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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The current dilemma presented by the proposed move of North Platte’s downtown post office exemplifies frustrations with government. The plan to move the post office to the United States Postal Service distribution center in the city’s industrial park is a poster child for inexplicable decisions made by far-off, unaccountable and unknown bureaucrats.
Nebraska, as we all know, is the only one-house legislature. Because the citizens are considered the second house, we are also the only legislature that has public hearings on all introduced bills. This year there were 663 introduced bills. I introduced eight, the rest were introduced by the other 48 senators. Committees meet each afternoon starting at 1:30 p.m. to hear testimony by citizens — mainly lobbyists. At the end of the day, the committee may go into executive session and either kill the bill — let it lie dormant and do nothing — or pass it out of committee to the floor of the legislature.
All across our state, agricultural producers serve as leaders in Nebraska’s No. 1 industry. Nebraskans know that the benefits of agriculture reach far beyond our fields and pastures. It’s also the backbone that helps our communities, schools and businesses thrive.
Last week, Nebraska’s new directord of Nebraska Department of Corrections director made a key decision regarding our state’s prison system. Less than two weeks after taking office, Scott Frakes’ message is clear: Nebraska’s corrections department is headed in a new direction.
Was the juxtaposition of two seemingly random headlines in Sunday’s Telegraph actually an unintended subliminal message? The paper’s editorial in the top left corner of page A4 was headed “New superintendent looks promising.” In the top left corner of page A5, “To solve the problem, look at yourself” was the headline for Annie’s Mailbox. Hmmm …
I did not get a column written last week. Instead I spent seven hours driving on snow-packed highways on my way to Lincoln. I gladly make the weekly trips to Lincoln. To keep my sanity, I need to come home on the weekends to the open spaces of Lincoln County.
There has been a lot of talk lately about botched executions. While some may express little concern for whether or not a murderer suffers, I am concerned about our government bungling these executions because of the toll it can take on my former colleagues in the corrections industry.
On Jan. 22, I presented my budget recommendations and announced key initiatives in my first State of the State address to the Unicameral. Gerry Oligmueller, the state budget administrator, and I took our message on the road to nine communities across the state from Chadron to Beatrice, so Nebraskans could hear my recommendations first hand and provide their feedback about the proposals.
Things are speeding up at the Legislature. Gov. Pete Ricketts gave his State of the State address last week. His support of the Legislature’s attempt to control spending is a good step forward. I have concerns about his continuation of the property tax credit fund, which uses overpayment by taxpayers on their income and sales taxes as its funding source. He plans to increase the fund by $60 million annually to a total of $200 million.
The Nebraska Legislature’s Government Committee tabled for this year a bill to enter Nebraska into the “National Popular Vote Compact.” For this, Nebraskans should be happy. However, this is the second year it has arisen so the chances of it coming back are good.
Pat McPherson is a newly elected member of the Nebraska State Board of Education. He is in deep hot water over material that was published on a blog he administers, material that was allowed to remain on his site until a week or so ago.
Last week the Unicameral had its first debate on proposed rule changes that govern the body. The only votes taken by the legislature that are secret and withheld from the public are for the Speaker of the Unicameral and for chairmanships of committees.