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Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 34th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.
Sen. Curt Friesen
January 28, 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sen. Curt Friesen Office, 402-471-2630
Legislation Addresses Inequity in K-12 Student Funding, Lowers Property Taxes
LINCOLN, NE – State lawmakers have introduced a proposal (LB 497) to ensure the state of Nebraska provides resources to cover basic education costs for all of Nebraska’s K-12 public school students. Today, only 69 of Nebraska’s 244 school districts receive state equalization aid. The limited assistance has led to significant disparities in how Nebraska funds education for some students compared to others across the state.
“Good schools and quality education are important to our kids, our families, and our businesses. Because of its importance, the state has an obligation to support our children’s education, regardless of where they live or the school they attend. However, we have situations today where the state is paying for 100 percent of basic education funding for students in one school district, while covering less than one percent of the basic education costs in another. That level of disparity shouldn’t exist,” said Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, the bill’s sponsor.
Nebraska’s current K-12 funding system has not only led to inequity in education funding among students, but also in sources used to fund schools. While all K-12 schools draw on property taxes for funding, schools receiving little or no state equalization rely much more heavily on local property taxes for funding. The proposal would broaden the sources used to fund Nebraska’s K-12 schools to alleviate pressure on local property taxes.
“The way we’ve been funding schools has put tremendous pressure on property taxes. Roughly 60 percent of all property taxes collected in the state go to K-12 school funding. As a result, Nebraskans now pay some of the highest property tax bills in the country,” said Friesen.
The bill contains several provisions to address both the inequity in school funding and overreliance on property taxes, including:
In addition to replacing property taxes with broadened revenues, the bill also contains a provision making a one-time allocation to help replenish the state’s cash reserve fund.
“This bill provides an overall framework from which we can replace parts of our school funding system that aren’t working for our students and taxpayers. To do that we’re broadening the sources we use to fund education and reducing our overreliance on property taxes. There is a better a way to fund K-12 public education than how we’re doing it today. This bill moves Nebraska in a better direction,” said Friesen.
Several senators have co-sponsored the bill.
“The disparity of basic education funding from the state has created an unfair system that hurts property taxpayers, especially in rural communities. LB 497’s restructuring of the school funding equalization formula is an important step in reducing the property tax burden, while still ensuring we provide the best education possible for our children. I look forward to working with Senator Friesen and the Revenue Committee to ensure that we pass legislation that benefits all Nebraskans.”
– Sen. Joni Albrecht, Dist. 17
“Property tax relief is on the mind of nearly all of my constituents. It is my number one concern as a legislator, and it will continue to be until we have real relief. This mess was created over many years and there is no ‘easy fix’ for something this big. LB 497 provides a revenue stream that will help alleviate the immense burden placed upon our homeowners, business owners, and farmers and ranchers.”
– Sen. Tom Brandt, Dist. 32
“As I campaigned across District 38, the message I consistently got from my constituents is that we need substantially lower property taxes and more fair funding for our schools. I promised that when elected I would do everything in my power to achieve that goal. Now that I am in the Legislature, I am getting the same message from many other senators, both rural and urban. LB 497 will go a long way toward solving the overreliance on property taxes in Nebraska while maintaining the high quality of education in our state.”
– Sen. Dave Murman, Dist. 38
“Since the majority of property tax revenue is directed to school districts, the school finance formula needs to be part of any plan for property tax relief. LB 497 addresses both the state aid formula and provides property tax relief, giving the Legislature a credible plan to work with.”
– Sen. Tim Gragert, Dist. 40
“The only responsible path moving forward to providing the meaningful and significant property tax relief we need is raising new revenue. I have always maintained that responsible government spending is a priority, but you cannot slash and burn your way out of trouble. In a state with an ag-based economy, providing our farmers and ranchers with meaningful and substantial property tax relief is truly one of the keys to economic growth for the state. I believe that Sen. Friesen’s bill brings a number of thoughtful proposals to the discussion around property tax relief.”
– Sen. Tom Briese, Dist. 41
“I am proud to co-sponsor Sen. Friesen’s bill, LB 497. Obviously, the devil is in the details and we will all have to work together to get something that will attract the votes we need to pass property tax relief. I am glad Sen. Friesen is leading on this issue. I think his contribution to this effort is crucial.”
– Sen. Tom Brewer, Dist. 43
“LB 497 is the result of a great collaborative effort by my colleagues and other interests who want to better balance the way we fund schools and provide property tax relief. I’m very excited about the possibilities of significant property tax reduction becoming a reality for Nebraskans.”
– Sen. Dan Hughes, Dist. 44
“The Nebraska State Constitution says, ‘The Legislature shall provide for the free instruction in the common schools of this state of all persons between the ages of five and twenty-one years.’ When some school districts get less than one percent of their funding from the state, it is safe to say that the Legislature has been negligent in their duty to provide for free instruction in the common schools. Because only 69 of Nebraska’s 244 school districts receive state equalization aid, the time has come to restore a sense of equity and balance to the way we fund our schools. I co-signed LB 497 because the bill will restore this sense of fairness and balance to our public schools, and it will provide our farmers and ranchers with some much-needed property tax relief.”
– Sen. Steve Erdman, Dist. 47
Other bill co-sponsors include Sen. Bruce Bostelman, Dist. 23, Sen. Mark Kolterman, Dist. 24, Sen. Myron Dorn, Dist. 30, and Sen. Steve Halloran, Dist. 33.
If you would like to review the FY2018-19 Appropriations Committee Budget Proposal it can be found at: https://nebraskalegislature.gov/pdf/reports/fiscal/2018proposal.pdf
Last week the legislature turned its attention to the budget. First round budget debate took place on Tuesday. It was a long day to say the least. We convened at 9:00 a.m. and adjourned at about 11:30 p.m., taking only a couple of short breaks for meals. With time running out we are likely to have more late nights in the next few weeks.
Nebraska’s budget process follows a two-year cycle. A comprehensive biennial budget is adopted by the legislature in odd-numbered years. In even-numbered years, like this one, adjustments are made as necessary.
Last year when the $8.8 billion FY2017-18/FY2018-19 budget was passed revenue receipts were falling short of expectations, future projections were uncertain and the state was facing a serious budget shortfall. Many state agencies saw sizeable budget decreases amounting to a reduction of 2 percent in their general fund appropriations for FY2017-18. A reduction of 4 percent was scheduled for FY2018-19.
This year, while not rosy, revenue has ticked up slightly. The forecasting board met in February and revenue has been coming in slightly above projections. Revenue growth is now projected at 3.8 percent for FY2017-18 and 4.9 percent for FY2018-19. The average growth for the prior three years was 2.3 percent.
The mid-biennium budget adjustment being proposed by the Appropriations Committee would keep the 2 percent reductions for FY2017-18 but lower the reduction for FY2018-19 from 4 percent to 2 percent except for the University of Nebraska, state and community colleges. They would see a 1 percent reduction. Reductions in state aid to individuals and local governments will remain at 4 percent.
Additional monies will be directed to DHHS due to increased Child Welfare aid costs incurred from serving more children and the children being served requiring more services. In addition, the federal Medicaid match rate will be lower than originally budgeted requiring the state match rate to increase.
A budget savings of $25.4 million will be realized from lower than expected TEEOSA costs. Even though total spending is reduced, the amount of aid received by school districts will still be equal to the amount required under existing law. This figure is based on calculations by the Department of Education
Even with all the spending cuts and unexpected savings, total overall spending will still be slightly higher. The budget adopted last year limited spending to a two year average increase of 0.6 percent. This year’s proposal would result in 0.5 percent average growth in spending over the next two fiscal years.
An item that continues to concern me is the transfer of money from the Cash Reserve Fund (rainy-day fund) to the General Fund. The Cash Reserve Fund was established in the 1980s to set aside money that could be used to plug holes in the state’s budget in the event there was insufficient money in the General Fund to meet expenses. In years when revenue receipts exceed projections the excess monies go into the Cash Reserve Fund.
The proposal this year would transfer $100 million from the rainy-day fund to the General Fund, leaving the balance at about $296.4 million. This is approximately 2.5 percent over the amount that is required by law. Last year almost $340.8 million was transferred out of the Cash Reserve Fund.
Since FY2015-16 the cash reserve has been reduced by 59.4 percent. Clearly this is not sustainable and we have put ourselves in a precarious position for the future.
Another concern I have is the continued, and unanticipated, sweeping of money out of cash funds accumulated by various agencies, boards and programs. The funds are then redirected from their intended purposes to propping up the General Fund.
Under last year’s budget, $93.4 million was to be taken out of 47 cash funds over the biennium. This year, $14.7 million from an additional 19 cash funds is slated to be transferred into the General Fund.
As is almost always the case, the budget discussion got a little heated at times but ultimately all four of the budget bills were advanced to select file.
If you would like to review the Appropriations Committee’s full budget proposal, this link will take you to that web page: https://nebraskalegislature.gov/pdf/reports/fiscal/2018proposal.pdf.
Finally, if you have any questions about the proposed budget or other legislative concerns you would like to discuss, please feel free to contact me or my legislative staff. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and our telephone number is 402-471-2630. You are always welcome to stop by my office in the State Capitol.
Things in the Legislature continue to be busy with floor debate in the morning and committee hearings in the afternoon.
Short sessions are always more hectic because there is still much to do but fewer days in which to do it. This year it seems even more so. With big challenges still ahead, most notably the budget shortfall and the urgency to do something about property taxes, the time to address other important issues will be limited.
Last week several days of debate were devoted to a bill introduced by Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango. LB758 was intended to reduce the negative impact on the local property tax base suffered by counties when natural resources districts and interlocal entities buy private land to use for projects augmenting streamflow as required by the 2003 Republican River Compact. The Compact apportions surface water usage between Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska.
The Rock Creek Augmentation Project and the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement project (N-CORPE) are at the center of the debate. Between the two, almost 25,000 acres of irrigated land was purchased in Lincoln and Dundy counties and converted to grassland in order to pump groundwater into the Republican and Platte rivers to meet the compact’s requirements. The lower tax valuation that resulted from the conversion had a significant adverse impact on these counties.
As introduced, Hughes’ bill required that Rock Creek and N-CORPE work with the county in which the project is located to reduce the impact to the tax rolls. While they have paid assessed property taxes in the past, they have challenged the requirement on the premise that a public entity should not have to pay property taxes on land that serves a public purpose.
In July 2017 the state Tax Equalization and Review Commission (TERC) agreed. In light of this ruling, an amendment to the bill is pending that would allow NRDs and interlocal entities to make voluntary payments to a county in lieu of taxes.
Overall I am not a fan of these projects but they have helped the state meet its obligations under the compact. I do support the pending amendment which will hold school districts and other local entities harmless as was originally intended. I hope that at some point in the future the projects will be terminated.
The ultimate future of the bill is uncertain. Several Senators are strongly opposed to it and there may not be enough support in the body to overcome a potential filibuster.
Looking ahead, the Transportation & Telecommunications Committee, which I chair, will soon be holding hearings on several bills which are generating a great deal of interest.
LB856 introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln seeks to institute an internet neutrality provision at the state level. Net neutrality requires that internet service providers treat online data equally and do not favor certain content or users; and, that there are no limitations or restrictions on internet access based on content or user.
LB1063 introduced by Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha creates a fund to assist victims of traumatic brain injury funded through fees on vehicle operator’s licenses and permits along with state issued identification cards.
LB1009 introduced by Sen. John Murante of Gretna raises the speed limit on some types of state roads and creates a new road classification. The new “super-two” will be a two-lane highway with intermittent passing lanes, primarily intended for through traffic.
Nebraska currently has 9 road classifications: interstate; expressway; major arterial; scenic-recreation; other arterial; collector; local; minimum maintenance; and remote residential.
Finally, as always, please feel free to contact me and my staff about your legislative concerns or other issues you would like to discuss. My email address is email@example.com and our telephone number is 402-471-2630. If you are in Lincoln, you are always welcome to stop by the office and visit with me. My office is in room 1110 in the Nebraska State Capitol.
With harvest completed and, as hard as it is to believe, the end of the year in sight, I thought it would be a good time to talk about some on-going issues and look forward to the next legislative session which convenes on January 3, 2018.
Many of you have expressed your concerns over the limited availability of reliable, affordable broadband service, especially in the rural portions of the state. In a number of places, even if service is available, it is slow and struggles to meet the demands of today’s modern technology. I see this as a tremendous problem not only for individuals who need ready access to the Internet but for our communities as they try to attract new businesses and keep the ones they have.
The Transportation & Telecommunications Committee, which I chair, will be holding several hearings in November and December to talk about broadband issues. The hearings are intended to gather information about things as they currently stand, and perhaps more importantly, to get ideas and suggestions from the public about how we can move forward creating the capacity that we need. With government dollars tight, we have to come up with innovative strategies on how the public and private sectors can work together to meet this challenge.
Hearings will be held in McCook on November 28, Central City on November 30, and Lincoln on December 1. The hearings are open to the public and I encourage you to come and give us your thoughts or just come and listen. The times and locations for the hearings are posted on my legislative web page.
The biggest issue facing the legislature continues to be the state’s fiscal condition. Much of the 2017 legislative session was devoted to budget issues and the 2018 session is shaping up to be more of the same. Revenue receipts are significantly below projections and with the ag sector still depressed that is unlikely to change anytime soon. This shortfall almost certainly means additional and sometimes unpopular budget cuts ahead.
I am still committed to fighting for property tax relief as I have been throughout my previous three years in the Legislature. Last session I introduced several bills to cut property taxes which unfortunately did not advance. There is a slim chance some of these bills may come up again next year but I am also considering additional legislative options to introduce in 2018.
In conclusion I want to tell you what a great privilege it has been to serve as your state Senator. The time since my election in 2014 has flown by. I think there is still important work to be done and I have decided to run for reelection in 2018.
One of the things that has surprised me as I think back over my time in the Legislature is how often policy decisions are influenced by emotion rather than facts. As I decide how I’m going to vote on an issue I try to stay focused on the facts and what I believe will be good for my constituents and the state. I think that’s what you sent me here to do. I really appreciate it when you take the time to let me know your opinions on the issues with which we are dealing. Your input is an important factor in my decision making.
From time to time people ask me why I decided to run for office in the first place. What I tell them is that I firmly believe that complaining in the coffee shop rarely results in meaningful change. If you want things to change you can’t stay on the sidelines and wait for someone else to do it. I saw some important policy issues that weren’t being addressed such as how to fund our public schools in a more fair and equitable way and rather than complaining about it thought I would try to do something about it. I wanted to be a strong voice for rural Nebraska. Thank you for that opportunity.
In December I will be working on bills to introduce when we convene in January. If you have any ideas for legislation please contact me or my staff. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and our telephone number is 402-471-2630.
The Transportation & Telecommunications Committee will hold the following public hearings on broadband access in Nebraska:
November 28 — McCook, NE
Location: McCook Community College Student Union – 1205 East 3rd Street
Time: 1:30 PM
November 30 — Central City, NE
Location: City Council Chambers – 1702 31st Street
Time: 1:30 PM
December 1 — Lincoln, NE
Location: Nebraska State Capitol – Room 1113
Time: 1:00 PM
With the beginning of the school year less than a month away and summer rapidly winding down, I thought it would be a good time to give a brief update on some of the things that have happened since the Legislature adjourned at the end of May.
I must admit I was definitely ready for a little down time from politics. The final weeks of the last legislative session were grueling, to say the least, as we debated the budget for the next biennium. Faced with the reality of the state’s increasing revenue shortfall, we had to make difficult choices on spending cuts. In the end, an $8.9 billion budget package was passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.
Final state tax receipt figures for Fiscal Year 2016-17 have just been released and continue to be down. Revenues for the year totaled $4.266 billion, approximately $34 million short of earlier projections. I still think it is unlikely we will need to convene a special session but if revenues continue to be down, it is not out of the question.
Of course even though it’s down time from politics, it’s still a busy time on the farm. I always look forward to getting back to working around the farm. Spending time by myself in the tractor is one of the best stress reducers I can think of.
My wife Nancy and I have been enjoying attending some of the many parades, city celebrations, and county fairs throughout District 34 this summer. As part of the Hall County fair, I had my first opportunity to take part in a watermelon eating contest. Competition was fierce, especially between my team and that of Senator Dan Quick of Grand Island. In the end our two teams tied for first place. Senator Quick and I have agreed to share the first place trophy; it will be proudly displayed in our offices in the State Capitol.
One of the best things about getting out into the communities is having the chance to talk with constituents. If you see me at an event I hope you will come up and visit with me about any concerns you have on how things are going in the state or the district, or ideas for legislation for next session.
I am planning to be at the Nebraska State Fair at the end of August and encourage you to stop by and say hi.
After Labor Day the Transportation & Telecommunications Committee will start holding hearings on our interim study resolutions. My top priority is how to improve broadband telecommunications services in the state. We are planning to hold several public hearings outside of Lincoln to get input on this critical topic. I am especially interested in finding ways to incentivize private industry and/or public-private partnerships to deliver more and better services to rural areas. Hearing dates and locations have yet to be determined.
Over the summer I will be attending several out-of-state legislative conferences including the Midwest Council of State Governments conference in Des Moines and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Denver. Conferences such as these are excellent sources of information on current trends in state government and public policy issues. In addition, they provide an opportunity to informally network with legislators and policy makers from similar states to discuss like problems and creative solutions.
As a reminder, even though the Legislature has adjourned for the year my office in the Capitol is open weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about your legislative concerns or other issues you would like to discuss. My email address is email@example.com and our telephone number is 402-471-2630.
Most of the activity the past two weeks has focused on the budget. The Legislature sent its $8.9 billion, two-year budget package to Gov. Pete Ricketts for approval on May 9.
Using his line item veto power, the governor cut $56.5 million in spending. He also raised the cushion in the cash reserve to 3 percent. The Legislature had proposed lowering it to 2.5 percent.
The bulk of the cuts, $33.6 million, came from programs in Health and Human Services. The governor’s original budget proposal included 3 percent cuts in the rates paid to service providers in four areas: Medicaid, child welfare, behavioral health and developmental disabilities. The Legislature’s budget proposal maintained provider rates at current funding levels.
Most of the remaining budget cuts came from two areas: funding for the University of Nebraska and funding for the judicial branch for probation services, juvenile justice transportation, and costs associated with the specialized court system.
The Legislature took up overriding the governor’s vetoes on May 17. After careful consideration I chose not to vote to override any of the vetoes. It was not an easy decision to make but it was one based solely on my belief that lowering spending is absolutely necessary to keep the state on sound financial footing. Around 4 percent of our current budget is made up by one time cash transfers that we will not be able to do again, at least not anytime soon.
During the Legislature’s initial budget debate several other senators and myself decided that we simply could not support the budget without spending cuts. I wish we had been given other options for cutting the budget but these were the choices presented to us.
I recognize these particular cuts will be unpopular with some. With a $303,768,166 two year budget the veto cuts the HHS budget by $3.2 million per year, around 2.1 percent. I was given assurances by the executive branch and the Department of Health and Human Services that through spending efficiencies and reallocation of funds current services will not be hurt. I have every intention to see that that is the case.
The unpleasant truth is we’ve got to reduce spending. I don’t see a significant increase in our revenue stream on the horizon. Without additional revenue coming in, the only other option is to deplete our cash reserves which would be ill-advised with a great deal of financial uncertainty ahead.
If we don’t do something now to reign in our spending we are going to be in an even worse position before very long. While painful, it will be much easier to make small cuts now which can be absorbed over time rather than reach a point where we have to make larger and more drastic cuts all at once.
There are still a number of senators who are convinced these cuts will not be enough. They believe revenues will continue to fall and we will have to convene a legislative special session later this year and cut even more. It is my hope that what we have done will head that off.
LB496 introduced by Sen. John Stinner of Gering also received much attention last week. The bill would have allowed villages and cities of the first and second class to use tax increment financing (TIF) to finance construction of single-family and multi-family housing as part of a redevelopment project eligible for TIF.
I was strongly opposed to the bill because it would divert property tax revenue from public schools while at the same time increasing the number of students in the district. It would also make it difficult for builders that do not use TIF to compete. I offered an amendment that would allow only the property taxes collected by the locality to be diverted for the construction of a workforce housing project using TIF. In the end the bill failed a cloture motion 32-9 and was not advanced.
The Legislature has now completed its work for the year and will adjourn Sine Die on May 23.
Please feel free to contact me and my staff about your legislative concerns or other issues you would like to discuss. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and our telephone number is 402-471-2630.
Last week the legislature continued working through the dwindling number of remaining bills. Although off to a slow start, as the session progressed we moved through most bills pretty quickly.
The Speaker announced that if things stay on track he expects to adjourn sine die on May 23, the 86th legislative day, rather than waiting until the scheduled June 2 adjournment date.
Two voting rights bills sparked some heated debate. Historically, in Nebraska and the country as a whole, voting rights issues have almost always been contentious and these were no exception.
LB75, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, would immediately restore voting rights to those convicted of a felony on completion of their sentence or probation. Nebraska law currently requires a two-year waiting period.
The bill passed on April 24 by a 27-13 margin but was subsequently vetoed by the governor and returned to the legislature. An attempt to override the veto came up 6 votes short of the 30 needed. The final vote was 23-23.
I voted for the bill when it was considered by the legislature and also voted to override the governor’s veto. It seems to me if someone has fully completed their sentence they should be given a fair chance to rebuild their lives in a positive way. Immediate restoration of voting rights is one way we can send a message of support for those in an already difficult situation.
Voting rights were also the focus of legislation proposed by Sen. John Murante of Gretna. LR1CA would place a proposed constitutional amendment on the election ballot in November 2018. If approved, the amendment would require Nebraska voters to present a photo ID before being allowed to vote.
Murante argued that the ID requirement would restore voter confidence in the election process by ensuring that only those who are qualified to vote are allowed to cast ballots. Opponents contended that voter ID requirements place unnecessary burdens on many groups, would be costly to put in place, and are likely to incur legal challenges.
Ultimately, there was not enough support in the body to move ahead with the resolution. A motion to end debate and allow a vote on the proposal received only 26 votes. Thirty-three votes are needed to invoke cloture.
I think both sides of this debate make valid points. Since we already require that people have ID in many situations, adding this as a condition for voting doesn’t seem especially onerous. At the same time, I would be very concerned if this created a legitimate barrier to someone’s ability to cast their ballot.
Secretary of State, John Gale, has consistently provided assurance that Nebraska’s election system is secure and voter fraud is not an issue in the state.
In the end, it may make the most sense to allow the public to make the final decision on whether this is something Nebraska needs.
Another bill receiving a lot of attention last week was LB632 brought by Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill. The bill would make several changes to Nebraska’s liquor laws. A provision impacting the craft beer brewers in the state was a sticking point for some senators.
As introduced, LB632 would require all alcoholic beverages purchased for resale in the state be “at rest” in a licensed wholesale warehouse before distribution. An amendment offered by Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue would require that a distributor take possession of the beer but not be required to transport it to a warehouse that might be hundreds of miles away. This extra step would be costly for brewers, especially those outside of Omaha and Lincoln.
I have been contacted by quite a few craft brewers from all across the state who shared in the view the original bill would have harmed the burgeoning craft brewing industry. I voted in support of both the Blood amendment and to advance the bill. The amended bill passed by a vote of 40-0.
Please feel free to contact me and my staff about your legislative concerns or other issues you would like to discuss. My email address is email@example.com and our telephone number is 402-471-2630.