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

Column 10/15/2020
October 15th, 2020

Senator Groene’s opinions on the 2020 Constitutional Amendments and Initiative Measures

I have been asked for my opinion on the 6 ballot amendments and initiatives.

Amendment No.1; Striking from Article 1 Section 2 of the State Constitution the phrase “otherwise than for punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” It appears after the phrase “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in this state”.

Our State Constitution actually mirrors the wording of the 13th Amendment to our US Constitution. Which states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”  It was one of the last documents signed by President Lincoln before his assassination in 1865.

The noun “slavery” is the state of being under the control of someone where a person is forced to work for another. It does not always coincide with being a slave where one is the property of another.

Today when a judge gives a sentence of community service, making a young vandal clean up his graffiti, or when a convict is required to attend rehabilitation classes as a condition of release from confinement, both could be considered involuntary servitude or a form of slavery. If Amendment 1 passes, taxpayers may be forced to pay convicts a minimum wage to make their bed.

I now regret voting for Legislative Resolution 1CA. I got caught up in our present national atonement mood over an evil scar on the American conscience. Our State Constitution should not conflict with the US Constitution and this issue is not about the ownership of slaves but instead concerns the rehabilitation and punishment of individuals who have committed crimes against society.

Amendment No 2: Article VIII section 12 of the State Constitution, Tax Increment Financing. Include a new designation of extremely blighted and allow for a 20 year payback period in an extremely blighted area in lieu of the present 15 years limit for a standard TIF project.  You may remember Senator Wayne and I had a knock down fight on the floor on this issue where he ended up putting filibuster motions on all of my bills as retribution. Undaunted, I continued to fight this vague expansion of TIF, but when Senator Wayne agreed to accept my amendment 1255,  adding a definition of extremely blighted; “due to a high rate of unemployment combined with a high poverty rate as determined by law” I agreed to no longer fight the legislation.  At the end of the day, Senator Wayne and I share the same passion to see TIF used properly as a tool to upgrade the older infrastructure of communities where many times poverty exists. He later helped enact my Micro-TIF legislation LB1021. Good government is not for the faint of heart, it is done in the fire of debate in the public eye.  Unjust government can only happen in the backroom deals of those who play well together.   I am voting yes on Amendment 2.

Initiative Measure 428: A change to our state statutes to limit payday loan interest to 36% and prohibit payday lenders from evading this rate cap. Presently, absorbent late fees and loan fees are often assessed to many of these loans. You can blame our federal government for this mess. Payday loans became common after the “Dodd/Frank” legislation passed in congress, prohibiting high interest rates on credit card applicants with bad credit ratings; it took credit access away from many. I am voting for the Initiative.  My only fear is by eliminating credit access for some; we may see loan sharks on street corners. When there is demand the market will always fill the need.

Initiative Measure 429 to constitutionally permit casino gambling at racetracks and Measures 430 and 431 to enact it in our statutes: I do not see how they would improve the state’s social character nor do I see a net gain in tax receipts over the social cost to government. Those who have discretionary cash can afford to travel out of state to gamble. When gambling is local, the poor have access, therein lies the social cost.  I am unwilling to be part of it.

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

Column 10/1/2020
October 1st, 2020

The True Purpose of TIF

I have fought the misuse of tax increment financing (TIF) for over 20 years.  We can argue about the definitions of substandard and blighted property all day long, but you will never convince me that an open field outside the city limits fits the purpose of TIF, defined in Article 8-12 of our State Constitution.

When going back and reading the debate points made by proponents of the 1978 TIF ballot initiative, it becomes clear that it was intended to help communities address the presence of individual older properties considered to be blighted and substandard because they are rundown, worn-out and their design no longer fits the expected living standards or business needs of today.

When I had asked local city officials why not use TIF to revitalize smaller individual projects in existing downtown and older residential areas, their reply was always, “to comply with existing state laws the legal and consulting costs were too high for smaller development projects to be practical.” I finally had to admit they were correct; the more the Legislature passed laws to reign in abuses of TIF, the related costs created to comply made compliance only affordable to large economic development projects that needed the open fields on the outskirts of town to build on. The over-regulations created a mini-industry of lawyers and consultants who peddle their costly TIF expertise to city leaders.

In response we came up with LB1021; officially known as an expedited review project, we like to call it Micro-TIF.  In short, it makes TIF available to individuals by incentivizing them to fix up or replace an older home or business by exempting those projects from regulations that caused high legal, consulting and bond-financing cost, plus it removes the need to play any local political games.

LB1021 will become law on November 14. Local communities must first elect by resolution to allow expedited reviews.  Second the city must create blighted and substandard areas encompassing the older parts of their communities, larger communities are limited to 35% of their area. Smaller towns can designate up to 100%. As a side note, cities the size of North Platte who is presently at 24.6%, wishing to utilize the benefits of LB1021 must now think twice before they annex and designate large tracts of bare land as blighted and substandard.

In preparation of LB1021 becoming law, we are now working with the State’s Economic Development and Revenue departments to create the required standardized, easy to understand individual application and county assessor forms.  We are also creating a template for a promissory note for communities to use when incurring the necessary indebtedness required to access the increment property taxes needed to pay to the property owner for fulfilling their promise to improve the property.

If you are a present property owner or a building contractor and you wish to improve or replace a present building that is at least 60 years old, and the new value after improvements will be no more than $250,000 for a home, one million for a business property or $10 million for a building on the National Registry of Historic Places (the Pawnee Hotel for example) you can qualify for Micro-TIF.

Another benefit if you are looking for a new home, instead of considering a new TIF’d home where the property taxes you pay go to the developer, you might consider using Micro-TIF to remodel or build a replacement home in an older part of town where you will receive the direct property tax benefits. Unlike standard TIF projects where the tax increments are paid to the holder of the bond debt, Micro-TIF stays with the property owner.

The benefits of Micro-TIF as envisioned are many; it could be a boon for small businesses involved in construction or those who sell construction supplies.  It is one answer to creating truly affordable workforce housing.  It may also make owning a future Habitat for Humanity home or Lincoln County Community Development Corporation home affordable and it could help revitalize the business community in the old downtown areas.

How much MICRO-TIF is allowed to improve the outlook of a community will all depend on a community embracing the true purpose of TIF.

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

Column 9/17/2020
September 17th, 2020

Today is Constitution Day. On August 29th 1956 President Eisenhower signed the below Proclamation 3151—creating the observance of Constitution Week.

“Whereas on September 17, 1787, after four months of debate, highlighted by sharp differences of view and by wise compromises, the outstanding leaders of our Republic, who were meeting in convention at Philadelphia, signed the Constitution of the United States of America; and

Whereas the story of the framing, signing, and adoption of that epochal document constitutes one of the most significant chapters in the history of our country; and

Whereas it is fitting that every American should reflect upon the vision and fortitude of our forebears in creating a charter designed “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty” for themselves and for the fortunate millions who were to follow them as citizens of this Nation; and

Whereas the Congress, by a joint resolution approved August 2, 1956, has requested the President to set aside the week beginning September 17 of each year as Constitution Week, a time for the contemplation and commemoration of the historic acts which resulted in the formation of our Constitution:

Now, Therefore, I, Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate the period beginning September 17 and ending September 23, 1956, as Constitution Week; and I urge the people of the United States to observe that week with appropriate ceremonies and activities in their schools and churches, and in other suitable places. I also urge them at that time to give solemn and grateful thought to that eventful week in September 1787 when our Constitution was signed, delivered to the Continental Congress, and made known to the people of the country, thus laying the foundation for the birth of a new Nation.”

During the 2019 legislative session we passed LB399 to update sections 79-724 and 79-727of our state statutes concerning the duties of our public and private schools in instruction of American Civics; they shall conduct its activities, choose textbooks, and arrange its curriculum in such a way that the youth of our state have the opportunity to become competent, responsible, patriotic, and civil American citizens in the areas of our nation’s history, government, geography, and economic system. Included in LB399 was a dictate that in at least two of the three grades from the fifth grade to the eighth grade, students shall be instructed in a way that they will possess a deep understanding of and respect for both the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Nebraska.  Constitution Day was also added as a required day in which appropriate patriotic exercises shall be conducted to celebrate the Holiday.

LB399 now requires schools to either give each student the naturalization test used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service prior to the completion of the eighth and twelfth grades or they must require students to attend a public meeting or complete a project or paper on a person or event on one the holidays that observance is required. As parents if you want to qualify the Civics education that your child is receiving, just have them complete the naturalization test; the results of their Civics education will become immediately evident.

It has been 223 years since 39 of the original 55 delegates, many of them veterans of the Revolutionary War, gathered to sign the Constitution and 219 years since an insistent James Madison pushed Congress and the states to add 10 amendments defining the rights of free individuals to the Constitution.  It is in that vein of insistence and hard work that the “Daughters of the American Revolution” organization pushed for the study and teaching of the Constitution and drove Congress to create the observance of Constitution Week in 1955.

Today at 3pm “Bells Across America” will be ringing from churches and public buildings as we all pause and consider, not mine or your constitutional rights, but the blessings given us through the Constitution of the United States of America,  protecting all of our God given rights.

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

Column 07/16/2020
July 16th, 2020

Property tax; Senators Briese and Groene agree!

As I prepared my column this week on the Revenue Committee’s property tax relief proposal, I kept coming back to a column written by Senator Briese that appeared in the Omaha World Herald earlier this week. Unable to improve on his work, he has given me permission to adapt his work to my thoughts and present the result as our update to you:

The Legislature’s Revenue Committee Advanced Legislative Bill 1106 with AM2870 to general file. It’ll lower valuations for all Nebraska property taxpayers, increase state aid to all school districts, limit property tax increases and reduce the property tax burden for all real property owners. Yet some of our friends in the education community object to it.

LB1106 will create foundation aid, a common sense and fair approach, guaranteeing state financial aid for every Nebraska public school student no matter where they attend a public school. Some equalized districts — districts that receive state support through the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA) — raise concerns over a shift away from equalization aid. But even after full implementation, foundation aid would comprise only roughly 50% of total state aid. The equalization component of TEEOSA would remain in place.  At the end of the day, total state aid for the equalized districts would still hinge on the equalization formula.

Some in the education community are concerned the current proposal would lower basic allowable growth rate (BAGR) for districts from 2.5% to 2%, suggesting this impairs their ability to grow their budgets. But for the last 10 years, the legislature has adjusted the BAGR, causing an average budget authority increase of 1.48%.  Even with those budget reductions, by utilizing a variety of exemptions to budget limitation, schools have on average increased their spending by a robust 3.5 to 4% annually.

We currently require the issuance of bonds for school construction to be preceded by a public vote.  Large ag-land valuation increases have given a growing number of districts the ability to avoid this public vote requirement by levying taxes for a special building fund within their general fund levy, then using that fund for construction of new school buildings. Our proposal would simply require a public vote, reaffirming the expectations of the taxpayer to have a voice in the decision to build new school facilities.

Currently, schools can bank unused budget authority, which allows considerable leeway to exceed the existing budget limitation. Our proposal resets budget authority to 110% of the actual 2018-19 general fund expenditures, but then still allows schools to bank unused budget authority going forward.

Existing statutes provide a levy limitation for our taxing entities, including school districts. These levy limitations are an effort to protect the taxpayer. However, in many districts, the levy is far enough below the limit so as to make the limit ineffective. Our proposal would remedy this in year four by essentially limiting growth in property taxes to 2% annually, plus actual growth. At the same time, foundation aid is forecast to grow at 4.5% per year. Plus, if things go awry, a district maintains the option to call upon its voters to approve a levy override.

Some in the education community express concern that the property valuation reductions contained in our proposal will cause a reduction in overall district revenue for a handful of districts during the first three years. But it does appear that if spending increases in those districts are kept to an average of 2-3%, those issues are negated.

Others are simply concerned about assumptions as to actual valuation growth coupled with the proposed valuation reductions. But this is where the equalization formula provides a backstop. If resources fall, the equalization formula is designed to provide the aid necessary to match needs.

A few have expressed concern about elimination of what is perceived by many to be an unfair perk to a handful of districts, the averaging adjustment. But our proposal increases overall state dollars going to every district, more than replacing those averaging adjustment dollars.

Considerable compromise has gone into LB1106, and no one is getting everything they want. If future revenue projections go awry, we as a legislature can and will make adjustments. We do value public education.

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

Column 7/2/2020
July 2nd, 2020

This July 4th marks the 244th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. As I reacquainted myself with the history behind the events surrounding the American Revolution, I was reminded that any attempt to portray any event in human history as a fairy tale belies the truth of human nature. The revolt against English rule was not universally accepted at the time; it is estimated that only 45% of the colonists supported the revolution. 15 to 20% fought on the side of the British and the remainder took no position; as in today’s America, they just went on about their lives. Despite the flowing prose within the Declaration of Independence professing equality and rights for all mankind, the reality was, when the Revolutionary War officially ended in 1783, slavery still existed for a large segment of the colonial population and women still had no rights to take part in their government.

Although it is overlooked by many, slavery was on its way to being totally abolished in the Northern states by 1804 and by the start of the Civil War in 1861, of the 34 existing states, 19 were free. The Civil War took a dramatic toll on life; records show the Union army suffered over 364,000 deaths and the Confederate army lost another 134,000.

The history of mankind is full of wars and conflicts over land, hate for a neighboring people, the arrogance of a culture or a righteous endeavor to end a tyrannical government. But the two major conflicts fought on American soil stand out in human history as milestones in the advancement of human rights and the God-given belief in individual freedom and human dignity. Why would over 2.2 million men follow President Lincoln into a war against their fellow Americans? The only plausible answer lies in the Bible verse, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

What America strives to be is still best summed up in the words embedded in the greatest political document ever devised by man:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

Today, the vast majority of Americans just live their lives and have no ingrained animosity toward their neighbors. We cannot allow the recent civil unrest to falsely paint the vast majority of Americans in the vein of a few violent protesters or the deniers of inequity. Tearing down historical statues, seeking anarchy by defunding police departments and attempting to redefine America as a collection of groups defined by their innate physical qualities rather than as a congregation of individuals as we are, is a path leading to the complete abolition of the American form of government. Today’s political protests are more akin to the “light and transient causes” mentioned in the Declaration of Independence that can be addressed by altering certain government practices.

This July 4th celebration has added meaning, due to a combination of political unrest and the attacks and trade-offs being made on our personal freedoms due to a health risk. The flag still stands and the document it protects still guides us. By choosing to celebrate the 4th, despite our struggles to eliminate our inequities, we reaffirm our belief in America’s “manifest destiny”.

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

Column 6/18/2020
June 18th, 2020

The recent confluence of events has given pause to the commonly accepted belief that a reasonable diverse people can coexist, while maximizing personal freedoms and maintaining a civilized society. The unrest we are experiencing today is not the first time American society has come to a boil on its road to equality and justice: the Civil War and Revolution, the early 20th century women’s suffrage and labor movements, the 1950’s struggle against racial segregation and voter suppression, the Vietnam protest that eliminated military conscription, the present struggle to protect the unborn, etc. All of these mainly peaceful efforts had their share of spilled blood, violent outbursts, property destruction and the appearance of an anarchist element. Today the conflict is between the legal principle “innocent until proven guilty” and the daily decisions our police officers must make as to when to use force to protect others, themselves and suspects from harm. No American should ever face the excessive force Mr. Floyd did, nor should they face police harassment due to their physical appearance. We all should be outraged at what happened, but unlike past widespread inhuman behavior in America (slavery, segregation or the present slaughter of the unborn), the brutal behavior of a single police officer is the exception here, not the rule.

When this episode passes, I believe America will take another step forward. The respect for civil rights now held by the majority of police officers will be adopted by all who protect and serve.

What is concerning about this event is the acceptance by some elected officials and many in the national press of the element of anarchy. The events of today have happened before: police vehicles vandalized, government buildings occupied, landmarks toppled and personal property destroyed. In the past, they have always been condemned. It is the responsibility of elected officials to defend our civil society and support the rule of law. It is disheartening watching elements in the press and elected officials making excuses for those who willfully destroy the property of others and seemingly embracing the anarchic philosophy that all government is undesirable, espousing utter confusion as a desirable outcome.

Attitudes on race and fairness in America start with how we set examples for our children. In our schools, if children perceive a disparity in how individual children are treated as to classroom behavior, it will follow them into the rest of their lives. I will continue to pursue legislation that helps change the outlook for the next generation. Over the last four years, we have worked with the Education establishment, teachers and parents on legislation to upgrade our statutes related to classroom behavioral awareness and intervention. LB147 with amendment AM2297 is the result. Through school employee training, this legislation seeks to teach educators to focus on the behavior and why the behavior is occurring instead of the background or physical presence of the student. It will protect school personnel from disciplinary action if they follow their training and school policies that are required in LB147.

Presently, some schools have adopted behavioral intervention plans similar to LB147. Others allow anarchy to ensue when a student erupts in anger and some allow teachers to physically intervene when trouble occurs without the necessary training on how to properly conduct themselves. I continue to hear a false narrative on what LB147 will do. It does not encourage physical restraint or physical punishment; on the contrary, it draws from time-tested, mainstream principles to foster mutual respect, deescalate violent behavior and allow school personnel to react to all student behavior uniformly. If a student’s behavior disrupts the class, they may be removed from the classroom and they will be asked to explain their behavior to a well-trained, calm and collected school employee. I firmly believe if children are assured they will be treated equally, they will believe they will be rewarded in life if they put in the effort. The only thing standing in the way of LB147 will be objections from some that its supporters do not have the correct cultural background or political affiliation. Hopefully this time, prejudice will not get in the way of progress.

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

Column 6/4/2020
June 4th, 2020

Awaiting senators as they prepare to return to Lincoln on July 20th for the final 17 days of the 2020 session will be legislation that the citizens of Nebraska expect them to address.

Finalizing the mid-biennium budget adjustments will be a priority. Since this is the second year of Nebraska’s two-year budget cycle, there already is a budget in place which will be followed if the midterm adjustments do not pass this year. As we all know, the revenue outlook has changed since the government put restrictions on our economy due to COVID-19. Prior to COVID, the Appropriations Committee requested $137 million in new spending. There are always unexpected bills we must pay between budget cycles: It seems like a long time ago, but it was just last year that we had major flooding. State and county governments are faced with generating $55.2 million for the matching funds needed, to receive a much larger amount in federal aid. Our state’s ever increasing property tax burden caused an additional $9.1 million in homestead exemption payments to local governments. To mitigate our state prison crisis, the Governor gave prison employees raises amounting to $8 million and spent $5.6 million to mitigate structural deficiencies at the Lincoln Regional Center.

Included in the adjustments is at least $30 million in discretionary spending. The largest expenditures are a transfer of $10 million to the existing Rural Workforce Housing Investment Fund, a $4.14 million increase in mental and behavioral health provider rates and $4 million for the Governor’s career scholarship fund.

But the budget is not done; before we can finalize it, some major issues must be addressed. First up, and the biggest demand by Nebraskans, is property tax relief. LB1106 is the proposal, which offers immediate, long-term relief from our overreliance on property taxes to fund K-12 public education. It offers $97.4 million in property tax relief this year, and increases to over $300 million by year three. There are nearly 20 senators who believe LB1106 is their number one budget adjustment priority and must pass before any other major spending proposals can be addressed.  Second behind the property tax issue lies the State Chamber of Commerce’s push for a new economic incentive program: LB720, also known as the ImagiNE Nebraska Act. Its first-year cost is $4 million, but the cost grows rapidly to $125 million annually.

If that is not complicated enough, because of Congress’ changes to federal tax law in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Nebraska faces a loss of an estimated $125 million in tax receipts this year, the majority due to increased corporate tax deductions. We have the ability, when we go back into session, to amend an existing Revenue Committee bill to exempt us from the effects of the federal changes. The Legislature will have to decide what is more important: property tax relief or corporate income tax reductions.

On the other side of the coin, the CARES Act also pumped $10.8 billion in federal aid into Nebraska. The Act states that all of this money must be spent by December 30th. Some of the funds will go toward offsetting additional COVID-related costs to Health and Human Services programs, education institutions, local health department expenses such as testing and other health and welfare-related programs, making it unnecessary for the Legislature to offer additional state funding in these areas. The Governor has also indicated that due to the availability of CARES-Act funds, he will not need the vast majority of the $83.6 million of emergency funding the Legislature authorized him to spend to address COVID-19. If Congress acts, there may even be an opportunity for the Governor to put an appreciable amount of the $1.2 billion in discretionary aid at his disposal into the state’s General Fund.

It is a complicated mess, but it is quite likely that the grand bargain made at the beginning of the session will be achieved, and both LB1106 and LB720 will pass. The only thing stopping success is the possibility of an attempt to drag other legislation into the mix, or a decision, by some that the unreasonable concerns of a few school administrators are of more importance than the economic welfare of Nebraska’s taxpayers and their children.

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

Column 5/28/2020
May 28th, 2020

The Nebraska Legislature, like everything else in America, was interrupted by the COVID-19 scare. The Speaker of the Legislature has set July 20th as the date we will reconvene to finish the last 17 days of the session. It will not be business as usual; the senators in attendance will be spread out around the chamber in an attempt to exaggerate the social distancing that has now become part of our lives. The legislation heard will be limited to priority bills that the Speaker decides have major importance to Nebraska; and the days will be long, going into the night.

There are a few senators who don’t believe it is safe for the body to reconvene due to the COVID scare and are asking the Speaker to allow remote attendance. I disagree. When I ran for the Legislature I had to make a decision to accept a disruption in my family, personal and business lives. It did not take long after my election to understand that the position I held was not about me and only the concerns that drove me to run for office. Instead it was about the phone calls; the first I received was from distraught parents whose children were taken by social services, many more followed from farmers and homeowners who could not afford their property taxes. I introduced LB147 after distraught calls from teachers who were giving up the career they loved and parents concerned about a cultural change that had turned many school classrooms into unsafe and undisciplined places. Now, more than ever, I am hearing from citizens concerned about their freedoms being taken from them, the opportunities their children are losing and the powers being wielded by only a few government officials and bureaucrats. They refuse to accept a new normal, and I agree.

Democracy is not a given; it is not the norm. The norm is as we define it; it is a gift that we received from those God-fearing individuals who preceded us, who sacrificed far more than worrying about catching a virus. Our country’s founders created three equal branches of government with their powers limited by a constitution and the rights guaranteed to the individual. When concerning the balance between personal rights and personal freedom, especially on issues not addressed in our national or state constitutions, only the legislative branch, as the representative of the people, can define the authority given to the other two (judicial and executive branches). The powers that the Governor is using during this present scare were granted to him in statute by the Legislature. If there ever was a time in America that the executive branch and government officials need to be reminded that the power resides ultimately with the citizen, through their elected representatives, it is now.

Come July 20th, I believe I have no other option but to attend the restart of the session, not only be there but to be on the floor, unmasked and healthy, for debate. If I were to believe that by attending, a small threat existed to my long-term health is of more importance than representing my constituents, then I should resign and let someone else lead. The negative message that hiding from the virus would send to police officers, Nebraska National Guard, medical personnel, elder-care professionals, meatpacking workers and all Nebraskans who have continued to keep America moving forward would be a blow to the gut to every citizen’s expectation that a democratic government will always be there to protect their freedom.

I am also a practical person. I know that since January 1st in Lincoln County and the surrounding area, at least six people have died in traffic accidents, two were murdered, one drowned, a few died from self-inflicted causes and many more from natural causes including two that had complications related to COVID-19. So as for that aforementioned practical person, on my drive to Lincoln I will worry more about the car coming at me than a virus.

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

Column 5/21/2020
May 21st, 2020

Due to the COVID-19 event, the 2020 graduating class will never truly have closure on their high school years, but time will not wait. As always, some will pursue higher education or enlist in the military, others will join the work force.

University officials are concerned that students will shy away from campus life due to the health and safety risks associated with dorm living and their wish to avoid mingling on campus with a multitude of individuals hailing from widespread geographic areas. They are also concerned that virus-related restrictions put on student activities will diminish the price parents are willing to help pay for their child’s college degree.

The University of Nebraska has been proactive in its marketing to try to limit its exposure to an expected decline in enrollment. They have projected a $50 million COVID-related loss in revenues. To bolster enrollment, they have widened the parameters of their existing “College Bound” tuition-free program for students who qualify for federal Pell grants. The new “Nebraska Promise” program expands the offer to any full-time students whose families have an adjusted income less than $60,000. The program will cost the University little, instead they hope it will generate revenue by filling empty classroom seats. The tuition cost for the minimum full-time 12 credit hours is $3,024, about 30% of the total cost. Students also pay $1,000 in fees, nearly $6,000 in room and board and more for instructional material and parking. From those students the University will receive revenue from approximately $3,000 in Pell grant money, another $2,000 from the Nebraska Opportunity Grant program and private scholarships, plus the portion of the cost the student pays. At a minimum the University will pick up $7,500 in income for an otherwise empty classroom seat. It is a well-thought-out marketing plan with the added public relations benefit garnered from offering middle-income students financial help.

For many families harmed by the government-caused economic recession, the Nebraska Promise isn’t enough. Affordability still stands between them and their child’s educational dreams. There is good news, however. The scare of COVID -19 has renewed focus on the affordable educational opportunities available at Nebraska’s six community colleges and three state colleges. Due to taxpayer support, the University of Nebraska is one of the lowest-cost public universities in the nation. That said, a degree from a community or state college can cost up to 40% less. When compared to a private or out-of-state public college, the savings can be the difference in owning a home or paying off student loans. Additional savings on travel and room and board expenses can be had by staying close to home.

Educational opportunities abound; distance and online learning, now being touted as the future of education, has been a tool used for almost two decades by these institutions to increase access for students. For example, a student at Mid-Plains Community College can live in a dorm or at home, can take all or part of their classes online or in a classroom, fitting their studies around their job. They can then obtain a certificate in a high-paying trade, gain an associate’s degree or obtain an all-purpose business degree. A student can pick up their general studies requirements for a planned four-year degree and when ready can easily transfer into a bachelor’s degree program offered by Chadron State or Bellevue University, both of which have offices on the Mid-Plains main campus.  In fact, most Universities, including the University of Nebraska system, offer courses for undergraduate degrees online to stay competitive. Similar opportunities are available on or from college campuses across Nebraska in communities like Norfolk, Scottsbluff, Hastings, Milford, Omaha, Peru, Chadron, or Wayne.

With technology the world is not as big as it was. The old university sales pitch of offering students an expanded world view does not hold the promise it used to. In order to gain the world, a student no longer needs to strangle their future with student loan debt. The world is a lot friendlier place to a young adult with a degree in hand, low student debt and character forged in hometown Nebraska.

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

Column 5/7/2020
May 7th, 2020

On January 8th, we began this legislative session. At that time, Nebraskans expected two major issues would be addressed, the first being relief from the economic burden of Nebraska’s regressive property taxes, by far their number one grassroots issue. The second issue involves the passage of the ImagiNE Act, a new economic incentive law to replace the soon to be sunset Advantage Act, this being the biggest issue of the State Chamber of Commerce and the corporate business lobby. The previous year, a stalemate occurred between supporters of both initiatives and it became clear to all involved that both issues needed to be addressed and they needed to go forward together.

The property tax proposal was expected to add approximately $100 million per year to state aid to public schools, thus lowering local property taxes by a like amount reaching a total of $300 million by the third and final year (2022/23 school year) of LB1106’s implementation. Meanwhile, by its third year of existence, the new ImagiNE Act is estimated to add an additional $50 million to the Revenue Department’s already forecasted $180 million loss of the state’s tax-dollar revenue from the existing Advantage Act agreements.

Out there also are two costly public policy needs: prison overcrowding and voter-approved Medicaid expansion. A recent proposal by the Department of Corrections to lease a 1,200- to 1,800-bed facility is estimated to cost as much as $70 million annually. The Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that Medicaid expansion could add $62 million to the state budget by 2023.

All of this new state spending is expected to be paid for by a projected 4.5% annual historic revenue growth (approximately $225 million per year).

Three years from now, the estimated cost of the above proposals to the 2022-23 state budget would total $482 million. With revenues over the same period increasing $675 million, this is doable but leaves very little room for inflationary growth to the state’s spending.

On top of all the above, the Chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) surprised the Legislature with a $300 million dollar request over 6 years (LB1084) to help attract to Omaha one of at least five Department of Defense pilot programs to increase the military’s hospital surge capacity under the National Disaster Medical System.  This program was recently authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

At the hearing on LB1084, the Revenue Committee was presented with a proposal to attract a $1.5 billion federal investment in the project, thousands of jobs for Omaha and $50 million in tax revenues for Nebraska. It was implied that without state financial participation it would not happen. I, like 31 other senators, signed on to the bill. Remember all of the above was pre-COVID-19.

I have since had a chance to read the NDAA legislation. None of the language in it or in any of the recent COVID-19 related bills indicates a state’s financial participation is a prerequisite of being chosen as a partner in one of the 5 projects. What the statute requires is the Department of Defense pick locations “…in the vicinity of major aeromedical and other transport hubs and logistics centers of the Department of Defense”. It is clear in the legislation that the military will be looking at multiple sites and the money will not be spent in one location.

If Omaha would happen to be chosen by the Department of Defense for a pilot project, it will be due to Offutt Air Force Base, its central location and the relationship Nebraska’s Governor and federal elected officials have with the President and his administration.

Presently there is an effort by some in the Legislature to reopen the grand bargain of passing, both the property tax relief and economic incentive legislation, instead attempting to create a compromised combined super bill that would include the annual $50 million for UNMC’s hospital surge capacity proposal. I will continue to keep my commitment to support the property tax and Imagine Act legislation as presently amended, but with the obvious decline in state tax revenues due to the government’s reaction to COVID-19, and the urgent need for funding of property tax relief and other pressing issues, I cannot support any legislation that makes major alterations to present language or includes a future commitment for funding we don’t have for a pie in the sky proposal.

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

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42
Room #1107
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2729
Email: mgroene@leg.ne.gov
Search Senator Page:
Topics
Archives

You are currently browsing the archives for the Column category.

Committee Assignments
  • Committee On Committees
  • Education
  • Education Commission of the States
  • Nebraska Economic Development Task Force
  • Nebraska Retirement Systems
  • Revenue
  • Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center Special Oversight Committee (LB1144)
Search Current Bills
Search Laws
Live Video Streaming
Find Your Senator