Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 42nd 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. Mike Groene
The election is over, the people have spoken. Lincoln County as Legislative District 42 went 77% for Trump and 18% for Clinton.
Middle class Americans revolted against the party system. Democrats got tired of the influence on the Clintons by Wall Street’s idle rich. The middle class working Democrat preferred Bernie Sander’s grassroots progressivism. When the party denied them their choice they stayed home, voted third party, or voted for Trump. On the Republican side, the revolution took place in the primaries themselves. Working class citizens, who for years had stayed away from the voting booth, found their champion in Trump. They went to the courthouses across America, registered as a Republican and they voted; they rejected the influence of the international corporations and old New England money. They rejected the establishment of the Party. Both sides rejected a vindictive, prejudiced National Press that has forgotten its free speech duty within the fabric of a free society to supply America with unbiased information. Americans wanted their jobs back and they want the sovereignty of their country defended; those, to me, seem to be reasonable requests.
America is still a grand experiment in a mix of democracy and a republic form of Government (the Electoral College).
Lincoln County also voted 71% to retain the death penalty. The vote reflected a common sense perspective on justice. We don’t live in a Utopian paradise and until Christ comes back, we never will on this earth. We must make the best of it that we can. Defending civilization and the innocent is part of our duty and is why I believe a large majority of voters decided the death penalty will remain an option for justice in Nebraska.
The outcome of the State’s Legislature races moved the body towards fiscal conservatism. Five incumbents were defeated; of them, four were senators who voted to eliminate the death penalty. In all of their districts the death penalty was retained by wide margins. The lesson is, in representative Government, if you want to be reelected it is wise to have your votes reflect your constituents’ views. All told, next year, there will be 17 new senators. Term limits and a motivated electorate may just help move the Legislature in a new direction. Next year there will be a new Speaker of the Legislature and all of the 16 committee chairman positions that are elected by the Legislature’s 49 senators, could be in play. (We have decided to run for the Chairmanship of the Education Committee. I will explain my motivation to seek the position in a future column.) Nebraska is about to get a Legislature full of citizen representatives. We are looking forward to the upcoming session.
We are planning a town hall meeting next Monday night November 21st, starting at 5:30 pm at the University of Nebraska Research Center’s new conference room in North Platte. We don’t plan on giving a speech, just bring your questions and concerns and we will give you straight and honest answers.
We in rural Nebraska, with an economy heavily dependent on agriculture and transportation, understood as early as two years ago that something was amiss in the state’s economy. Prices of farm commodities crashed, railroad shipments slowed down, energy exploration and infrastructure construction stagnated, and railroad and agriculture related businesses were laying off employees. Rural senators repeatedly told their colleagues of the coming slowdown. But yet, government spending did not slow down; the state budget was increased by 3.7% annually and local governments raised property tax revenues in the face of taxpayers’ concerns that lower family incomes would make them harder to pay.
Based on information supplied to them through the Legislative Fiscal Office and the Nebraska Revenue Department, the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board recently revised their tax revenue forecast for the next biennium state budget down $910 million or 10% below the expected General Fund budget projections.
A few examples of cuts in state spending that may need to be made in order to eliminate the present (it could get larger) $910 million shortfall:
The state aid to Public Education (TEEOSA) is expected to increase 5.6% annually, totaling $109 million over the 2 year biennium
Medicaid: 5.5% increase totaling $96 million
State employee pay raises: 2.5% estimated increase totaling $53 million
Employee health insurance premiums: 10% increase totaling $35 million
Community colleges: 3.5% increase totaling $7.2 million
…and the University of Nebraska’s request for an increase of 4% in state funding, totaling $50 million (the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association [SHEEO] in its latest report already rates Nebraska as the fifth highest [$438] in per capita spending of all fifty states in tax support of its University System).
The list of other state programs that could also be affected by the budget shortfall includes special education, public assistance programs, juvenile justice reform, and basic government operations (utility bills, etc). The $404 million tax-relief expected by taxpayers from the Property Tax Credit Fund, an $11 million annual water sustainability fund allocation, and the need to actually increase spending on badly needed improvements to the State Corrections budget are also on the chopping block. In fact, if we froze the general fund budget at this year’s $4.41 billion, the savings would only amount to $594 million.
Believe it or not, with the scenario we are presently in, there are still special interest groups and some senators who think we can cut income taxes and increase economic development tax breaks for chosen individual businesses; there are also some who advocate raising taxes, and then there are those who believe a positive attitude will magically fix everything. I don’t belong to any of those three persuasions. We are going to have to slow down and even reverse government spending. Past efforts for property tax relief must be protected and we cannot raise tax rates on citizens. Expand the sales tax base? Maybe, if used to protect property tax relief. Government entities need to learn to live under the same economic realities as do those in the free market world.
One way to help keep your local economy strong during an economic turn down is for citizens to support their local retail businesses. The trend to buy products on-line is harming our state’s sales, income and property tax base, and most importantly, harming the job market in our local retail industry. It would help if we all reversed some of our on-line shopping habits by researching products online and then buying them locally. Cancelling a big city shopping trip can also help your gasoline budget. Just a thought, but I agree, you do have the freedom to spend your money where you wish.
In an earlier column I proudly informed you that my voting record on 9 issues generated for me the lowest rating by the State Chamber of Commerce, but recently my voting record on 6 issues garnered a 100% rating by members of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (small local business owners). That is a fact I am very proud of.
Please do not hesitate to contact my office firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.
Three Nebraska football players’ recent display of kneeling during the National Anthem was a misdirected and misinformed action on their part. Why? Because there has not been any substantial reports of police misbehavior, profiling, intimidation, or let alone shooting of unarmed citizens by Nebraska’s police officers. When those players are wearing a Nebraska Football Uniform on game day, they represent all of Nebraska. The perception was given by them, to the nation, that Nebraska has a noticeable racist element in our police force. Considering the 2015 killing of Omaha police officer Kerrie Orozco, their actions were an undue insult to Nebraska’s police. In fact, Nebraska police officers have shown great restraint, the overwhelming evidence is they risk their lives by waiting until they are fired on or are in danger of being driven over before they react with force. The home states of the players involved are Missouri, Georgia, and Texas. One would think if they experienced police injustice where they are from, the correct thing to do would be to protest back home.
Nebraska Coach Mike Riley has lived in Nebraska for almost two years; I assume he considers himself a Nebraska citizen. He has of yet to register to vote in Lancaster County. He supported the players’ behavior, as freedom of speech; perhaps the coach’s decision to not register to vote is his form of protest. I would think the Coach now has a great opportunity for a teaching moment in citizenship by taking a moment out of his all-important task of winning football games and fill out a voter registration card in front of the team.
Housing crisis?: I have heard from a few special interest groups supporting expansion of tax incentives for middle class housing projects. I don’t see the need. A healthy housing market should have a steady demand that matches or exceeds availability, to maintain existing homeowner values and assure rental property owners that their efforts to supply reasonable but profitable rental housing are rewarded. We now have that market in Lincoln County.
Local contractor businesses are booked. There is a need for more qualified construction workers, normally workers from presently depressed businesses (oil and gas) would migrate to construction. Free market principles would indicate that to fill demand, the Local Chambers of Commerce and Banking Interest would be encouraging startup businesses in the home building sector. The employers I have heard of who are concerned about available housing ironically, are those that do not pay property taxes on their place of business–in the education and medical fields. Sorry, but if you make a better salary because your employer does not pay burdensome property taxes, you should contribute to the tax-base by paying taxes on the full value of your home. In their defense, I have not had one individual medical or educational employee ask for special preference. In fact, I have had no average citizens seeking government involvement in building middle class housing. The entire fabrication of a housing shortage and the need for government action has come from the business interest in banking and real-estate speculation that would initially profit from property tax avoidance programs. Sidney, Nebraska with the Cabela’s upheaval would love to have Lincoln County’s housing market.
$833 is the monthly payment on a $180,000 30 year mortgage with a 3.75% interest rate. The escrow payment to cover the $3,887 property tax bill in North Platte is $324, nearly equal to 39% of the loan payment. If local officials want to lower the tax burden for all, they could expand the tax base by making sure all owners of private property pay their full share of property taxes to support our public institutions. More to the point, they should concentrate on controlling government spending. If they did, they would not need to or have time to play venture capitalist in the housing market by manipulating our property tax base.
Property taxes are burdensome for all of us. Whenever government picks winners and losers, as to who pays them, the result is, the rest of us have to pay more to maintain necessary public services.
This past Friday, Governor Ricketts, United States Senator Deb Fischer, former Governor Kay Orr, and State Department (NDOR) of Roads Director Kyle Schneweis were in North Platte to announce 8 planned major road construction projects and 12 future design projects that NDOR has prioritized for the next 10 years. The projects will be financed by funding from the Build Nebraska Act (BNA) and Transportation Innovation Act (TIA).
Turning the 60 mile stretch of Hwy 83 between North Platte and McCook into a Super-2 road system is one of the approved projects. Hwy 83 is a major north south transportation artery from Canada to Mexico; the hills, valleys, farm equipment traffic, and wildlife over the 60 mile stretch between North Platte and McCook is a bottleneck that commercial freight and individual travelers have avoided, especially night travelers. The highway is a natural connection for freight movement between I-80 in Nebraska and I-70 in Kansas.
I have long been an advocate for the benefits to traffic flow and especially the cost savings of the Super-2 concept of adding passing lanes every 3 to 5 miles. I have seen it work well on Hwy 50 and 56 in southern Kansas and if you have taken Hwy 36 to Estes Park in Colorado, you have benefited from the Super 2 concept. When I heard Governor Ricketts had hired Mr. Schneweis away from the Kansas Department of Roads, my first thought was: Why not build Super-2s in Nebraska as effectively as Kansas has done? A constructive discussion ensued with the new director, who needed no convincing; he was already an advocate of the concept. The cost savings and safety aspects of the Super-2 concept was also discussed in debate during the passage of the Transportation Innovation Act (LB960) last year (you can see the floor debate transcripts HERE, my statement starts on page 194). Local regional efforts in the past advocated a four-lane highway, the cost benefit analysis of 4-lane was highly unlikely to ever make NDOR’s top engineering and economic benefit priority list. The road needs of a growing eastern Nebraska would continue to trump our rural road wants. Upgrading Hwy 83 to a Super-2 made the $60 million project financially feasible and put us in the winner’s circle. The point I am making is that success does not happen in a vacuum; with input, support, and compromise from local citizens, businesses, government entities, and elected officials this project is going to be completed.
To refresh your memory:
The Build Nebraska Act (BNA) was created by LB84 in 2011. It was a bill presented by then State Senator Fischer that allocated ¼ cent of sales tax dollars to completing 4-lane express-ways connecting larger communities to each other and to the I-80 interstate system. Since the BNA’s existence, so far in western Nebraska only a stretch of Hwy 385 south of Alliance to Angora has been financed by the BNA. Our Hwy 83 project along with a $60 million, 18 mile, 4-lane project on Hwy 26 in the panhandle between Minatare and Bridgeport will bring tax dollars back to western Nebraska.
The Transportation Innovation Act–LB960 (TIA) was passed this last year. We supported the legislation after the original language of the bill requesting a $150 million transfer from the reserve fund was downgraded to $50 million and future funding was guaranteed by mandating that 2 cents of the prior year’s fuel tax increase (LB610) would be allocated to the fund, verses continued transfers of reserve funds. As a side-note, hopefully with the downturn of the economy, the Legislature’s recent bad habit of spending reserve funds for special projects will cease. It’s called a RESERVE fund for a reason. Through TIA funding NDOR has added North Platte’s I-80 Newberry Interchange to US 30 as one of the 12 Design Study Projects for future construction consideration. TIA also directs NDOR to use a portion of the funds to create a cost share program for replacement of rural county bridges. The Platte River Bridge north of Sutherland would be a good example of a project that would qualify for this new funding source.
For a complete transcript of the Transportation Innovation Act floor debate on 3/15/2016, please click HERE. My statement begins on page 194 (page 24 of the document) and is also copy and pasted below.
SENATOR GROENE: THANK YOU, MR. PRESIDENT. I APPRECIATE SENATOR SMITH’S WORK ON THIS. HE’S MORE PATIENT THAN I AM AND HE WORKS HARD TO COME TO COMPROMISE. THE ORIGINAL BILL THERE WAS…I WOULD HAVE PROBABLY FILIBUSTERED IT AT $150 MILLION, OR ATTEMPTED TO, BECAUSE I’M A BIG, FIRM BELIEVER OF USER TAX, AND THAT’S WHAT GAS TAX IS. BUT THE COMPROMISE IS, AS THEY SAY IN POLITICS, IT’S BEARABLE. SO I’LL SUPPORT LB960 AS LONG AS $50 MILLION IS THE ONLY MONEY THAT COMES OUT OF MY INCOME AND SALES TAXES TO BUILD ROADS AND THE REST OF IT IS FUNDED BY USER TAXES AND FUEL TAXES. BUT WE’VE TALKED A LOT HERE ABOUT DISREPAIR OF THE ROADS. WELL, LET ME TELL YOU, FOLKS, I DROVE THE WHOLE HIGH PLAINS AND NEBRASKA HAS DONE A GOOD JOB WITH THEIR ROADS. THEY ARE NOT IN DISREPAIR; BRIDGES, YES, MAINLY BECAUSE WE’RE GETTING BIGGER, AGRICULTURE IS GETTING BIGGER, EQUIPMENT IS GETTING BIGGER. THEY JUST CAN’T HANDLE WHAT WE HAVE OUT THERE NOW. BUT THE TAXPAYERS REMEMBER NOW AND IN ONE MORE YEAR WE’LL BE 31.5 CENTS ON FUEL TAXES. THAT’S THE HIGHEST IN THE REGION BY FAR. AND WE GENERATE $410 MILLION A YEAR FROM THAT FUEL TAX THAT WE SPEND EVERY YEAR. AND SENATOR FISCHER’S LB84, THE STATE’S PORTION IS $63 MILLION. THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE BUILT THESE EXPRESSWAYS. AND THEN WE GET ANOTHER $200-AND-SOME MILLION A YEAR FROM THE FEDS. SO IT’S NOT CHICKEN CHANGE OR CHUMP CHANGE OR WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL IT. TAXPAYERS HAVE HISTORICALLY IN THIS STATE SUPPORTED THEIR ROADS, SO I DON’T THINK WE NEED TO ACT LIKE WE’VE SAVED THE DAY. DOES THIS ACCELERATE IT? I DON’T KNOW WHERE THEY’RE GOING TO GET THE EMPLOYEES TO DO THIS, BECAUSE WE’RE LOW UNEMPLOYMENT, AND WHAT CONSTRUCTION COMPANY CAN BUILD THAT ROAD THAT QUICK NOW ONCE WE INFUSE THE MONEY INTO IT, BUT I’M WAITING TO SEE HOW THAT HAPPENS. BUT $50 MILLION IS ACCOUNTABLE. WE CAN ACCOUNT FOR THAT EASIER. IT’S NO RUSH TO SPEND IT. AND THEN AS IT TRICKLES IN OR COMES IN, NOT A TRICKLE, A PRETTY GOOD FLOW OF 2 CENTS A GALLON TAX IN THE FUTURE, IT MAKES SENSE. BUT I’M STILL CURIOUS WHAT WE’RE GOING TO DO WITH THE $63 MILLION OF LB84. WHERE IS THAT GOING NOW? IS THAT ALSO STILL MEANT FOR EXPRESSWAYS OR WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH IT? OR DO WE NEED IT ANYMORE? I THINK SENATOR KRIST DROPPED A BILL TO GET RID OF THAT AT ONE TIME. BUT I CAN LIVE WITH THIS, AND AS 1 SENATOR OUT OF 49, KNOWING THAT MY TAXPAYERS ARE PAYING A LOT FOR FUEL TAX RIGHT NOW. ALSO AN IDEA THAT I’VE BEEN PUSHING BECAUSE I TRAVEL THE HIGH PLAINS IS IN CERTAIN AREAS WE REALLY DON’T NEED A FOUR-LANE EXPRESSWAY. THERE’S THESE…THE CONCEPT OF THE “SUPER TWOS,” COLORADO USES IT, KANSAS USES IT, WYOMING USES IT, WHERE EVERY ONCE IN AWHILE IT’S A FOUR-LANE ON HILLS AND AREAS WHERE DRIVERS BECOME FRUSTRATED OR ACCIDENTS ARE MORE LIKELY TO HAPPEN, WHERE EVERY TEN MILES OR SO YOU TURN IT INTO A FOUR LANE GOING UP THE HILLS. THAT MAKES SENSE TO ME. HIGHWAY 50 IN KANSAS IS WELL TRAVELED, AND THEY HAVE DONE THAT THERE, AND IT KEEPS THE FLOW OF TRAFFIC GOING, PLUS THE COST IS A LOT LESS FOR MAINTENANCE AND FOR BUILDING. BUT I WOULD HOPE THE STATE OF NEBRASKA DEPARTMENT OF ROADS LOOKS AT THAT INSTEAD OF PUTTING A LOT OF CONCRETE OUT THERE THAT’S NOT NECESSARY. SO I THANK SENATOR SMITH FOR HIS EFFORTS–AND I CAN LIVE WITH THIS–AND SENATOR MELLO FOR WORKING WITH SENATOR SMITH AND THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE. AND LET’S PUT THIS ON THE BACK BURNER. LET’S SEE HOW THIS WORKS NOW BEFORE WE COME BACK AND START THROWING MORE MONEY AT IT IN THE FUTURE. LET’S SEE IF IT ACTUALLY WORKS. CAN WE DO THAT ONCE? WE NEVER ALLOWED SENATOR FISCHER’S BILL TO WORK COMPLETELY. APPARENTLY IT DIDN’T. BUT THANK YOU.
Good news. At present it looks like there will be no need for any special session of the legislature. The downward trend in tax receipts had slowed in August just enough that efforts to reduce spending by state agencies will get us through this year’s budget. Things will change over the next three months, but addressing any budget shortfalls can now wait until January. Also attempts by some in the Legislature to turn Senator Kintner’s lack of discretion into a special session has run out of steam. Kintner has said he will not resign. Thankfully there will be no special session over cyber-sex and the whole country will not have an opportunity to laugh at Nebraska’s cyber-sex scandal. Senator Kintner was elected by the citizens of District 2, it is their decision if he should represent them. He was fined $1,000 by the Accountability and Disclosure Commission for misuse of state property; the system we have in place works, there is and never was any need for further action by the Legislature but Senator Chambers will not let the matter rest, he has daily made it clear we will be discussing the issue next session.
We were right: over the last two sessions we successfully led filibusters of (LB18) proposed legislation to make all meningitis vaccinations mandatory for school children. To start with, the legislation was badly written; there exists meningococcal vaccinations, but not for all causes of meningitis per se. Meningitis is a medical condition, an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain. The rare condition is usually caused by bacteria or viruses, but can be a result of injury, cancer, or certain drugs.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has for many years recommended that adolescent children be vaccinated for Meningococcal bacteria disease caused by 4 of 12 known bacterial strains (ACWY). The issue was that two new (Men B) vaccinations for a B strain of the bacteria had just been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The CDC recommended those vaccines only for individuals who are at increased risk due to existing medical conditions. LB18 as written would have mandated those expensive vaccinations be given twice to all children at the age of 12 and then at 16.
This month the American Academy of Pediatrics released Men B guidelines to their members which agrees with CDC recommendations, stating that they should only be given in rare cases. This latest announcement by the pediatric doctors gives credence to our successful filibuster of a bad bill.
In the case of Meningococcal (ACWY) vaccinations, the public/private medical system has worked with over a 70% vaccination rate and there is no need for a statutory mandate. There have been no cases of the disease in Nebraska’s adolescent population over the last 4 years and only two cases have been reported in children between the ages of 12 to 17 over the last 13 years.
Not all immunizations and the need for them are created equal: unlike Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR vaccine), meningococcal bacteria disease is not highly infectious and by the time American children reach adolescence, the vast majority have developed natural immunity to the bacteria. Plus while the MMR vaccine has a long lifespan with a 99.5 % effectiveness, the Men-B vaccinations are short lived, a recent New England Journal of Medicine study noted that only 66% of students given the vaccine developed protective antibodies.
The point needs to be stressed, even if a child has received the vaccinations, they can still be at risk of meningitis from other sources. A January death of a vaccinated Nebraska teenager from meningitis symptoms that was linked to an unrelated streptococcal pneumonia bacteria is proof enough that vigilance by parents is the best defense against a very rare disease.
The proposed legislation was first introduced in 2012. It was obvious by reading testimony from the bill’s hearing before the Education Committee that it was introduced by request of the drug companies who make the new vaccinations. It never made it out of committee that year, this time the legislation was presented as protecting the children.
Please do not hesitate to contact my office email@example.com or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.
Tuesday, I attended the educational water management event at the West Central Research and Extension Center here in North Platte. The event was a perfect example of the success of the United States Congress’s passages of the Morrill Act in 1862 and the Hatch Act in 1887; first to create land grant colleges with an emphasis on agriculture and the mechanical arts in order to promote education for the industrial classes, and second to establish agriculture research and extension stations.
The event was also a good example of public-private cooperation. The private organization “Nebraska Water Balance Alliance” (NEWBA) provided research to the forum covering stewardship practices and profitable economic solutions to maintaining long term irrigated farming in western Nebraska. Lincoln County Farmer Roric Paulman has been one of the driving forces behind the work of the statewide alliance. In order to make stewardship of our ground water popular, it has to also be profitable; the NEWBA is providing much of that research.
What we are looking at on the legislative side of the ground water issue:
Sale of N-CORPE approximately 20,000 acres: We are researching legislation to allow the NRDs that own the land a way to sell it off but retain control of the water rights. The occupation taxes, paid by farmers, should be collateral enough for the bond holders. Proceeds from land sales would help pay down the bonds thus lowering the present occupation tax and private ownership of the land would put land back on Lincoln County’s tax rolls. Eliminating government ownership would also eliminate much of the cost of operating N-CORPE’s office. Wells could be maintained by private contractors and management cost shared by all four NRDs could be easily accomplished by present employees of the Twin Platte and Middle Republican NRDs where N-CORPE is situated.
Water Sustainability Fund: Looking at legislative ideas that would guarantee that the majority of the $11 million appropriated annually to the fund are used for agricultural purposes.
1) Provide a voluntary opportunity for farmers, within the five mile surface water sensitive area of the Republican River, to farm individual irrigated quarters as dry-land for a year and then be reimbursed the difference in property and occupation taxes between irrigated and dry-land. We would first have to have Kansas agree to a 100% offset credit of the groundwater saved.
2) Water meters: Use the fund to create a voluntary cost-sharing water meter program for agriculture wells in the over-appropriated Platte River Basin and the Tri-State compact controlled Republican River Basin. Encourage installation of meters on wells that don’t presently have meters or to update existing meters. In today’s precision farming world, water over applied at the wrong time is costly. Eventually, I believe we need to manage the Ogallala Aquifer as one entity. The University of Nebraska’s Research and Extension Services is the obvious entity to increase their involvement in gathering accurate groundwater usage numbers and then recommend sound scientific recommendations on management of the entire Ogallala Aquifer system.
3) Platte River flood waters: We have been discussing with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources promotion of a state driven initiative to work with Kansas and Colorado to create a flood water diversion project to keep the water in Western Nebraska. We may present a Legislative Resolution next year to ask the Natural Resource Committee to start the ball rolling in that direction.
The N-CORPE Project was a reaction to a panic situation that forced 4 locally controlled Natural Resource districts (NRDs) to work together. The vast majority of my constituents believe pumping precious groundwater into a creek to be a bad solution to a worse problem. We should learn from that experience: the groundwater issue is a statewide concern. Hopefully another drought will not bring another panic situation. Decisions made in those circumstances are costly and not the wisest, as N-CORPE’s existence can attest too.
Maintaining irrigated farming for future generations should be our goal. It was heartening to observe the mingling of free market solutions and University Research working together at the WCREC open house. My job is to attempt to bring balanced legislative guidance as the third leg of the solution.
Please do not hesitate to contact my office firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.
Sadly, in a well-educated society, issues that dominate the news are still those that titillate the worst in us.
Senator Kintner issue: I will not support a special session (waste of tax dollars) and neither will I vote to impeach him. I may support a censure motion depending on the wording of it. I took the same stance last year on Senator Chambers’ “shoot a cop” issue (click HERE to view my statement starting on page 18). I said it then and I have not changed my principles since; their constituents should decide either to vote them out of office or petition them to resign. Neither man’s activity was a crime; Kintner did misuse a government computer. That matter was handled correctly by the Accountability and Disclosure Committee. Just to let you know, my government laptop has never left the Capitol building.
Transgender bathroom use: Public bathrooms are made available for citizens to use when our human body demands to remove its waste. Male and female bodies are designed differently and correctly, so are public restrooms. The privacy issue between the two sexes is also a major consideration why society settled on male and female designations for restrooms. I fail to see what someone’s preferred sexual behavior has to do with going to a restroom. I am also opposed to the huge public cost of converting from communal to individual restrooms in schools and other public buildings. It is much simpler if we go to the restroom we are designed for.
I attended the North Platte Public Schools budget hearing Monday night; first as a taxpayer concerned over the school board’s plan to raise their tax rate from 1.1697 to 1.1888 on top of the fact that taxpayers have seen double digit valuation increases. The last two years the superintendent’s budget will raise property taxes from $18.8 million to $22.2 million, an 18% increase and state aid will also rise from $10 million to $11.5, a 14.7% increase. Meanwhile, enrollment is expected to increase by only 129 students or 3%. The excess spending isn’t going to the classroom teachers; of the $5.6 million increase, only $1.2 goes to the teachers, although $2.3 million is being spent to indoctrinate them in new methods to teach and provide them new curriculum. With five different Superintendents over the past 8 years you have to sympathize with any confusion teachers have about what is expected of them.
But what concerned me most was, even with all the extra tax dollars available, the proposed budget has a $3 million deficit and the cash reserves will be drawn down to $7.35 million, enough to only cover 1.95 months, well below the best business practice of a 25% reserve ($11.3 million) or 3 months of expected expenditures.
I also went to the hearing as your State Senator to briefly explain to the board that they should prepare for a decrease in state funding due to a downturn in our state’s economy. The legislature already is facing a $343 million budget deficit, which is likely to grow. Since overall education spending is 47% of the state budget, education spending will have to slow down. After being told to shut up and sit-down after speaking three minutes, I informed the board of a couple of conclusions I came to: the State is responsible for funding free instruction in our common schools. It was obvious that the budget presented by the school administration was unresponsive to my constituents’ concerns and that the legislature needed to enact stricter spending controls on districts. I agree, local control is needed for who teaches and classroom materials used, but it is apparent spending needs to be addressed at the state level. Secondly, after being told the public had only three minutes to speak and a total of 30 minutes, I will present legislation that clarifies the public’s right to have adequate time to present comments to elected boards.
Over and over again, as a member of the Education Committee, I have asked representatives of the education lobby to show me the research that shows a relationship between spending and classroom outcomes. I have yet to be presented with any documented research.
Below is the transcript excerpt mentioned in this week’s Home District Column. Click here to see the full transcript from March 26. 2015. My statement starts on page 18.
SENATOR GROENE: THANK YOU, MR. PRESIDENT. WHEN I THINK OF…WHEN I SEE NEW STORIES LIKE ON FERGUSON, MISSOURI, AND THE PRESS SAYS, WELL, THEY’RE PARI-MUTUEL (SIC) AND THEY’RE DRESSED IN BULLETPROOF VESTS AND SHIELDS AND THEY’RE WALKING IN LOCKSTEP. AND I WATCHED THAT FILM, I DON’T SEE POLICE OFFICERS. I SEE AN INDIVIDUAL THAT HAS A JOB. HE GOES HOME EVERY NIGHT TO HIS FAMILY, TO HIS KIDS. ON THE WEEKENDS, HE GOES TO HIS CHURCH. HE’S JUST AN AVERAGE GUY. YOU DON’T PUT A UNIFORM ON AND ALL OF A SUDDEN BECOME A PARATROOPER. THESE ARE JUST FELLOW CITIZENS THAT CHOSE A CAREER IN LAW ENFORCEMENT. SO TO EQUATE THEM TO PEOPLE WHO DO THINGS BECAUSE OF SOME MISGUIDED RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLES OR SOMETHING, THEY’RE JUST PEOPLE. THEY’RE TRYING TO DO A JOB. AND WHAT SCARES ME MORE ABOUT WHAT SENATOR CHAMBERS SAYS IS NOT WHAT BOTHERS THIS…I’M A BIG ADULT. I BELIEVE IN FREE SPEECH. IT’S WHO HE REPRESENTS, AND HE HAS A CHALLENGE. I’M AFRAID, JUST LIKE HAPPENED IN FERGUSON, THAT SOME YOUNG HOT HEAD FROM WHATEVER RACE MIGHT LISTEN TO THAT AND SAY, I’M GOING TO GO POP A COP BECAUSE A MAN I RESPECT, AND I RESPECT HIM A LOT SAID THAT WAS OKAY. THAT’S WHAT BOTHERS ME. AND IF…HE DOESN’T HAVE TO APOLOGIZE TO ME. I’M A FIRM BELIEVER IN FREE SPEECH. BUT I WISH HE WOULD GO BACK INTO HIS DISTRICT AND MAKE THAT CLEAR TO THE YOUNG MEN ON THE STREET, THAT I WAS MAKING A POLITICAL POINT, NOT A POINT OF SOMETHING I WOULD ACTUALLY ADVOCATE DOING. HE DOESN’T NEED TO APOLOGIZE TO ME, BUT I WISH HE WOULD DO THAT. I ADMIRE SENATOR CHAMBERS. I’VE LEARNED A LOT FROM HIM. I’M A CHRISTIAN. I DON’T CONDEMN A MAN. THAT’S FOR SOMEBODY A LOT BETTER AND BIGGER THAN ME TO DO THAT. WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES. I’VE BEEN BLESSED WITH ONE SENATOR IN THE BACK ROW THAT KEEPS AN EYE ON WHAT I SAY. SENATOR CHAMBERS IS EVEN LUCKIER THAN ME. HE’S GOT 48 DOING IT FOR HIM. BUT IT WASN’T RIGHT. YOU KNOW, THEY SAY DON’T…BEWARE OF WHAT YOU ASK FOR. I’VE BEEN TO A LOT OF…POLITICAL CORRECT SPEECH PREACHED IN THIS COUNTRY THAT BORDERS ON TAKING A PERSON’S RIGHT AWAY, RIGHTS AWAY OF FREE SPEECH. SENATOR CHAMBERS WILL PAY FOR WHAT HE SAID. HE KNOWS IT. HE’S SEEN PEOPLE PULL SUPPORT FROM HIS BILLS ALREADY. THE SYSTEM WILL WORK. BUT AS THE QUOTE SAYS THAT WAS ATTRIBUTED TO VOLTAIRE, I DISAPPROVE OF WHAT YOU SAY, BUT I WILL DEFEND TO THE DEATH YOUR RIGHT TO SAY IT. THAT WAS SOMETHING SAID BY A FRENCHMAN BACK IN THE 1700s THAT HAD A LOT DO, THAT QUOTE. AND IT WASN’T ACTUALLY, SOME SAY, SAID BY HIM BUT REPEATED BY HIM. IT HAD A LOT TO DO WITH HOW OUR CONSTITUTION WAS RIGHT. HOW ONE MAN MAKES A DIFFERENCE, AND ONE MAN MAKES A QUOTE, GOOD OR BAD, IT HAS AN EFFECT ON OTHERS. SO, AGAIN, I WOULD LIKE TO ENCOURAGE SENATOR CHAMBERS TO MAKE SURE IN HIS DISTRICT, AT LEAST, THAT HE EXPLAINS TO THOSE YOUNG MEN THE HISTORY WHERE HE COMES FROM AND WHY HE TAKES THAT POSITION BECAUSE HE WAS THERE IN THE ’60s WHEN HE DID SEE SOME OF THESE THINGS HAPPEN. I WASN’T. NONE OF MY FAMILY EVER OWNED A SLAVE. IN FACT, ON ST. PAT’S I WAS DOING A LITTLE HISTORY ON ST. PAT HIMSELF AND HE WAS A SLAVE. SOME OF MY ANCESTORS WERE SLAVES ALSO. [LB70A]
Over the last two years we, in rural Nebraska, have witnessed the gradual slowdown in our state’s economic activity. Locally, declines in agriculture commodity prices and a decrease in railroad coal and consumer goods shipments have lowered business and family incomes, thus lowering income and sales tax revenues. Over and over again a few rural senators reminded our colleagues that we needed to control spending this past session because a looming economic slowdown was spreading from rural to urban areas. Our warning was ignored. Instead commitments to the lobby were funded. A few examples were: $25 million to the University of Nebraska for a virtual reality medical training facility, $8 million for a private university’s new dental college, sales tax exemptions for tourists visiting zoos and for commercial grain drying fuels. We also made the bandage bigger over the festering sore of confiscatory property taxes by adding another $140 million of income and sales tax receipts to the Property Tax Relief Fund, totaling $428 million for the biennium. Some good may actually come with a budget crisis, without state tax-dollars to throw at the problem, just maybe we will actually address the underlying causes of our burdensome property taxes.
So today, it is no surprise that we have the beginnings of a budget crisis. There is an estimated $113.7 million budget shortfall in this year’s existing fiscal budget that ends July of 2017. Before we even start the session in January the legislature already faces an estimated $353 million shortage in funding for the next biennium budget. The expected shortage is partially due to the passing of legislation this past year that added $234 million in new spending; that starts in the new budget cycle.
I am firmly against any attempt to call for a Special Session to address the budget shortfall. I agree with the Governor’s four step directive to state agencies to not spend to their budget limit, as the correct approach. It would be wise for all government entities funded by state tax dollars, including public schools, community colleges, and UNL to adopt the Governor’s course of action.
It is apparent that the University of Nebraska’s leadership does not live with the same economic realities the rest of us do. They have come out with a proposal for the legislature to increase their funding 4% annually the next two years, amounting to $70 million. That will not happen; I believe they will be fortunate to only have their funding froze. We may have an opportunity to find out how good a fiscal manager our new University president is.
Mike Lucas, superintendent of York Public schools, in his Guest column printed last Tuesday in a local paper “Myth busting: Public schools and Property taxes” reaffirms what a group of senators, including myself, are trying to address with legislation to fix the disproportional distribution of state aid through the TEEOSA formula that favors large urban school districts. His example of his school district’s funding does not hold true state wide. It is not a myth that statewide property taxes have skyrocketed in the past eight years, going from $2.72 billion to $3.78 billion. Schools take the most heat because they take the largest share, increasing from $1.63 billion to $2.28 billion over the same period of time. Statewide, his claim of lack of support from taxpayers does not hold true, total spending of property taxes plus state aid has increased from $2.46 billion to $3.23 billion. Taxpayers need not apologize for a lack of adequate funding for public schools and as to his claim that some public officials and institutes “want to see public schools harmed“, I have yet to meet one of those individuals he speaks of. But some of us are trying to understand why all the additional financial support has not improved educational outcomes as promised by the education lobby. I have visited with Mr. Lucas during Education Committee hearings, I am sure he does not believe classroom results can be purchased with more tax dollars, I personally have more faith in our classroom teachers than to accept that assumption.