One of the greatest barriers to growing Nebraska is the increasingly burdensome regulations coming out of Washington, D.C. As Governor, one of my top priorities is pushing back on these regulations and creating a business-friendly climate in our state so that hardworking Nebraskans can find the good-paying jobs that we rely on to keep Nebraska a great place to live, work and raise a family. Washington bureaucrats, however, have continued to author new rules that seek to regulate many aspects of our lives.
“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” echoes as our local and state representatives confront the drumbeat to address ever-increasing property taxes. The reverberations are particularly loud when suggestions turn to reducing financial support of local school districts which, to use North Platte’s public schools for example, levy approximately half of the property taxes paid by real estate owners. This summer and fall, the Unicameral’s Education (on which our Senator Groene serves) and Revenue Committees are studying Nebraska’s funding of education ostensibly with an eye toward shifting more of the load away from property taxes.
Presidents are known for rushing new policies during their last two years in office. Without the pressure of re-election, they begin to focus on their legacies and often aggressively pursue partisan proposals.
On Aug. 3, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its most aggressive proposal to date on regulating U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector. The Administration’s “Clean Power Plan” would drastically affect Nebraska’s economy without achieving its stated goal of combating climate change.
The North Platte City Council is to be applauded for two recent actions aimed at easing the local tax burden. One will grow the tax base. The other may responsibly reduce spending. To effectively decrease the tax load, both growth of the tax base and reduction of spending are necessary.
Agriculture is Nebraska’s No. 1 industry, and that is why growing agriculture is so critical to growing our state. Ethanol is one of the key growth industries in Nebraska agriculture that has added billions in revenue and thousands of jobs to our economy over the past decade. Thanks to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) passed in 2005, Nebraska’s ethanol production has tripled from 566 million gallons to about 2 billion gallons in just 10 years.
A month has passed since the legislative session ended and after a short respite we now start the process of Legislative Resolutions (LR). These are requested by senators for interim committee studies and hearings on issues important to their constituents.
Across Nebraska on Independence Day, Nebraskans will perform annual traditions as they gather to watch fireworks, grill on the back porch, march in parades, participate in community-wide festivals and share the holiday with family and friends. While these rituals may seem commonplace, they are at the heart of who we are as Nebraskans and Americans as we celebrate the 239th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The overarching goal of my administration is growing Nebraska. Opening and expanding overseas markets is a critical part of finding new opportunities for Nebraska businesses in a global economy. From June 7-15, leaders in agriculture and economic development from across Nebraska joined me on a very successful international trade mission, the first of my administration. This trade mission took us to the European Union (EU) where we visited Italy, Belgium and Denmark. With 500 million consumers across 28 countries, the European Union holds many markets and opportunities for trade with our state. During the mission, the delegation met with business executives, farm cooperatives and government leaders to invite investment in Nebraska, dispel misconceptions about Nebraska farms and build trade relationships.
The lawmakers in our country have over-reacted to the issue of deadbeat dads. The way the laws are written now absolutely create instability in families because of the inherent incentive that exists for women to turn their children into paystubs on the way out the door and the weakening of the marriage bond.
North Platte’s new superintendent for our public schools will soon be officially on the job. Ron Hanson, Ed. D., holds a doctorate in education administration and curriculum and instruction, comes to us from the Papillion-LaVista district, which has one of Nebraska’s highest graduation rates, has advance placement and career academy programs that are models for success and has a five-year track record of improving student achievement numbers. If you have the opportunity to welcome Hanson to North Platte, please take advantage of it. Those who served in the superintendent search and hiring process — citizens, teachers, administrators and our school board — are again to be commended for hiring a proven leader in Nebraska education.
Recent news articles covering Catholic Health Initiatives have raised questions about how Great Plains Health is affected by changes in the healthcare industry, and generally about how GPH is operated. CHI is a very large, nonprofit, faith-based healthcare organization headquartered in Denver. It owns and operates numerous hospitals including Good Samaritan in Kearney, St. Francis in Grand Island, Alegent Hospitals in Omaha, as well as St. Elizabeth and Nebraska Heart Institute in Lincoln.
The Nebraska Legislature has finished the first session of the 104th Legislature and many of our senators have now returned home to the voters in districts they represent. As they spend the summer hearing from Nebraska’s second house, my administration continues to work on my legislative priorities.
The passage of LB 268, the repeal of the death penalty, on final reading has been the center of attention statewide. While polls show that 70 percent of Nebraskans approve of using the death penalty as a form of punishment for individuals who commit the heinous crime of premeditated murder, 70 percent of state senators have decided to do what is right in their own eyes and have voted to repeal the death penalty against the will of the majority of the citizens they represent.
The first official Memorial Day observance took place in May 1868, which was almost three years after Robert E. Lee surrendered the last major Confederate Army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.
As I continue to focus on property tax relief, I received a letter that my valuation will go up 17 percent on top of the assessed valuation increases. Valuation increases do not need to turn into tax dollar increases. Local school boards, county commissioners, NRD boards, community college boards and city councils have no excuse not to offset the valuation increases by lowering your tax levies. For example, the school board can lower your tax rate from 105 to 95 without doing harm to their state aid.
We have 13 working days left in this session and the budget is sailing along without much debate. I have come to understand the power of the Appropriations Committee. A real concern I have is that a senator on the Appropriations Committee can sponsor legislation that is heard by the Appropriations Committee. That procedure leaves out the three rounds of debate on the floor that all other legislation must go through in order to become law. For example, the $25 million for the UNMC’s Global Center for Advanced Interprofessional Learning and its annual $5 million operational funding was tucked into LB 657 — the 144 page, $10 billion appropriation bill to fund state spending. I will look into proposing a rule change.
As Americans, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our veterans. Last week, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. As we watched vintage airplanes soar over the U.S. Capitol last week, it brought to mind the countless heroes who gave their lives so we could live in freedom. Earlier this month, I was honored to help welcome home current service members of the Nebraska Army National Guard, who were returning from deployment in Kuwait.
That creaking noise you hear is the stretching of the seams of North Platte’s residential housing market. Our town currently is experiencing far more demand for houses than what is available for purchase.
An often-quoted saying here in Lincoln is, “making law is like making sausage — both are messy.” That is true when it comes to working on legislation within a bill. It is called compromise. We make sure the greater good is gained without doing harm to the minority.
n LB 72 tightens up the law against transferring wealth to heirs so an individual can qualify for Medicaid reimbursements. We have all heard stories where recipients transfer property to their children so they can have their assisted living and medical cost paid for by the taxpayer. This bill makes it harder to do that. I voted for it.
n I can’t wait: Bluegrass fans — myself included — will be making their annual pilgrimage to the Lincoln County Fairgrounds this week for one of the best three-day festivals anywhere, and this year’s show looks like a genuine whiz-banger.
Thirty-two days remain in this legislative session. Last week began with us voting to have owners of all-terrain vehicles (ATV) pay sales taxes at dealerships instead of at courthouses. I voted for the bill.
Here’s an important question: Just how much of Nebraska’s electricity is supplied by coal? The answer is far more than one might guess. In fact, Nebraska gets 72 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants. But what if Nebraska were suddenly forced to seek its electricity from other sources? Could the state find enough electricity to meet demand during peak use, or would it experience higher utility prices and potential blackouts?
Proponents of Medicaid expansion in Nebraska are not giving up. This week, the Nebraska Legislature is scheduled to debate whether to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Since the last time I wrote about this issue two weeks ago, proponents of expansion released a study claiming that expanding Medicaid would be an economic boon for our state. Nebraskans, however, should not buy into claims that expansion of government entitlement programs are justified as something that “save(s), create(s) and support(s)” jobs. Nebraskans have never used subjective measures touting “saved” or “supported” jobs when determining the efficacy of entitlement expansions, and it would be irresponsible to begin doing so today.
Most of us agree that taxes are necessary to fund vital public services, but at times, it seems we suffer a collective schizophrenia when it comes to governmental spending. We want our taxes cut but will oppose cuts to spending that we like. And every dime of governmental spending has its share of admirers. Amidst the clatter, it can be difficult to determine what spending can be sensibly cut. Locally this spring, we’ve seen an excellent example of how responsible behavior at city hall in response to this phenomenon benefited us and our town.
I have observed the evolution of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) in Nebraska, which originated as a constitutional amendment in 1978. It was created as an urban renewal tool for cities to redevelop their blighted and substandard cores. Municipalities’ use of TIF to confiscate property taxes worked well during its first 20 years as it helped revitalized their old downtowns. Omaha used TIF for the ConAgra Riverfront and Lincoln used TIF for the Haymarket.
We have 36 legislative days remaining to approve a budget, provide property tax relief and do the general work of the citizens. Debate last week started with whether motorcyclists should be able to ride without a helmet and finished with a bill to repeal the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Management Act.
Over the last 19 months, I have logged tens of thousands of miles criss-crossing our great state and listening to the thoughts, ideas and concerns of our citizens. Throughout my travels, the No. 1 issue I hear about from hardworking Nebraskans is the need for tax relief. Whether it’s farmers and homeowners seeking relief from Nebraska’s high property taxes or businesses being held back by our second-highest-in-the-region income tax rates, the message is clear: Nebraskans want and deserve tax relief.
This month marks the fifth anniversary of the enactment of President Obama’s health care law, also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare. As this controversial health care law has taken effect in the years following its passage, Nebraskans have witnessed its rocky rollout and have suffered from dramatic increases in insurance premiums. I have heard from Nebraskans that this law has rendered health insurance almost unaffordable for many people because of the high premiums and deductibles that have resulted from its mandates.
North Platte has been called “that town that fights about everything.” The phrase is even the tongue-in-cheek title of a book about our town written by Keith Blackledge, the Old Editor of the Telegraph. It seems sometimes that there is too much accuracy in that description, and the fighting holds us back from making headway.
When I went to Lincoln I assumed I took a $12,000 a year job as a government employee, but after the first couple of weeks I felt more like a low paid bank loan officer at the biggest bank in Nebraska; every lobbyist in town is looking for money and they are not interested in paying it back.
So far, we have advanced two of our bills out of committee to general file, meaning they can be enacted into law on the floor of the Legislature. Those bills are LB 367 — an initiative petition rights bill — and LB 378, which we call the Iron Eagle bill in our office.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Republican River Compact Compliance issues has generated questions about how it will impact the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement Project (NCORPE) augmentation project. The ruling will undoubtedly have a positive influence on the project, agriculture in the region and water resources.