of Nebraska.
    “If the state cuts K-12, that falls back on the property taxpayer and we’re already hearing a lot of complaints about property taxes, so I don’t want to go there,” he said.

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