NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at mgroene@leg.ne.gov

Welcome

January 3rd, 2017

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.

Sincerely,
Sen. Mike Groene

Home District Column 10/25/2018

October 25th, 2018

I have recently been contacted by constituents concerning the Nebraska Advantage Act (NAA). It seems its value to Lincoln County is being misrepresented to them. It is a complicated issue that when explained, is easily understood.

The Act was created in 2005 to replace Nebraska’s first major economic development effort, LB775, which was passed in 1987 primarily to keep ConAgra from moving its headquarters out of Nebraska; it did keep them in Omaha another 30 years before finally moving to Chicago. I am not a fan of the present Advantage Act. It is not rural friendly, it involves prohibitive paperwork that discourages smaller rural companies from applying and it has not done what it was supposed to do: create high-paying jobs.

Some facts from its first 11 years in operation: 408 projects were in effect at the end of 2017 with a handful more having been completed. All projects combined have received $905.4 million in tax-credits; of those, businesses have so far claimed $415.1 million against their tax-liability ($52.5 million in 2017). It has created only 16,337 jobs, amounting to a taxpayer cost of $25,413 per job. No one in the economic development arena believes the Advantage Act has delivered a good return on taxpayer investment. In Lincoln County over the same 11 years, only two projects that could claim to have created jobs have used the economic incentive: Greenbrier in Hershey and the ethanol plant in Sutherland. The reality is that the NAA is a badly written, rigid economic development tool that favors large corporations who have the legal and accounting staff to wade through the requirements. The idea of the NAA was to attract good-paying factory and technology jobs to Nebraska. Instead, a large percentage of applicants are retail in nature and the largest users of the investment credit portion of the Act have not been manufacturers, but companies that are heavy in infrastructure with limited job creation, for example: windmill farms and data centers (Facebook).

The NAA was set to sunset last year. My second year in Lincoln, 2016, a bill was introduced to extend the sunset to 2020; at that time, rural senators were in the midst of a floor campaign to draw attention to the fact that excessive property taxes were harming rural Nebraska’s economy so we used the NAA extension as a bargaining tool. That strategy worked and there is now a clear (sunny) understanding in the Legislature that property tax reform and the development of a new statewide economic development plan must go hand in hand.

I am an appointed member of the Legislature’s Economic Development Task Force. Everyone involved from the State Chamber of Commerce, Nebraska Economic Development Department and members of the Legislature agree that the present Advantage Act should be allowed to sunset in 2020 and most agree we need to create a new, simpler economic development plan. The biggest complaint from businesses interested in locating in Nebraska is the over-complicated NAA application process followed by the burdensome reporting requirements. As a member of the Task Force, I plan to concentrate on making sure any new plan includes opportunities for small rural Nebraska businesses and gives added benefits to large companies that locate in rural areas. It must concentrate on new job creation in business areas that attract peripheral economic growth in retail and service businesses. It must also include provisions that are free-flowing, which allow the Governor and his Department of Economic Development room to react to large projects that may require inputs that cannot be foreseen in legislation. Finally, workforce development is another aspect of any economic development effort; as you all know, I am a huge proponent of encouraging our youth to pursue an education in the hands-on trades of electrician, plumber, welding, transportation (CDL drivers), etc. That means more rural blue-collar workers and more students in our community colleges.

It is easy to be trapped into believing that the status quo is good enough and attack those who seek a better answer. I believe the future of Lincoln County is bright; my job is to get the government out of your way and deliver the right economic tools for you to get the job done.

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729.

Education Hearing 10/19/2018

October 12th, 2018

Education
Room 1525 – 1:30 PM

Document
Number
Introducer Description
LR452 Vargas Interim study to examine alternative teacher certification programs

If you are not testifying in person on a bill and would like to submit a written position letter to be included in the official hearing record as an exhibit, the letter must be delivered to the office of the committee chair (or emailed to the committee chair) of the committee conducting the hearing on the bill by 5:00 p.m. on the last work day prior to the public hearing.

Additionally, the letter must include your name and address, state a position of for, against, or neutral on the bill in question and include a request for the letter to be included as part of the public hearing record.

Home District Column 9/27/2018

September 27th, 2018

I continue to be a critic of cities misusing Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for solely economic purposes because I understand that high property taxes are the “cause” and TIF abuse is the “effect”. This past year, special interest groups won as I unsuccessfully fought the passage of LB496 which added private housing construction costs to expenses that developers could recover by the diversion of TIF tax dollars. We need to pause and be concerned when builders are telling us that avoidance of high property taxes are the deciding factor if building homes is profitable or not.

Our freedom is protected by the rule of law. Without it, a society fails. When does “the end justify the means”? Is it ok to speed because you’re late for work? Is it ok to steal because your family is hungry? Is it ok to bend the use of TIF for purposes unrelated to urban renewal? Where do we stop and how minor a cause is defensible? I prefer not to start.

I drove by the proposed Philips and Dixie area being considered for designation as blighted and substandard. I fail to see how it fits into the constitutional or statutory language defining such an area. The area has been developed over the last 20 years, infrastructure is in place and the only reason it is not fully developed is that the present owner originally had plans other than residential use.

Building new homes is a desirable economic activity, what means are used to encourage it is the debatable question. The final answer rests with an elected city council and mayor; the appointed members of the Planning Commission and Community Development Authority can only recommend what they deem to be allowable under state statute and city ordinance. Without clear guidance from elected officials, they cannot be blamed for the conclusions they come to. The buck stops with the elected officials.

I am a firm believer in defining the problem and fixing the cause. Here are some facts I hope the city council will consider:

1)      Since the 2010 Census, North Platte’s population has declined by an estimated 845 to 23,888. The county has declined 1,008 to 35,280. With simple math and using a family of four, over the last seven years there should be well over 200 additional housing units available.

2)      Recent news stories have noted that between three large local employers there are over 300 good paying jobs going unfilled. Based on what I have heard from other employers, the total countywide is closer to 500.

3)      Of the top 25 cities by population, North Platte has the 6th highest property tax rate in the state. When I talk to citizens who leave the area, property taxes is the second major reason for doing so behind following extended family members to where they have relocated. It must be remembered that the family who buys a TIF’d house will receive none of the benefits, they will pay market price and they will pay high property taxes on their home.

4)      Hard working North Platte area citizens rely on the value of their homes being part of their retirement equity. When government injects a stimulant into a market, it drives down the price of existing homes and hampers those contractors who choose to build on free market principles. Is one of the city council’s goals to improve the housing market by lowering home prices at the expense of existing homeowners?

TIF is meant for urban renewal. A recent housing study pointed out what is already known: poor housing quality exists in our oldest urban areas, yet there has never been a TIF project north of B Street. Could a better approach be to give contractors of all sizes an opportunity to use TIF in an older neighborhood to replace, one at a time, homes or small business properties in poor condition?

There are many reasons why people live where they do: job, taxes, lifestyle, family, climate, shopping and educational opportunities, but I have yet to meet someone who moved to a city for the perfect home in which they can watch TV and sleep.

Column 8-30-18

Over the last year I have watched the debate unfold between Senator Steve Erdman, University of Nebraska (NU) President Hank Bounds and University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Chancellor Ronnie Green.  It all started with a public, verbal and obscene gesture attack by UNL English Department Graduate Student-Lecturer Courtney Lawton on sophomore student Kaitlyn Mullen while she was recruiting students for the student organization “Turning Point USA”.

Green suspended the grad student from lecturing and, eventually, didn’t renew her non-tenured position.  I agreed wholeheartedly with his decision; a position of a grad student-lecturer is an audition for someday being hired as a tenured professor. Character and behavior inside and outside the classroom should be considered in any future hiring decision. Lawton failed the test.

The hiring decision landed the University on a list of 56 universities that are censured by the “American Association of University Professors” (AAUP) a national organization of college faculty with 42,000 members.  The National Center for Education Statistics shows there are 4,627 American institutions of higher education employing 1,551,000 faculty members. When contacted, AAUP’s Nebraska Conference refused to divulge how many of UNL’s 1,349 faculty members belonged to the UNL Chapter; using the national average of 2.7%, an estimate would be 36.  Why is the NU Administration so worried about pleasing a small special interest group?  Wouldn’t seeking the advice of Nebraska’s citizens and faculty that are not AAUP members be a better course of action?

Senator Erdman’s frustration is legitimate.  We’ve all heard President Bounds’ demands for more and more tax dollars to maintain the University, but see him turn around and create a six-figure position for a Diversity Vice Chancellor and bachelor’s degree programs in women’s, gender and ethnic studies on the Kearney campus.  While at the same time, he proposed cuts in a basic “Land Grant College” program by eliminating the Haskell Agricultural Laboratory in Concord or cut the Geography graduate program at UNL.

Senator Erdman’s indictment of the UNL English Department’s bias against those who hold conservative viewpoints reflects the sentiment of many Nebraskans who are frustrated with the perception that some University staff do attempt to indoctrinate students (social engineer) with their worldview. But first, we must put the issue in perspective.  The University system is made up of 32 colleges and 754 departments and programs.  Overall, the majority of the University’s faculty just does their job to prepare students for their future occupations.

The epicenter of Nebraskans’ mistrust does not lie within the Colleges of Agriculture & Natural Resources, Business or Medicine, etc.  It lies within the English Department in UNL‘s College of Arts & Sciences where Lawton was employed.

As a non-scientific gauge of political bias, of the Department’s 45 professors, state voter registrations show no clear evidence of any registered Republicans. Therefore, we ask: Does this indicate the Department lacks diversity of ideas and purposely has a hiring prejudice against those who hold conservative-leaning thoughts?

Since Medieval Times, the idea of a Liberal Arts education was defined by a pursuit of diverse thought to expand the understanding of universal principles that guide the human condition. It was ironic that President Bounds professed his common-sense belief “that we are stronger when we serve alongside people who don’t look and think like us” but then followed up with a foolish contrary comment attacking Erdman for not thinking like he does. If the University wishes to pursue diversity, it needs  to focus on the original Latin meaning of a Liberal Arts education, liberalis–“free” and ars–”art or principled practice” concepts of reasoned thinking, instead of trying to create the false perception that we are somehow diverse in thought by pursuing only a failed policy of diversity of one’s outer appearance.  Wasting tax dollars on a new administrative position won’t fix the problem.   Bounds and Green should examine the hiring and grad-school application process of each department and reform those whose outcomes have shown to have an obvious political bias.

The vast majority of Nebraskans care not the chemical makeup of one’s flesh or their ethnic heritage, nor do we care the form your flesh takes. What we care about is the makeup of your character, including personal responsibility, work ethic and respect for others.

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729.

WE’VE MOVED!!!

August 21st, 2018

Senator Groene’s office has moved to Room 1306 which is located on the east side of the Capitol Building.

Our phone number has not changed.

Senator Mike Groene
Room #1306
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2729
Email: mgroene@leg.ne.gov

Column 8/16/2018

August 16th, 2018

The adage “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions” could easily be adapted to the folly of government spending gone astray; perhaps the adapted phrase should say “the road to high taxation is paved with the good intentions of elected officials”.

What brought this to mind is the recent announcement by the county and city to seek a 33% increase in the city’s sales tax rate along with a local paper’s recent story on property taxes pinning most of the blame for their rapid rise on sky-rocketing property valuations. That is partly true, but spending on issues outside of government services and abuse of interlocal agreements by local boards to avoid lid-limits have also played a large part in your excessive tax bill.

The truth of the matter is we do not pay our taxes in valuations or levies, we pay in dollars and every dollar is doled out by those local governments.

The problem is statewide. Some local examples of squandered tax-dollars:

The Iron Eagle Golf Course: it was to be a tourist attraction, bringing golfers to a new destination golf course and their fees would pay off the municipal revenue bonds at no cost to the taxpayers. We all know the history, a broken promise; within three years the taxpayers were put on the hook by the conversion of the revenue bonds to general obligation bonds, 25 years and $11.5 million tax-dollars for bond payments later the taxpayers now own a golf course, but not the land under it. To make sure this scenario never happens again to taxpayers in Nebraska, our LB378 passed in 2015. In the future, any attempt to change the funding source of a voter-approved project must also be placed on the ballot.

The Golden Spike: a well-intended celebration of our heritage. A normally general fund enhancing 2 cent occupation tax on hotel rooms was enacted to pay for the construction of a private organization’s tourism project.  Somehow late in the process, operation costs were added as a use for the new tax revenues. A well-documented million dollars was squandered by mismanagement and $86 thousand disappeared from an account managed by the Lincoln County Community Development Corporation (LCCDC) all before a shovel of dirt was turned. From 1999-2017, $6.9 million of taxes have gone to the privately owned Spike – approximately $2.7 million has gone to pay the USDA loan payments and the remaining $4.2 million has disappeared into the bowels of the Spike. That $4.2 million could have repaired a lot of streets!

The N-CORPE project: a frustrating but necessary tax-dollar-funded NRD groundwater to surface water augmentation project. But $50 million of the $142.5 million bond cost could be eliminated if the ill-informed policy to continue to own, manage and fund the 19,500 acres of ag-land tied to the project was instead sold with deed restrictions and put back on the tax-rolls.

Mid-Plains Community College budget growth: the pride of our local higher education and the path I urge our local youth to take to a rewarding career. According to the State Auditor’s website, since FY2004-05, the mid-point of the recent property valuation run-up, MPCC’s property tax asking has gone from $6.1 to $16 million and state-aid has increased from $5.5 to $9 million. Meanwhile, over the same period, full-time equivalent student enrollment has dropped from 1,642 to 1,441. Apparently, expanded campuses and new buildings do not attract new students.

Elected officials can say NO. Leading by example, during the 2015 session we led a filibuster to kill LB423—a $95 million wind-energy tax credit for windmills. The Legislature was told if we did not give those credits, windmills would not be built in Nebraska. We killed the bill, yet since then Nebraska has become the home to hundreds of new windmills.

The truth is, Nebraska’s third highest national ranking for local and state tax-burden is not caused by property valuations or lack of taxpayers, but instead by government spending on things far from its mission to provide good public infrastructure, educational opportunities and public safety. Some good advice – if you want respect, don’t create dirty laundry!

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729.

As I continue our objective to clarify that the four NRDs involved in N-CORPE could continue to use the groundwater underlying the augmentation project without continued direct ownership of the land, I am often told by an attorney who is well versed in Nebraska’s ground water law: yes, I am correct that N-CORPE can sell the land but that I should refrain from using the term “separating groundwater from land ownership”. Although my argument is correct, legal mechanisms in existing law do allow for a past or present landowner to assign their groundwater use rights to others by lease, easement or reservation, he is also correct in saying those agreements always tie the ability to use groundwater to the land.

Recently the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Upper Republican Natural Resource District (URNRD) and against Dundy County concerning the county’s attempt to access property taxes on URNRD’s Rock Creek augmentation project. In the ruling the Court quoted from the 1985 Sorensen v. Lower Niobrara (LNNRD) case where the NRD used eminent domain to acquire two ½ acre parcels from Sorensen to establish domestic use water transfer wells for the citizens of Knox County. The Court concluded from the Sorensen decision that “it is clear that the right to use ground water is an attribute of owning fee simple title to land overlying a source of ground water and is inseparable from the land to which it applies.”

Supporters of N-CORPE’s continued ownership of the land are now taking the Court’s words out of context by claiming the Upper Republican decision infers that it must continue to own title to the land. What they are not telling you is that in the Sorensen case the farmer continued to own and irrigate the quarter section of land surrounding the two ½ acre parcels where the NRD transfer wells sat. They also forget to mention in the Sorensen case the Court ruled that under the Municipal and Rural Domestic Groundwater Transfer Permit Act, the “NRD has become a peculiar type of landowner granted very special status with statutory rights contravening common law.” In other words, use of groundwater by NRDs does not follow the same common law applied to private ground water users.

Justice Cassel stated in his concurring opinion in the Upper Republican case, “Perhaps another provision in current law, not invoked by the parties before us, is available to address this problem.”

Those provisions available to the N-CORPE board would include:

—Do what LNNRD did in the Sorensen case. N-CORPE could tie the water to the land by retaining ownership of the half-acre of land under each of their 19 wells and sell off the remainder of the 19,500 acres.

—Sell the land and retain the groundwater use rights through a lease agreement as a condition of sale. The towns of Bartley, Indianola and Cambridge did so, when they created their BIC Joint Water agency to supply water to their towns. They leased the water usage rights along with easements on land from three landowners, thus tying the water usage to the landownership. The farmers continue to own and farm the dry-land acres.

—Sell the land in parcels as N-CORPE did in 2014 when they sold to Lowe L.L.C. 313 acres, while reserving to itself all rights to the use of the groundwater through a deed reservation and easement, again, tying the water to the land through a common real-estate legal procedure.

It is time to stop the misrepresentation of court findings and the phony scare tactics that somehow selling the N-CORPE land will open the door to an absolutely unrelated fictional future attempt to transfer our water to the Colorado front-range. A good first step was the decision by the Chairman of the Natural Resource Committee to hold a hearing on LR 463. To examine existing law on augmentation projects and the relationship between land ownership and groundwater. I plan to also heed Justice Cassel’s second reminder in his concurrence, “But only the Legislature is empowered to determine whether current law is adequate or whether the law should be changed to balance competing public interests differently.” I will again introduce clarifying legislation next year to do so.

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729.

Due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning the 1992 Quill case, deciding for South Dakota in the Wayfair internet sales tax case, Nebraska can now collect sales taxes on internet purchases from citizens.

The interstate commerce clause of Article I of the Constitution that regulates commerce over state lines exists to protect consumers and create a level playing field for businesses. It was to stop states from protectionist practices for in-state businesses by basically creating regulatory burdens on out-of-state products. Because brick-and-mortar business had to collect a sales tax from consumers and the out-of-state use tax was not enforced, the past court’s decision actually gave out-of-state businesses an advantage that in-state businesses did not share.

Talking to main street retail business owners while campaigning in 2014, my opinion changed on the sales tax issue. Local businesses were making the merchandise sales pitch, but were losing the actual sale due partially to a 7 percent price advantage out-of-state internet retailers had. I don’t like paying taxes any more than you do, but I have formed the philosophy that in order to get tax relief for all, we first must all have a stake in the game. Sales taxes help pay for public services, streets and roads, and public education.

If you buy your products locally, you are helping to pay for those services with your sales taxes, but at the same time if your neighbor purchases a product online from an out-of-state company, they are not helping pay for those same public services they enjoy. I hold the same view on all tax policies that allow government to pick winners and losers. We all need to be in the same tax-burden boat, rowing together toward tax relief for all.

The Nebraska Department of Revenue cannot differentiate between online and local sales. Accordingly, there is no way to put an accurate number on state internet sales tax receipts; however, the Revenue Department has estimated it to be $30 million to $40 million. Once we enact proper legislation, the proceeds should eventually be put toward property tax relief, but first they need to be added to the general fund with all other tax receipts. How we collect taxes and how we spend tax dollars are two separate issues and need to have separate debates.

I do not support a special session of the Legislature to address the internet sales tax issue. The issue needs more time to be researched; the law we craft and pass must reflect the present South Dakota statute approved by the court. Also the optics to the taxpayers are not good with the Legislature rushing to Lincoln to increase taxes on consumers after we rejected Sen. Tom Brewer’s call for a special session on property taxes.

The matter can wait until January when the regular session starts. This gives the governor and interested parties time to have a well-vetted bill introduced on day one and passed with an emergency clause.

I wish to give a shout-out to Renae Brandt on her efforts toward moving the debate forward on the future of the Pawnee Hotel. We often lament that our young people do not take leadership roles in issues confronting our local government. As far as I am concerned, Renae is North Platte and she is definitely a rising community leader. It is always good to put a face on community efforts and is good policy to have more than one idea presented on community actions. Renae has my support, and in my meeting with her, she showed all the attributes of a leader. For the good of the community, I doubt she will back off the issue.

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729.

On Friday, June 15th, a group of us senators held a press conference to announce the creation of the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA): School Funding Legislative Study Group which will meet during this 2018 interim. At the end of the session this year, Speaker Scheer encouraged the members of the Unicameral to seek common ground to find a solution to the property tax issue. As the present Chairman of the Education Committee which hears legislation related to the school funding, I took it as my responsibility to initiate an effort to heed the Speaker’s advice.  The ten members of the study group are Tom Brewer (LD 43), Mike Hilgers (LD 21), Brett Lindstrom (LD 18), Lou Ann Linehan (LD 39), Jim Scheer (LD 19), Tom Briese (LD 41), Curt Friesen (34), Suzanne Geist (25), Justin Wayne (LD 13) and myself.  Collectively, this group represents all regions of the state, various sized schools, and local taxpayers affected uniquely by the funding formula.  Furthermore, they have all shown an interest in addressing the problem by previously introducing TEEOSA related legislation or investing time in understanding the issue. The group has a statewide perspective on creating an equitable solution. We have also made it clear that input from all of the senators in the Unicameral will be appreciated and they are free to attend any of the hearings and meetings we have.

At the press conference, we emphasized that “this is a unicameral effort to do the will of the people.” We emphasized that the role of the study group is to look at the side of the school formula that directs how we fund our public schools.

Senator Briese commented at the press conference, that community, business and political leaders across his district have made it clear that property taxes are “choking off economic growth in rural Nebraska.” He stated that he, “looks forward to working with this group.”

The 1990 passage of LB 1059 that created TEEOSA, calculates the sources of school revenue.   It is now obvious that the formula has major flaws. Two factors have come into play: the authors of the original legislation never foresaw the last decade of rapidly increasing property valuations and subsequent Legislatures have made changes to the TEEOSA formula during years when state revenues fell.  Those factors have caused an overreliance on property taxes as the major source of school funding.

The Study Group plans to begin meeting next month and has a three-prong approach to its effort:

  1. Study the history of TEEOSA to understand where we are and where we started. This will include understanding changes made over the years leading to the current formula, comparing public education funding of neighboring states and across the nation, looking at TEEOSA allowable spending growth factors, and studying factors causing the funding shift to property taxes (i.e. property valuations and property tax diversion programs such as Tax Increment Financing, Homestead Exemptions, low income housing exemptions, etc.).

  1. Seek a sustainable and constant local State Aid resource to serve as the Foundation Aid. This will include seeking innovative new ideas, as well as looking at options already presented in recent proposed legislation. Senators Briese, Friesen, Groene, Scheer and Wayne have all introduced related bills.

  1. Create a legislative solution for the 2019 Session that stabilizes state aid to ALL local school districts while reversing the present property tax burden that stabilizes at a responsible inflationary growth.

As the third prong indicated, the end goal of the study is an introduction of a single 2019 legislative bill addressing the TEEOSA revenue flaw that puts equity back into school funding and can garner the support of the full Legislature.

The people of Nebraska have made it clear they want the Legislature to address property tax relief. They have also indicated a desire for statewide, stable and equitable funding for their public schools. Many of the members of the Legislature have heard the message and are ready to roll up their sleeves to look for a solution. Stay tuned for updates in the coming months.

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729.

Column 6-14-18

The taxes and spending debate seems to always be simplified into two sides. Take, for example, the spending debate of your tax dollars on public education. Those who believe the answer is always new programs and new spending falsely label those who oppose that philosophy as anti-public education. I have a tendency to examine how we spend existing funds. Is it presently efficient and effective? Is there room to eliminate redundancy? An example of this lies in the recent debate over expanding the use of education dollars to inject mental health services and social services into our schools when those services are already offered through private business, non-profits and for the poor through Health and Human Services. I would prefer we look at incorporating our state’s existing Health and Human Services Department social workers into the school environment. Makes sense since that is where the children they serve are.  I also have a hard time accepting the concept that normal childhood misbehavior and revolt against authority should be considered as mental (behavioral) health. Call it what you want, but a good dose of discipline is still the best cure for it and I will continue to pursue legislation to return control of the classroom back to teachers. The spenders are aghast at such sacrilege; how dare one doubt the education establishment’s ability to use tax dollars wisely. (By the way, it was eye-opening to actually see in a recent newspaper column by a local proponent of more spending use the religious term “sacred” when describing education programs).

As the debate goes on, here are some facts you might want to consider:

-According to the well-respected Hightower Report, U.S. Census numbers show that nationally Nebraskans pay the second highest local and state taxes as a percentage of their income. Only the citizens of the bankrupt state of Illinois pay more.

-Our State government spends 43.9% ($1.96 billion) of its budget on early childhood through college education. Another $170 million of the property tax and homestead exemption funds end up in public education coffers.

-According to State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO), an organization of statewide postsecondary education representatives, of every $1,000 of a Nebraskan’s income $9.48 of it goes towards taxes for higher education (6th in the nation) and by per-capita basis they spend $474 (5th in the nation).

-Public education; at $12,989 Nebraska ranks in the top 15 nationally in per-student spending. During these last four years of budget shortfalls we still increased funding for schools.  In this biennium the increase was 1.2% annually while the overall budget increased by only ½%.  Taking into account the continued rapid rise in property tax support for public education due to property valuation increases, Nebraska’s taxpayers need not apologize to anyone about their support of public education.

I believe it to be part of my elected duty to ask some basic questions and expect answers from those public employees who administer the spending of our tax dollars on public education.  Shouldn’t Nebraskans be able to expect excellent results in the basics of reading, writing and math with the $4.2 billion of tax money we spent this year on public education before we agree to spend more?

We do need to make changes to how we pay for education. Presently 58.1% comes from property taxes, one of the highest in the nation, 36.4% from income and sales taxes, one of the lowest in the nation, and 5.4% from federal sources.

Tomorrow, we are announcing an initiative to look at the State Aid to Education formula (TEEOSA) by a group of State Senators who have in the past shown a desire to fix it.  The goal is to create a single legislative bill amongst us and to be able to unite behind it. In the past, we have all pursued our own versions of a legislative fix creating a divided effort that in the end failed to produce results. Will we succeed? I believe so, but to not try is to fail.

I will see you at the NEBRASKAland Days parade and rodeo Saturday, but sadly I have to miss a lot of the events this week due to scheduled meetings in Lincoln. Please take part in the festivities; it is the pride of Western Nebraska.

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729.

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42
Room #1306
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2729
Email: mgroene@leg.ne.gov
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