We have had two controversial votes taken in the Legislature recently. I would like to explain to those residing in the 37th District and in all of the State of Nebraska the reasons for my votes:
GAS TAX INCREASE
I voted for the gas tax increase for a number of reasons. Since 1995 gas tax in Nebraska has increased 1.2 cents. That is correct, 1.2 cents. It would have had to increase 10 times that to just keep up with inflation. Costs of roads and bridges have increased significantly in that time.
Congress has not increased its funding of roads for over 20 years. Congress only refunds the Nebraska Highway Trust Fund for a few months at a time.
In Nebraska, 18% of the bridges are rated structurally deficient. Most of these are in rural parts of the state. The average nationwide is 11% for this category. Nebraska is ranked 6th highest of all states in percent of structurally deficient bridges. Two states that ranked higher than Nebraska were South Dakota and Iowa. Both significantly raised their gas tax this year. Kansas will vote to increase its gas tax this spring to help close its huge budget gap. Missouri is voting on a gas tax increase this spring.
The agriculture industry, which is so important to Kearney and Buffalo County, is a significant supporter of the gas tax increase. Kearney and Buffalo County need good bridges and roads and agriculture representatives were outspoken in that belief.
While no one likes to increase taxes, I feel that if we are upfront with what the tax is to be used for and show that there is a need for a tax increase the voters will support the increase. I certainly found this out when a proposed increase in the sales tax for the City of Kearney was on the ballot and it passed 75%-25%. A part of that increased revenue is being used for Kearney streets. You can access the Kearney City website to see all expenditures for capital improvements.
Also, as Chair of the Revenue Committee, I was deeply involved in passing five years of tax cuts totaling 750 million dollars this year and the next four years. Total tax cuts over five years of three quarters of a billion dollars are significant to Nebraska citizens. These cuts will continue to increase every year.
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT ELIMINATION
The elimination of the death penalty is an extremely difficult decision. I weighed the following questions in making my decision:
• Is there a better alternative, such as life without a chance of parole?
• Can we execute an innocent person?
• How much does race play in the decision?
• Is the death penalty system too costly?
• Does capital punishment deter crime?
• Does the death penalty help victims’ families reach closure on the issue?
• Is the death penalty applied consistently?
• What are the religious views of capital punishment and are they important to the decision?
• Are mentally ill people executed?
• If we keep the death penalty, are we in line with countries we do not wish to be in line with?
• Can one be pro-life on the question of abortion and pro-death on the question of capital punishment?
• Can we even make capital punishment happen in Nebraska?
Part of our unique unicameral legislative system is that every bill must have a public hearing. The citizens of Nebraska and individuals representing groups of citizens are welcome to testify for, against, or neutral on every bill. Four persons representing groups and six individuals testified in support of the bill. The only group to testify against repeal was the County Attorney Association. There were no other groups or individuals testifying against the bill.
I examined each of these questions and decided it is time to abolish capital punishment. We have had six votes and 14 hours of debate on repealing capital punishment this year alone. I have received numerous emails and phone calls on both sides of the issue and they were very evenly distributed between abolishment and retaining the death penalty. Ultimately, each person has to decide whether they are in favor of retaining or abolishing the death penalty.