NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. John Kuehn

Sen. John Kuehn

District 38

Welcome

January 6th, 2016

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 38th 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.

Sincerely,
Sen. John Kuehn

Letter to the District

May 6th, 2016

There is no doubt property taxes are of concern to Nebraskans. In a poll conducted in March of 2016, 45% of Nebraska voters listed property taxes as their top priority for tax relief. Of note, when those numbers were broken down by congressional district, 49% of voters in the metro Omaha 2nd Congressional District selected property tax relief as their top priority, higher than even the rural 3rd District where soaring ag land valuations have created the large inequity in property tax bills among taxpayers. In contrast, 19% felt incomes taxes should be the priority, while 13% selected inheritance taxes.

Despite clear evidence that taxpayers see their property tax bills as excessive, achieving significant reform continues to be a challenge. I share the level of frustration felt by many taxpayers at the slow pace of reform. It is counterintuitive that every proposed solution to such a widely recognized problem would meet formidable opposition. In the bill hearing for LB 958, the bill proposing several initial steps to property tax reform, seven proponents testified in support of the concepts introduced in the bill. Those testifying represented taxpayer interests, including the Nebraska Cattlemen and Platte Institute. Even the Nebraska Department of Revenue testified in support of the bill. Yes, that is correct: the agency in charge of tax collection testified in support of the property tax reform bill.

In stark contrast, 29 groups representing the spending side of the property tax equation testified in opposition to property tax reform. Opposition testimony ranged in specifics, but one central theme was present throughout: don’t restrict spending. Ironically, the paid lobbyists and public employees obstructing the property tax reform process were paid by you, using your tax dollars. The Nebraska Public Employees Union, League of Nebraska Municipalities, Nebraska Association of Resources Districts, Nebraska Association of County Officials, Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association, Greater Nebraska Schools Association, and other public employees turned out to oppose limitations to their spending and greater transparency of local government budgets.

Use of taxpayer dollars for lobbying is not a new development, but it is one that obscures the policy process. In many cases, public funds are used for membership dues for organizations who employ full time staff to lobby on their behalf. While associations may also provide other membership benefits, their lobbying efforts to keep dollars flowing to their member governments are their top priority. Many political subdivisions, including cities, schools, natural resource districts, and community colleges will use taxpayer dollars to hire private lobbyists. Assessing the total cost to taxpayers of these lobbying efforts is a challenge. Several organizations have not been forthcoming with information about membership dues and fees paid using taxpayer dollars when requested by my office.

Although tax shifts, changes in how we assess property valuations, and other technical improvements may blunt the force of the property tax burden, the ultimate solution lies with responsible spending. Government at all levels must have an open discussion about what represents a reasonable rate of growth in spending. Increasing the ask from taxpayers of 4.5-6% a year or higher when their incomes are growing at 2-3% in real terms is not sustainable. Determining restrictions on spending that are both reasonable and fair is not possible when proposed solutions are met with a wall of paid opposition. I am elected to represent the interests of taxpayers in Lincoln, and local elected officials are responsible for representing the interests of their taxpayers as well. Using taxpayer money to lobby against the interests of taxpayers obstructs the path to meaningful solutions to the property tax crisis.

As always, I value your input on any matter facing state government. You can reach my office at 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District 17

April 28th, 2016

Among taxpayers in District 38, property tax issues dominate every conversation. All property owners have seen their total property tax bill increase dramatically over the past decade. Agricultural landowners have seen year after year of double digit increases in their assessed valuations, creating a shift of the overall tax burden disproportionately to farmers and ranchers. Residential and commercial property owners have also seen an increase in their taxes paid, creating pressure on family budgets and the financial viability of small businesses. Despite property taxes consistently ranking as the top tax policy concern among voters, organized resistance to significant changes to property tax policies remains strong. Taxpayer frustration over the speed and magnitude of property tax reform is high, while the taxing entities see every reform proposal as draconian, using your tax dollars to pay lobbyists to oppose tax relief.

Property tax discussions are complicated because the revenue they generate fund those government functions that are most personal to us. Our local schools, city services, county roads, groundwater management, and community colleges are the up-close aspects of government that impact our lives every day. Spending choices and tax levy rate decisions are made by our friends and neighbors on local boards. They determine the salary for our local teachers, the park and recreational facilities in our communities, the access to vocational education opportunities locally, and the maintenance of local roads.

An interesting phenomenon occurs when taxpayers talk to me about property taxes. Taxpayers will assert schools spend too much money in general, but not their local school. Taxpayers are reluctant to address specific spending with their city council or county supervisors, because potholes remain to be fixed on their street or their local bridge needs repair. Community College and Natural Resource District budgets have more than doubled in a decade, yet workforce development and water sustainability remain top priorities with no immediate resolution in sight. Local board members report no taxpayers show up to their budget hearings, yet meetings rooms are packed any time cuts to services are suggested or new infrastructure is debated.

We all make a cost/benefit analysis of our personal spending decisions and expenditures in our businesses. We separate what we need–housing, food, transportation–with what we want–vacations, entertainment, and the latest gadget. Our personal incomes are limited, and we prioritize accordingly. Local governments must do the same.

Successful resolution of the property tax issue requires collaboration among taxpayers, local taxing authorities, and state policy makers. Local citizens must be clear on what services they need and which they want, and understand who pays for those choices. Shifting the burden of funding to other taxpayers is not responsible. Local boards must establish clear spending goals and live within those means, prioritizing spending choices. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have experience making those tough decisions. We have kept growth of the state budget to 3.5% in a single budget cycle, half of the growth in previous years. State legislators must not simply look out for the interests of their own taxpayers, but establish tax policies that are fair and equitable to all citizens, being aware of disproportionate burdens on a single group.

While initial steps were made this past legislative session, the greatest development of note was the wide disconnect between taxpayers and special interest groups. While citizens paying the bills continue to call for greater and faster reform, groups representing those governments spending the revenue aggressively resist any limitations on spending, budget growth, or their taxing authority. The League of Municipalities, Association of County Officials, Community College Association, Natural Resource District Association, and the almost endless list of school organizations lobby hard against reforms. Ironically, they are using your tax dollars to oppose tax relief, costing you more tax dollars.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District 16

April 22nd, 2016

On Wednesday, April 20th, the 104th Session of the Nebraska Legislature adjourned Sine Die. The end of the 60 day session marked the final legislative day for 11 senators who have reached the end of their constitutionally limited terms. During the course of the session, 216 separate bills were passed into law. An additional 66 introduced bills were packaged and amended into other bills, often as “omnibus” bills, and passed into law even though they were not debated individually as introduced. Of the bills prioritized by senators, committees, and the speaker, four were not debated on the floor due to limitations on time.

In addition to bills that were passed, several significant issues did not become law, either by defeat during floor debate or gubernatorial veto. Medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion were again defeated. A redistricting plan that would have put rural Nebraska at a significant disadvantage in a process that will most likely lead to a loss of 2 rural seats in the Legislature was fortunately vetoed by the Governor. Several issues became law that I do not support, including expansion of benefits for illegal aliens and deregulation of private electrical generation.

Over the course of the Interim months, I will be writing at greater length about a number of the issues debated by the Legislature this session that will likely appear next year. Many of the issues that need to be addressed are priorities for residents of District 38. Property taxes, education funding reform, spending restrictions, effective water management, and economic development are but a few of the issues that will be at the top of the list for next session. Even though the Legislature will not be in session, work on each of these issues will continue throughout the summer and fall.

In addition to my work on the Appropriations and Performance Audit Committees, I have been appointed to work on several special committees during the interim period. These include the ACCESS Nebraska Special Oversight Committee, the Biosciences Steering Committee, the Climate Change Policy Committee, and the Veterinary Prescription Drug Monitoring Task Force. The work of these special committees will center around hearings and stakeholder meetings for these very specific issues. If legislative solutions are needed to address the topics, the work of the special committees will form the basis of any legislation.

In addition to committee work, I will continue efforts over the interim on my priority issues. Right to Farm protection will continue to be my top priority. I will be actively engaged in continued discussions to address the property tax crisis through local spending control and education funding reform. Privacy issues that surround the expanded use of drones by private individuals and companies remain a concern, as well as continued efforts to bring more transparency to state government through more effective laws around lobbying and political influence.

I look forward to meetings and discussions over the coming months in communities throughout the seven counties of District 38. If your civic or community group would like me to join you for a discussion about topic before the Legislature, don’t hesitate to contact my office for scheduling.
As always, I value your questions on legislation. You can reach my office at 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District 15

April 18th, 2016

With 59 legislative days complete, the 104th Nebraska Legislature is quickly coming to a conclusion. The session has addressed issues spanning from property taxes to electoral mechanics to many of the usual social issues. The two legislative days of this past week involved Final Reading of a large number of bills. Those bills that passed Final Reading have been presented to the Governor for his signature or veto. The final day schedule will be determined in large part by any vetoes that result.

The final weeks of the legislative session were marked by debate on many of the more controversial issues. Since this is a short session limited to 60 days, time frequently becomes as much of a talking point as the legislation at hand. With many senators having bills of their own on the agenda, the priority of moving through the agenda at times seemed to supersede the need to adequately discuss some complex issues on the floor.

Policy debate arises from conflicting ideas and points of view. Whether the differences in perspective arise from rural versus urban, conservative or liberal, or even time served in the Legislature, those distinctions are essential to developing the best policy for all citizens of the state. A robust, civil, and fact-based debate is important to the legislative process. There have been multiple times the past few weeks where important discussions were abbreviated for the sake of time. I frequently weighed the merits of time in my own decision to hit my light and engage in floor debate. In the end, I am concerned that several issues did not receive a thorough vetting of the entire proposal before being passed simply in favor of moving forward on the list of bills.

In conjunction with many of the more controversial legislative issues came an onslaught of uncivil, and, at times, vitriolic communication to my office. Proponents of medical marijuana, LGBT issues, illegal immigration and even Medicaid expansion felt that insults and threats were the appropriate response to my votes on those issues. In most cases, they did not even address my floor statements or rationale for my vote. Rather, the approach was to impugn my character and make conjecture about my motives. Nebraska Farmer’s Union even went so far as to falsely state to their supporters I had accepted a campaign contribution from Smithfield Foods, which I did not. It is impossible to have a productive discussion about what policy is best for the state when truth and facts don’t matter. I do not seriously consider points of view presented to me that are rude, not based in fact, or disparaging. Complex issues demand an equally thorough discussion, not mud-slinging and political gamesmanship.

In the coming weeks I will address in greater detail many of the issues faced during the session and what may develop for the next session. In the meantime, the final day remains. As always, I value your questions on legislation. You can reach my office at 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38  

 

Letter to the District 14

April 18th, 2016

The past week the Nebraska Legislature began floor debate and advanced two bills beginning to address the disparity in property tax impact between agricultural land, commercial property, and residential property. The debate over the bills exemplified the differences in perspective among senators about the magnitude of the property tax problem, as well as the proper approach to addressing it. Although wide sweeping structural reform was not passed, initial steps were taken to begin addressing property taxes.

The first bill advanced to Select File was an amended version of LB 959, brought to the floor by the Education Committee. The most significant component of amended LB 959 is the removal of the minimum levy requirement for school budgets. Currently, there exists a minimum levy requirement for a school district to remain eligible for state equalization aid. This can create a disincentive for school districts to reduce their levy in response to increase in their property tax base valuations to avoid losing state equalization aid. As amended, LB 959 removes that minimum levy requirement. Technical changes to the calculation of the the averaging adjustment for determining enrollment in the aid formula were also included.

The second bill, LB 958, was a drastically amended version from the introduced copy brought by the Revenue Committee. The bill before the Legislature for debate included an additional $30 million in property tax credit directed to agricultural landowners. Additionally, restrictions on community college budget authority were also included. During debate the two issues were divided. An amended reduced amount in property tax credit for landowners, $20 million, was advanced to Select File. Due to the extended time of debate, the community college component remains but will be eliminated from the bill on Select File per agreement.

The extended and, at times, tense debate on the floor reflected the differences in priority among senators representing different interests. It is clear that there continues to be no clear path forward regarding broad structural changes to both education funding and the distribution of funding local governments among different classes of property owners.

These are the first of many very small steps forward to address the property tax crisis.There also remain two more rounds of debate for each of these bills, where language could change substantially. I encourage constituents to tune into the floor debate and gain a first-hand understanding of the dynamic at play within the Nebraska Legislature.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office with questions or to express your position on legislation at 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District 13

April 18th, 2016

The past week the Nebraska Legislature began floor debate and advanced two bills beginning to address the disparity in property tax impact between agricultural land, commercial property, and residential property. The debate over the bills exemplified the differences in perspective among senators about the magnitude of the property tax problem, as well as the proper approach to addressing it. Although wide sweeping structural reform was not passed, initial steps were taken to begin addressing property taxes.

The first bill advanced to Select File was an amended version of LB 959, brought to the floor by the Education Committee. The most significant component of amended LB 959 is the removal of the minimum levy requirement for school budgets. Currently, there exists a minimum levy requirement for a school district to remain eligible for state equalization aid. This can create a disincentive for school districts to reduce their levy in response to increase in their property tax base valuations to avoid losing state equalization aid. As amended, LB 959 removes that minimum levy requirement. Technical changes to the calculation of the the averaging adjustment for determining enrollment in the aid formula were also included.

The second bill, LB 958, was a drastically amended version from the introduced copy brought by the Revenue Committee. The bill before the Legislature for debate included an additional $30 million in property tax credit directed to agricultural landowners. Additionally, restrictions on community college budget authority were also included. During debate the two issues were divided. An amended reduced amount in property tax credit for landowners, $20 million, was advanced to Select File. Due to the extended time of debate, the community college component remains but will be eliminated from the bill on Select File per agreement.

The extended and, at times, tense debate on the floor reflected the differences in priority among senators representing different interests. It is clear that there continues to be no clear path forward regarding broad structural changes to both education funding and the distribution of funding local governments among different classes of property owners.

These are the first of many very small steps forward to address the property tax crisis.There also remain two more rounds of debate for each of these bills, where language could change substantially. I encourage constituents to tune into the floor debate and gain a first-hand understanding of the dynamic at play within the Nebraska Legislature.  

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office with questions or to express your position on legislation at 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District 12

March 25th, 2016

The start of the next week of the Nebraska Legislature will begin with debate over LB 1032, the Transitional Health Insurance Program Act.  Although it has been referred to by several different names, it is the fourth attempt at expansion of the Medicaid program in Nebraska. Under the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare”, states receive additional federal dollars at a match rate higher than existing Medicaid programs to expand the number of people eligible for government health coverage. Previous unsuccessful efforts have attempted to expand traditional medicaid coverage.  The current proposal, LB 1032, uses federal and state dollars to purchase private health insurance for working adults who meet income limits.

I unquestionably support expanding access to healthcare for Nebraskans. Access issues are complicated, and include the availability of providers, facilities and service availability, the regulatory burden on health care, and the cost of providing primary, emergency, and advanced care services. In rural communities, having enough health care professionals and keeping cost of providing service reasonable are the greatest challenges facing our clinics and hospitals. Providing private health insurance to working adults does not solve the access and cost issues facing rural health care.

While the short term and long term policy discussion around the expansion of public health insurance continues, the Legislature will be addressing a very specific proposal in LB 1032. The initial cost of LB 1032 as proposed would have cost over $1 billion over the course of the next decade. In an attempt to reduce the impact to the state General Fund, bill proponents have reworked it several times. The proposal to be debated on the floor will fund the state’s share of the expanded program using dollars from the Health Care Cash Fund.

Although the program is advertised as “drawing down federal money”, it still has a cost share to the Nebraska budget. The current fiscal note projects a cost of just shy of $10 million the first year, almost $54 million the second year, and $87.5 million the third year, when the program expires. If extended, fourth year state costs expand to $111 million. Based on projections, that is a $151 million state cost during the 3 year life of the program. While proposed as a three year “pilot program”, previous litigation has made eliminating a government entitlement program nearly impossible.  

My strongest objection to LB 1032 in its current form is the use of the Health Care Cash Fund to meet the state share of the cost. The Health Care Cash Fund is a cash fund that receives the bulk of its revenue from the Tobacco Settlement Fund. Nebraska exemplified exceptional stewardship of the funds it received from the multi-state settlement with tobacco companies to address the increased health care costs borne by the state due to smoking. Rather than use the settlement on one-time expenditures, the state established a fund that would last indefinitely to provide sustainable funding streams for Tobacco Settlement Enforcement, Tobacco Prevention and Control, and a host of other important health care programs. These include the Poison Control Center, Minority Health Aid, County Public Health Aid, Developmental Disability Aid, Respite Care, the Mental Health/Substance Abuse Regions, and provider rate increases for Behavioral Health.  The long term viability of the Health Care Cash Fund is vital to the sustainability of all of these critical programs.

Tapping the Health Care Cash Fund to purchase private insurance for working adults as proposed under LB 1032 would jeopardize the long-term viability of the fund and most certainly lead to a loss of the funding streams for the above mentioned programs. I do not feel it is fiscally responsible to put at risk a successful, prudent, and wise decision by previous legislators in establishing the Health Care Cash Fund. The cost is much more than mere dollars and cents, it is the potential existence of proven, successful health care programs.  

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office with questions or to express your position on legislation at 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

 

Letter to the District 11

March 25th, 2016

This past week the deficit appropriations bill and Cash Reserve Fund transfer bills passed first round of debate. Many important initiatives, including the Infrastructure Bank, levies around Offutt Air Force Base, and Corrections facilities expansion were included in transfers from the Cash Reserve Fund. The revenue shortfall was filled with unspent appropriations from prior years to balance the state budget for the final year of the biennium. A number of complex issues are up for debate before the Nebraska Legislature in the coming week. We are awaiting the committee executive process of the Revenue Committee to wrap up and advance property tax reform measures to floor. Many controversial issues also await discussion, expansion of entitlement programs and medical marijuana just a few among them.

As debate continues on a number of bills before the Nebraska Legislature, many of you have likely been contacted by advocacy groups, associations to which you belong, or social media action alerts to contact my office about a particular bill. Citizens expressing their voice and views on issues before the Legislature is an integral and critical part of the democratic process. When voters contact me and provide their perspective on legislation I find it invaluable. Personally, I find a short personal email, letter, or call from a constituent more effective than form emails, online petitions, or pass through calls which I can not verify the identity of the sender.

An informed electorate is the foundation of our democratic process. Voters need to stay informed and engage in policy issues, as the legislation passed will ultimately impact their families and businesses. It can be a challenge to keep up on the daily changes to legislation that take place. Most voters rely on the guidance of associations and advocacy groups with paid lobbyists who track the status of bills and provide information to group leaders. Organization staff then relay that information to the internal structure of the organization.

It has been my experience in my first term in the Legislature that some “action alerts” from advocacy groups to their membership are not always completely accurate about a bill, its current language, or even its intent. Constituents may then contact my office about a bill, representing those inaccuracies. At times, advocacy groups with a political agenda will try to misrepresent a bill as a means of defeating it, intentionally misleading voters. This kind of intentional misinformation corrupts the policy process.

I encourage voters to actively participate in the legislative committee processes of groups and organizations to which they belong. Be skeptical about political messages you see on social media or circulated in emails, and understand what the objectives of the advocacy group or sender are. Bad facts and inaccurate information can take on a life of their own, particularly on social media. I do not want to cast votes based on bad information. As my constituents, you want to make your decisions based on facts as well. It is not uncommon for good policy to become victim to a political effort to kill it.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office with questions or to express your position on legislation at 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District 10

March 11th, 2016

At the conclusion of the past week, the 2nd session of the 104th Legislature was two-thirds complete. Despite the short period of time remaining, much work remains to be done, including General File discussion of many senator, committee, and speaker priority bills. The schedule over the next several weeks will include extended days for floor debate. The Unicameral will begin in the morning, standing at ease for 20 minutes in lieu of recessing for lunch, and work into the evening.

Since a bill without a priority designation or consent calendar status will not be heard on the floor, some bills may be attached to existing priority bills on General File or Select File debate as amendments. In some cases, committee priority bills may be completely gutted from their introduced version, with several bills being combined into a single committee amendment that replaces the original bill. Colloquially referred to as “christmas tree” bills, these bills can be quite extensive with many separate components. If you are following specific piece of legislation, be aware that it may be amended into another bill, or the bill debated on the floor may be drastically different from the introduced version. The website of the Nebraska Legislature has the most current pending amendments and language for each bill as it proceeds through the legislative process. I encourage constituents to check for updates concerning legislation that is active on the floor. You can also contact my office for an update on the status of a bill.

The budget bills will advance for General File debate on Tuesday, March 15. Since this is the second year of the biennial budget passed last session, the requests for additional funding are commonly referred to as “deficit requests”. The most significant impact to the General Fund was a decrease in the revenue forecast compared to the revenues projected when the budget was developed a year ago. Increases over the projected amount required for TEEOSA aid to schools further strained the budget. One time reductions of unspent appropriations in Department of Health and Human Services aid programs of $98.9 million were used to fill the revenue gap, while various cash fund transfers and a revised February revenue forecast added an additional $29 million to balance the budget.

The most significant long term changes to the General Fund included a 10 year extension of the annual General Fund contribution to physical plant upgrades in the University of Nebraska and State College systems of $11 million and $1.125 million respectively. Both funding commitments were extended through 2030.

Cash reserve dollars, also known as the “rainy day funds”, were recommended for three significant one-time projects. The Appropriations Committee has recommended the Transportation Infrastructure Bank, proposed as LB 960, receive $50 million from the cash reserve. A $27.3 million appropriation for the Department of Corrections to expand community corrections beds was also included in the recommendations. Additionally, $13.7 million has been identified to upgrade the levy system that protects Offutt Air Force Base from flooding. If passed by the full legislature, $91 million will be drawn down from the Cash Reserve Fund. The unobligated balance of the Cash Reserve Fund would then be $634 million.

As the debate begins on the budget and continues on priority bills, please do not hesitate to contact my office with questions or to express your position on legislation at 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38
Nebraska Legislature

NRD Tax Map

Map of Nebraska’s natural resources districts along with their inflation-adjusted property tax increases from 2005 to 2015.

Sen. John Kuehn

District 38
Room #1308
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2732
Email: jkuehn@leg.ne.gov
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