Stinner ‘more optimistic’ about budget despite COVID squeeze

Appropriations committee chairman Sen. John Stinner

As the second half of the legislative session approaches, Nebraska’s budget outlook is one thing Sen. John Stinner said he’s optimistic about.

Closures meant to stem the tide of coronavirus infections and deaths have led to thousands of jobless claims in Nebraska. State budgets across the U.S. have also been slashed to adjust to a major economic contraction. Despite this, Stinner, who serves as chairman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, said he was “more optimistic” about the state’s money now than when the pandemic started.

For example, Stinner said he predicted a $95 million shortfall for June. Nebraska instead saw a net increase of $10 million.

“I actually celebrated, I don’t know about anyone else,” he said.

He also noted federal stimulus — like the $1,200 per person checks, increased unemployment insurance and the Paycheck Protection Program or PPP loans — as reasons for his new outlook.

“Some of those are going away. PPP is going away, the $1,200 is going away, unemployment will probably be adjusted down based on what I hear,” Stinner said. “So, there may be more additional effects if we don’t come out of this in more of a ‘V’ shape.”

Stinner was referring to a quick decline, followed by a sharp increase in economic growth when he referred to a “V shape.” Before the pandemic, Nebraska’s revenue was expected to increase by about 5.2% — about $115 million, according to the Economic Forecasting Board. For now, Stinner said that much of the future was uncertain until the coronavirus was put in check.

“I’m hoping that something positive happens from medical science, I think everybody is,” Stinner said.

Stinner was also prompted to speak on face coverings after an audience member asked the senator if the recent spike in COVID-19 cases was related to increased testing.

“I’m going to speculate that more testing did increase some of the numbers, but most of it has to do with people not wearing face masks, not social distancing (and) getting into crowds,” Stinner said.

Stinner referenced a recent outbreak tied a Morrill County golf tournament and a Morrill County community exposure,  as released by Panhandle Public Health Department officials. The remaining 17 day of the 2020 legislative session is set to resume July 20. “I’d tune in. It ought to be good political theatre for about 17 days,” Stinner said. “I guess we’re gonna go late nights, so it ought to be interesting.” 

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Justin Garcia is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at justin.garcia@starherald.com.

Justin Garcia is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at justin.garcia@starherald.com.

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