NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Mike Jacobson

Sen. Mike Jacobson

District 42

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This week, I want to discuss the state of the economy. Although it can be a dull subject, I am hearing a lot about the impact inflation is having on your wallets. Some will remember the effects of inflation from the 1979 energy crisis, but for many working people and young families this is their first experience with a significant spike in inflation.

 

As background, inflation can be simply defined as a general increase in prices that decreases the purchasing power of money. There are two metrics most often used to determine the extent of inflation: the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (PCE). The CPI is consumer-based and essentially determines the changes in price in relation to the cost of living by measuring the difference in out-of-pocket expenditures by urban households from month-to-month. Conversely, the PCE measures changes in the price of consumer services and goods using business and supplier data.

 

Since the early 1980s, inflation has usually hovered around 2% to 4%. In June 2022, the increase in CPE from June 2021 was 6.8% and the estimated CPE for 2022 is 8.6%. Needless to say, this rate is unsustainable.

 

So, how did we get here and where do we go from here?

 

The COVID pandemic placed our global economy in a precarious position. Although government mandates on the workforce varied from state-to-state, the initial economic impact was relatively uniform nation-wide: safety protocols slowed supply chains and manufacturing; many people left the workforce either temporarily or permanently; and numerous service industries saw significant decreases in demand.

 

The federal government responded in several ways. Some of the early programs, like the Paycheck Protection Program, provided critical loans to businesses so they could maintain their payrolls as revenues declined, essentially helping to maintain the status quo. However, even as people began to return to their jobs and many businesses began to normalize, the federal government continued to inject trillions of dollars of stimulus into the economy.

 

Economists have boiled down the path to high inflation into three main events. First, the pandemic shifted consumer demand away from services and towards goods, but producers were unable to keep up with demand. Anyone who was looking for an outdoor pool, camping or outdoor gear, exercise equipment, and cleaning supplies in the summer and fall of 2020 will remember. This caused prices to rise. Then, stimulus money increased consumer buying power and caused the demand for goods to rise even further, even though factory closures and supply chain shortages continued to stall producers’ ability to meet demand. And so, prices rose again. Finally, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused a spike in oil prices, which increased the cost of both manufacturing and shipping, and forced up the price of agricultural products and other commodities. Closer to home, costs for corn, soybeans, and wheat were already rising as drought conditions reduced the supply these and other crops. Increases in the costs of manufacturing and delivering goods, and higher than normal food prices, both from weather and Russia/Ukraine conflict, sent the CPE up even further.

 

You can see how easily we reached a state of high inflation. The path back to a more balanced economy is less clear, but there are a few simple things we can do.

 

The first thing we need to do is follow the old saying, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Injecting more stimulus dollars into the economy now is akin to putting gasoline on a fire, especially when labor is still in short supply and supply chain, manufacturing, and transportation sectors are continuing to rebound.

 

To be clear, stimulus money is not the only thing that contributed to our current inflation and inflation is a natural side effect of economic expansion. As businesses grow, they hire more workers, unemployment falls and households have more money to spend, so demand for goods and services increases, which causes prices to rise. However, money typically enters the market at a slower pace than it did during the pandemic. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco has estimated that government stimulus may have added 3% to the national inflation rate and we can’t afford to continue artificially introducing more money into the economy.

 

The second step we must take is to encourage supply and demand to come back into balance. Right now, supply is insufficient to fill the current demand which has caused prices to rise and inflation to increase. If supply can begin to meet or exceed demand, then prices will fall and inflation will decline.

 

The Federal Reserve responded to high inflation by quickly raising short-term interest rates with the goal of slowing the demand for goods by making it more expensive to borrow money for vehicles and homes. Typically, this would reduce inflation, slow economic growth, and move us into a recession. The Federal Reserve would then lower interest rates to stimulate the economy to grow once again.

 

However, this cycle is facing some unusual challenges. The greatest challenge to solving the inflation problem in the current environment is that the supply chain is still not fixed and many businesses are still hiring (at elevated salaries) to find qualified people to fill open jobs. Historically, recessions begin with job layoffs due to oversupply, but we are not seeing that at this point. Similarly, higher interest rates are impacting the affordability of housing and slowing housing demand, but the ability to access affordable housing was a challenge even when interest rates were low.

 

As the Federal Reserve focuses on decreasing demand by increasing interest rates, I believe we made the right move at the state-level by investing in supply. The Legislature used federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to invest in infrastructure, housing, businesses, and services that will increase the supply of goods, services, and labor in Nebraska. In addition, we have used record state revenues to return money to the taxpayers both directly and indirectly.

 

Time will tell if we are indeed in a recession and whether interest rate hikes will lower inflation, but Nebraska is in an excellent fiscal position in comparison to many states. The Legislature wants to keep serving Nebraskans through responsible fiscal policy and economic programs that make a real impact on our communities. If you have ideas for 2023 legislation, please reach out to me at mjacobson@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729. My door is always open!

Attention Nebraska College and Trade School Students!

Page applications and letters of recommendation for the 2023 Legislative Session are now being accepted in the Clerk’s Office!

What is a Legislative Page exactly? Pages respond to Senators’ request lights on the legislative floor. They run errands, deliver messages, photocopy materials, get food and drink for the Senators, assist the presiding officer, set up and staff committee hearings and perform other duties as assigned.

The 2023 Legislative Session is scheduled to run from January 4, 2023-Mid June 2023.  You must be able to work 20 hours a week.  This is a paid position and you MAY be able to receive credit hours through your school.

The deadline for submission is Friday October 7, 2022.

Further details and online application can be found here: https://nebraskalegislature.gov/unicampages/

Please contact the Office of the Clerk of the Legislature with questions or if you need more information at (402) 471-2271 or email unicampages@leg.ne.gov

As we approach fall, I am focused on ideas for new legislation for the 108th Legislative Session. One issue I want to tackle is improvements to the Micro-TIF program so municipalities and counties in District 42 have the best tools they need to grow.

Today, there are three Tax Increment Financing (TIF) programs available. Traditional TIF was designed to help developers offset costs associated with land and infrastructure investments. A 15-year bond is issued to cover those costs. Meanwhile, the tax assessed value of the property before the improvements are “frozen” and taxing authorities continue to receive the property taxes as if it was unimproved. The developer however, pays property taxes the full increased tax assessed value and the increase is used to repay the TIF bond. TIF bonds 1) cannot exceed the amount of revenue available for repayment over the life of the bond, and 2) can only be used for qualified expenses. Qualified expenses include land and infrastructure costs and do not include actual construction costs.

Workforce Housing TIF is structured like Traditional TIF, but the bond can be used for construction-related costs as long as the ultimate sales price of the home is less than or equal to $325,000 or the home is rented at allowable rental rates.

Finally, Micro-TIF was designed to encourage rehabilitation of older homes that have been within the city limits for at least 60 years. The rehabilitation could also include demolition of the home for a new build. However, unlike the other two TIF programs, Micro-TIF is not funded with a bond. Instead, a note is issued only after improvements are made and payments from the increased tax revenue go to the current home owner over the remaining 10 years. I supported improvements to Micro-TIF in the 2022 Session (LB1065), which expanded the program to unimproved lots within the city for at least 60-years and extended the time to receive the tax rebates for up to 15 years, and I think there is more work to be done.

The lack of upfront funding prevents some from participating in the Micro-TIF program. Currently, the owner or developer needs the necessary capital to invest in the improvements without subsidy or loan. I would like to see the Legislature provide an upfront payment mechanism, which would allow the owner or developer to pledge the note to a lender who can provide funding assistance for the improvements.

The ability to pledge the note to a loan would also help the city keep track of the investor to ensure they receive the note payments due to them under the program. Today, Micro-TIF payments are made to the owner of the property, which may not be the developer or home owner who made the improvements on the property. If the property is sold, the new owner receives the payments – whether or not the original investor recouped their improvement costs when they sold the home. If a Micro-TIF note is pledged to a loan, the City Treasurer can distribute proceeds to the note-holder without risk of distributing funds to the wrong party.

Additionally, I would like to see more discretion go to authority tasked with approving Micro-TIF projects. Current law requires municipalities to automatically approve Micro-TIF projects. I think allowing municipalities to improve Micro-TIF projects individually will improve accountability and transparency. All TIF programs require the municipality to make judgments about areas that are “blighted and substandard” and the designation can only apply to a portion of the community. Individual Micro-TIF approval will increase transparency to help municipalities better manage their community development while also ensuring oversight of program qualification and fair distribution of program benefits.

Many communities in District 42 and other parts of greater Nebraska are experiencing housing shortages that make it difficult to recruit and retain businesses and workers. Given the challenges associated with building new homes today, serious cost savings can be obtained by rehabilitating older homes, with the additional benefit of refreshing older neighborhoods within a community. Micro-TIF has a strong role to play in helping solve our housing problems and can be much more user friendly and effective with just a few small changes.

As you have ideas for 2023 legislation, please feel free to reach out to me at mjacobson@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729. I will be spending the fall fine-tuning bill language and talking with my colleagues about important issues we need to address next year.

Although the 107th Legislature has adjourned, our work continues in the interim. In addition to working on new legislation for next year, I am also participating in committee activities. I currently serve in three committees: General Affairs, Agriculture, and Natural Resources. This past Thursday, the Agriculture Committee held a roundtable discussion at the Capitol under LR400. Brought at the request of the Nebraska Agricultural Leaders, LR400 directed the Committee to examine policies and mechanisms to support opportunities for beginning farmers over the interim.

During the meeting we heard from the Beginning Farmers Board, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, and a local office of the United States Department of Agriculture Farm Services Agency. Participants provided information about existing programs for beginning farmers, including the Nebraska Department of Agriculture’s “NextGen” program that provides for a tax credit to land, equipment, and livestock owners who agree to lease their assets to beginning farmers and ranchers who qualify for the program. The details of this program are available on the Nextgen website: https://nextgen.nebraska.gov/.

The discussion took me back in time when I was a beginning farmer. Even as a high school student, I wanted to find a way to go back to the farm and have a career in farming. The cost of entry was high then, and continues increase for young farmers and ranchers today. There are many highly skilled and highly motivated young people who simply lack the resources enter production agriculture on a full-time basis. Many take on second jobs to find a way to enter the industry and still provide for their families. In my case, I took a job as a Vocational Agricultural Instructor for four years and then took a job as an ag loan officer. Although I never made it back to becoming a full-time farmer, I continue to get my hands dirty working our farm ground in the summer months in partnership with another ag family we got to be friends with many years ago. I was fortunate to follow the path that I did, and I certainly don’t regret it, but as all ag producers know, once you catch the farming and ranching bug, you never get it out of your system.

My ongoing row crop operation helps keep me dialed in to the challenges and opportunities available in agriculture. Like every industry, agriculture continues to adapt and change to meet the demands of the day and to become more efficient. It is important that any state programs we have to support agriculture keep up with the needs of those who are meant to benefit from them.

My primary feedback during the LR400 roundtable was focused on how we can adapt existing programs to stay current with the constantly changing business structures and the challenges of meeting the program requirements. One of the glaring challenges with many of these programs is that they were never indexed for inflation. Therefore, the net worth limitations are far too low to help those who need the help of these programs. This problem is even more glaring given the current rate of inflation.

The Agriculture Committee will be meeting again prior to the next Legislative session. I will continue to attend these meetings to gain further insight and offer my opinions on how to improve ag programs. I also plan to work with the other members of the Committee next year to bring Legislation to help improve these programs to make them more user friendly and effective.

In closing, I want to say that Julie and I had a great time attending the Lincoln County Fair in North Platte and the Perkins County Fair in Grant this past week. We will be in Thedford this week for the Thomas County Fair and parade. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the fun we had in Stapleton Thursday night attending a wine tasting at “Herbies” and steak meal at the Community Center with the Nebraska Press Association. District 42 is blessed to have many wonderful communities supported by dedicated people who help make them great places to live.

If you have feedback on a beginning farmer program or have other ideas for legislation, please feel free to reach out to me at mjacobson@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729. I look forward to hearing about issues impacting you.

As the summer continues and the temperatures rise, we once again enter “County Fair Season”. I must say that, as a kid growing up on the farm, I always looked forward to the annual county fair. Many people enjoy the county fair to experience the various foods and the unique entertainment activities like frog races, greased pig contest, mutton bustin’, hay bale decorating, and goat roping. Many also go to the fair to enjoy concerts, racing, and rodeos. But in the end, I believe that the county fair is the showcase event for 4-H and open class exhibits.

I grew up on a farm in Clay County and joined 4-H when I was 8 years old. I was involved in raising hogs and grew crops as my 4-H projects. I also remember building a “rope” board that displayed all the various knots that could be tied. The county fair was one of those opportunities for 4-Hers to exhibit their projects and compete with others to see who raised the highest quality livestock and who was the best showman.

My wife, Julie, was also a 4-Her, as was her father before here. In those days, most members were those who lived on farms and projects were generally limited to livestock, crops, horses, and some sewing, and utility skills. Over the years however, 4-H has expended into larger cities and has grown into the nation’s largest youth development organization.

Today, 4-H empowers nearly six million youth across the United States, and 140,000 across Nebraska with life skills to lead for a lifetime. Now, 4-H members not only showcase skills at the county fair, but they can be involved in youth camps, after-school programs, and Clover Kids programs for youth ages 5-7. Youth need opportunities to learn by doing, grow from failures, express their ideas, and influence others to help drive positive outcomes. My children certainly benefited from the opportunity to practice public speaking, explore creative outlets, and learn new skills as 4-Hers, and I hope many youth get the same experience for generations to come.

As a State Senator, we are constantly faced with addressing social problems, which in many cases are caused by poor choices made when people were still in their youth. I have long believed that the first few years of a child’s life are critical to their future success. Starting our youth out in the right setting is critical to developing future citizens and a productive workforce. This means that youth need to have adequate food and shelter, exposure to reading and early education, and opportunities to see and develop a strong work ethic that inspires them to lead productive lives.

Youth enrichment programs like 4-H are doing a huge part in providing the programming, community, and support needed to set young people on the right path. I want to do a “shout out” to all the Nebraska Extension personnel, 4-H leaders who volunteer their time, Nebraska’s county agricultural societies who volunteer their time to manage the fair grounds and coordinate the events, and to the parents who see the value in getting their children involved at an early age to take part in these amazing programs.

If you have never gone to your local County Fair, make this year your first. If you have not been there in a few years, go this year. I can assure you that there is something there for you to enjoy and it is a great opportunity to support our area youth. District 42 fair dates are as follows:

Perkins County Fair: July 18-23

Lincoln County Fair: July 20-24

Thomas County Fair: July 25 -31

Hooker County Fair: July 31-August 8

Logan County Fair: August 9-13, 19-21

McPherson County Fair: August 11-13

I hope to see you at the fair! You can also reach out to me at mjacobson@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729. I look forward to hearing about issues impacting you.

The saying used to be “knee-high by the Fourth of July.” Today, agricultural advances mean most corn crops are chest- or head-high by the Fourth of July. And, if you are lucky, you may even have been able to find some sweet corn at the local farmers’ market for your Independence Day barbeque.

As rows of corn are growing all across our great state right now, it is nothing short of awe-inspiring to consider the impact all of those kernels will make. Property taxes from the seed bed alone fund the local school, fire district, county fair board, natural resources district, and others. The inputs needed to raise the crop most often come from a local cooperative or ag supplier, who provides jobs for local families and needed products and services for the farmers. Once harvested, the crop may be utilized directly as feed for livestock, sold to a grain company to be resold or exported, or it may be made into ethanol.

While we consistently talk about the unarguable strength of agriculture in Nebraska, there is one product of Nebraska agriculture that pulls together crop production, manufacturing, livestock, and transportation. In 2021, approximately 31% of Nebraska’s corn crop was utilized in ethanol plants. Nebraska ranks as the nation’s second largest ethanol producer. The state’s 24 ethanol plants have a total production capacity of more than 2 billion gallons annually. Combined, these plants use more than 750 million bushels of corn per year and produce more than 6 million tons of distillers grains, a high protein livestock feed. The distillers grains are fed, either wet or dry, to beef cattle, dairy cattle, and even fish. Additionally, oil from the process may also be used as livestock feed or further processed and refined to be made into biodiesel.

A new opportunity coming soon to ethanol plants and some landowners across various parts of Nebraska is carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). The federal government is offering a significant tax incentive to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere and the symbiosis of ethanol production and the geology beneath Nebraska and surrounding states may reap immense rewards, both economically and ecologically. Additionally, the ethanol produced from plants who participate in a CCS program will be even more competitive in markets with low carbon fuel standards such as California and Oregon.

One cannot deny that ethanol production is a catalyst of symbiosis within Nebraska’s economy. In addition to helping keep stronger prices for corn, ethanol production provides good jobs, contributes to both the food and fuel supply, and importantly, diminishes our reliance on foreign oil. Ethanol, made from Nebraska corn, has become a critical component of Nebraska agriculture.

The past two years, the Nebraska Legislature has supported the ethanol industry through legislation. LB595 made the ethanol industry equal to other manufacturers in the state for sales taxes assessed on inputs essential to the process. Additionally, LB650 created the opportunity to geologically sequester carbon in Nebraska. LB596 was amended into LB1261 and passed this year, creating a tax incentive for retailers to sell more higher blends of ethanol. As your Senator and a life-long farmer, I am eager to continue supporting Nebraska’s agricultural industries and look for more opportunities to keep Nebraska and its products competitive in the domestic and global marketplace.

Constituents can reach Senator Mike Jacobson at mjacobson@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729. Our door is always open!

We are fortunate in District 42 to have many hunting opportunities. We have everything from Mullen’s Sandhills Sharptail Shootout to pheasant, deer, elk, and antelope populations in the southern part of the District. Many in the medical community choose to move here for the hunting opportunities and we are lucky to have a natural amenity that can draw professionals to the area.

As I write this article, we begin a Special Elk Depredation Season for an area in southwest Nebraska that includes the northeast corner of Perkins County, southeastern edge of Lincoln County, and the southern border of Keith County.  The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (“Commission”) implemented the special season to reduce the over-population of elk within the designated area. Over the past several years, elk have caused significant crop loss and damage to irrigation equipment.

In 2018, several local landowners began to see small herds of elk in the summer through harvest. Elk activity, typically caused by eating and trampling crops, has caused significant damage.  Many landowners agreed to let hunters enter their property during the regular hunting seasons at no cost. However, many did not want to use their once-in-a-lifetime bull permit or cow permit to hunt a less populated area with center pivots and standing corn.

Over the past three years, hunters have taken 17 elk, six bulls, and 11 cows in the designated area.  Since 2020, only two more elk have been taken despite the Commission offering eight damage control permits and increasing three-fold the number of permits issued during the regular season.

This past December, the Commission met with over a dozen landowners who had previously requested damage control permits to discuss the need for a special depredation season. Ultimately, the Commission determined a special depredation season may help address the problem before it starts and released details of the season on June 21, 2022.  Soon after, I was contacted by a few constituents regarding concerns and scheduled a meeting with Commission staff.  I was very pleased to find that the Commission leadership involved with the special season was very open to responding to my questions and my constituents’ concerns.  I was most impressed with their genuine interest in addressing the issues by all the parties involved: landowner, hunters, neighbors, and wildlife advocates.

As a land owner myself, my immediate concern was to confirm that landowners were able to control who entered their property and address the safety concerns of farmers who are in the middle of irrigation season. I have listed below the specific questions I asked and their responses:

  1. Given the height of the corn by mid-July, is it safe to hunt? Historically, the regular season begins on August 1, so corn will actually be shorter at the beginning of the hunt this year.
  2. Why issue unlimited permits when there a limited number of elk? If a limited number of permits are issued, there generally is a rush to obtain the permits and the permit holders may or may not have access to the properties.  By issuing “unlimited” permits, hunters have time to obtain permission to hunt prior to obtaining a permit. As of July 1, 127 permits have been issued to 90 hunters and we are continuing to monitor available land access in the designated area.
  3. How will the hunters process the elk? Elk may be field dressed and packed on ice.  A central cooling unit has been set up within the designated area to assist hunters with getting the meat cooled down to avoid waste.
  4. How would the elk be checked? The elk can be checked by phone to reduce the time needed to get the elk dressed and the meat on ice.

The Commission has committed to holding a post-season meeting in mid-August to meet with landowners and other interested parties to evaluate the season and get input as to how any future hunts may need to be conducted.  Like anything new, the Commission is very aware that there will be mistakes made but, to their credit, they have made every effort to try to balance the needs of all the interested parties to ultimate achieve the goal of reducing the population of elk who are creating damage to farmer field, provide opportunities for hunters to enjoy the sport, and help keep the public safe.

I am hopeful that this special hunting season is successful and achieves the desired goals.  If anyone has specific questions regarding the season, or encounter problems, I encourage them to reach out directly to the Game and Parks Commission at their North Platte office and attend the August meeting.

Constituents can reach Senator Mike Jacobson at mjacobson@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729. Our door is always open!

This past week, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) announced the $100 million in grants for economic development projects generated from The Shovel Ready Capital Recovery and Investment Act and applications were accepted in July 2021. Program funding came from the state General Fund and federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars. Eligible projects must be “shovel ready,” delayed due to COVID-19, supported by private funds, and bring a positive economic impact to the State of Nebraska. Only non-profit organizations related to arts, culture, or the humanities, or operating multi-venue sports complexes were eligible fund recipients.

DED distributed funds based on a number of factors. The $100 million in available grant funding was to be divided between Nebraska’s three Congressional Districts, with priority given to timing of the application and size of the grant application (applications under $5 million getting priority). The application also required the non-profit to show need based on losses due to the pandemic.

I was pleased to see some projects in District 42 received funding. NebraskaLand Days received their full request of $650,000 to replace the building on the grounds that is used for the rodeo and concert personnel. The new facility will include showers and an air-conditioned area for relaxation. The Lincoln County Agricultural Society also received $117,600, and the D&N Event Center received $93,500. Although these grants were below the requested amount, the funds will make it easier for these organizations to implement future projects. Unfortunately, Keep North Platte Lincoln County Beautiful did not receive the $300,000 requested to remodel the Cody Park tennis courts.

In addition to the Shovel Ready grants, the North Platte Development Corporation also got notification from the DED this past week that the $30 million to fund the Hershey/North Platte Rail Park was officially approved. I cosponsored the bill with Senator Brewer that made this funding possible and was glad to see its provisions included in the Legislature’s annual appropriation bill. The bill called for the first applicant to receive their full requested fund, not to exceed $30 million. The application period was July 1-15, 2021; and could ONLY be submitted online and were to be considered in the order in which they were received.  North Platte submitted its application minutes before the Fremont application, followed by Blair and Grand Island.

As the bill was drawing closer to a vote, there was a move by Grand Island to try to eliminate the funding priority and allow the DED to reallocate the funds as they saw fit. It was at that time that I was able to work with my fellow Senators on the floor to stop an amendment from getting offered to change the funding mechanism. I worked closely with Gary Person, President/CEO of the North Platte Area Chamber and Development Corporation, to make certain that the full intent of the original bill did not change and the funding did not get reallocated. We both breathed a sigh of relief once LB1011 passed on a vote 40-4.

Although the funding was secured at that time, getting the official letter made it final and the project can move forward. There will be many steps ahead to fully realize the potential of this project, including land acquisition, securing tenants, and getting approval for an Inland Port Authority. Once completed, this project will be another game changer for the district and will further allow for more railroad jobs and give more options to our hard-working railroad work force.

All of these projects, and the $1.04 million of ARPA dollars allocated to the Sustainable Beef project, represent significant investment in District 42 by the State of Nebraska. It is important to stay focused on the future in District 42 to make sure the area continues to get its fair share of federal and state funding. Often, I am asked how it is possible to get bills passed when rural Nebraska is so underrepresented in the Unicameral. My response is always the same: If you look for common ground with other Senators, you generally can build relationships and get things done. We must work together – rural and urban, conservative and progressive – in order to enact real change for our state and its communities. I look forward to continuing to build relationships my colleagues and getting District 42 the results that we all want.

Please let me know about the issues impacting you. You can reach me at mjacobson@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729. Our door is always open!

One of my first challenges after becoming District 42’s State Senator was to adjust to its new boundaries following redistricting. In the wake of the 2020 Census, District 42 was significantly expanded beyond just Lincoln County and now includes all of McPherson, Hooker, Thomas, and Logan Counties to the north and much of Perkins County to the west. Each of these counties and the communities within them is unique, but in talking with community leaders it is clear that District 42 wants to grow. My question for you is, “How can the state support local growth?”

I believe the first step is identifying what the current residents are asking for. Stapleton is a great example of a community taking local priorities in stride. It has invested in starting a cooperative grocery store, renovating its community center, and applying for an Environmental Trust grant to build a recycling center. A cooperative grocery store may not work in every community. Renovating a community center is foolhardy if the center won’t be used by local groups. Solutions for growth take community buy-in to succeed. By pinpointing what the community members are asking for and willing to invest in, Stapleton is improving for the future.

The next step is recognizing what investments can most efficiently lead to further development. Continuing with the prior example, Stapleton is considering investments in affordable housing. Because of Stapleton’s proximity to North Platte, it is poised to capitalize on regional job growth if it can provide affordable housing and attractive services to newcomers. Although job growth within Stapleton is certainly an additional goal, by thinking regionally and in relation to nearby community efforts, Stapleton can “get the most bang for their buck” by building up the community population and then following with business-attracting initiatives. Conversely, another community may need to focus on recruiting certain types of businesses and jobs before turning to affordable housing solutions. The local community is best poised to identify and strategize avenues for growth based on its unique circumstances.

Finally, we need to provide State support for investments that are foundational or common to the state. Connectivity, both through broadband and cellular networks, is one item that has become foundational for everyday life. I believe the Legislature needs to take a more holistic approach to connect all Nebraskans now. For example, LB1024 (2022) allocated $40 million to building fiber infrastructure for second class cities and villages within the Third Congressional District. However, communities must have at least 300 people to be considered a village. McPherson and Thomas Counties both have unincorporated communities as their county seats. Despite providing important government services for their counties, these communities are not eligible for LB1024 broadband funding. Furthermore, it may take many years to connect fiber to every farm and ranch in the state. We need to invest in fiber and other Internet solutions in order to bridge the gap, so all Nebraskans can have access to broadband now.

Similarly, affordable housing is a common concern throughout Nebraska. The Legislature has supported programs to build new housing and renovate existing housing. These programs are important to lower the cost of development and construction and have provided opportunities for communities to expand housing opportunities. As interest rates and building costs continue to out-pace wages in many areas, are there other solutions? We have not fully explored what role modular housing and high-quality mobile homes can play in solving our housing crises. The Legislature needs to know what programs will be utilized by communities to achieve growth.

I am now focusing my attention on meeting with the various governing bodies within District 42 to better understand their visions for the future and what state resources they need to fulfill those visions. District 42 is very fortunate to have many residents who volunteer their time and talents in public service. Elected officials, business operators, and community leaders in your area have been great resources, but I need your input too. If you see a problem you believe the Legislature can help solve, please reach out to me at mjacobson@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729. My door is always open!

As I have stated many times before, quality air service is critical to growing our region. I am pleased to have served several years on the North Platte Airport Authority before I was appointed to the Legislature in February 2022, and continue to watch the Authority’s progress as they advocate for sustainable air service for District 42.

I ran for the Authority in November 2012 because our air service as clearly not meeting expectations. At the time, the airport was served by Great Lakes Airlines who was flying 19-passenger turboprop aircraft. There were far too many cancelled flights and late flights, which caused the public to lose confidence in the airline as a reliable alternative to driving.

From 2013-2017, enplanements (boardings) fluctuated between 3,000 to 4,300 as the Authority worked to find a better alternative. After Pen Air briefly replaced Great Lake Airlines, we were finally able to get SkyWest Airlines to provide 50-passenger regional jet service in late 2017. In 2018, total enplanements jumped to nearly 13,000 and continued to grow to almost 16,000 in 2019. Once the pandemic hit in 2020, enplanements fell just over 50%, but were still well above earlier levels and enplanements rebounded to 13,500 in 2021. Unfortunately, in February 2022, the Authority was notified that SkyWest intended to terminate their service North Platte, Kearney, and Scottsbluff due to pilot shortages.

Although three airlines made proposals to replace SkyWest, all three options were rightfully rejected by the Authority at their June 6 meeting. The Authority must consider several factors in evaluating acceptable airline service. The airline must offer at least twice a day round trip service to Denver at practical times. The early flight must leave early enough to allow passengers to connect with flights leaving Denver. The last flight back to North Platte must leave Denver late enough to accommodate returning passengers. Additionally, the airline must have baggage handling agreements with the other major airlines to avoid the need to claim and recheck baggage in Denver. And, quality air service means having jet service with enough available seats to accommodate the traveling public on a reliable schedule.

All three initial proposals had capacity and flight times that would have been unworkable. Two airlines only offered service through 9-passenger single engine turboprop aircraft. The third, Ravn Alaska Air, would have used a 50-passenger twin engine turboprop, but required that the route would be shared with Kearney as a two-stop option.

The Authority is hopeful SkyWest will provide an alternative proposal. Some discussion has included a 30-seat regional jet service. The smaller plane can be serviced by one very experienced pilot past their mandatory retirement age paired with a less experienced co-pilot seeking to qualify to fly these aircraft. Not only would this option help North Platte resume quality air service, but it would also start to address the pilot shortage that jeopardizes regional airline growth.

We will see how this proposal develops. In the meantime, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has entered an Order Prohibiting Termination of Service following a request by the Authority in February 2022. I have written a letter to the DOT in my capacity as your State Senator to urge the DOT to extend enforcement of the Order until a suitable replacement service can be found.

I have great confidence in the members of the Airport Authority to take the appropriate steps to keep quality air service at North Platte Regional Airport. We have proven that this service will be utilized if the right airline is in place. Reliable air service will be absolutely necessary if we want to continue growing the region and allowing everyone in District 42 and surrounding areas to be connected in a cost-effective way.

Meanwhile, let’s all do what we can to support the Airport Authority as they find a solution to this problem.

Constituents can reach Senator Mike Jacobson at mjacobson@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729. Our door is always open!

Sen. Mike Jacobson

District 42
Room 1302
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2729
Email: mjacobson@leg.ne.gov
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