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

Home District Column 04/04
April 5th, 2019

After reading the Telegraph’s editorial last Sunday, it is quite obvious the writer does not have a clue as to the workings of the unicameral process. Since the writer deemed it appropriate to lecture me on issues of government, I feel it necessary to correct the record.

Do I work with other senators? Below are a few recent instances.

LB160 – Senator Quick’s inclusion of early childhood care facilities as a use of (LB840) Quality Growth Funds. We helped get the bill passed by adding an amendment loosening the restrictions on what facilities qualified.

LB6 – Senator Blood’s bill to change residential provisions relating to spouses and children of military personnel stationed in Nebraska for in-state tuition purposes when the individual is reassigned to another post outside of Nebraska. We worked together to clean up the language to better express Senator Blood’s intent and to ease residency qualifications for military families. The bill is out of the Education Committee and is now a Speaker Priority bill.

LB619 – Senator Kolowski’s bill prohibiting denial of coverage for mental health services delivered in a school. We worked with him on an amendment to make clear that the covered provider could only be a private practice practitioner and not a school or ESU employee. The bill advanced to final reading.

LB147 – Our bill changing the Student Discipline Act to provide for use of necessary physical contact by a teacher or administrator to protect individuals in the classroom, give teachers the ability to have a disruptive student removed from their classroom, and trigger a mandatory conference between the teacher, parent and administrator concerning the student’s behavior. We have spent hours in negotiations with the NSEA, the lobby for people with disabilities, and senators on the Education Committee to craft a good bill that we plan to yet get out of committee.

Property taxes: As chairman of Education and a member of the Revenue Committee, I have spent long hours, as have other concerned senators, attempting to craft the language of the bill that Revenue Committee Chair Linehan plans to finalize by April 15th.

N-CORPE: We are working with the Attorney General, the Department of Natural Resources, the Governor’s Office and senators on the Natural Resources Committee to finalize amendment language. Not an easy task when you are fighting local misinformation by N-CORPE proponents.

As to floor debate over Senator Wayne’s LR14CA, I stand by my opposition to the bill. Treating our state’s constitution as if it were a place to create statute is not the proper way to address a moving target such as redevelopment law. No developer is going to create a redevelopment project in an area already dense with older houses and commercial properties in North Platte or north Omaha, where people already work and live. What is needed in those areas, as I have shared with Senator Wayne, is to create a way that small contractors, landlords, or homeowners can receive TIF for truly redeveloping a single home in a blighted and substandard area, without prohibitive legal and bonding costs eroding their proceeds from TIF. Senators Wayne and Chambers are well aware that when it comes to the misuse of TIF as an economic development tool instead of its intended purpose addressing redeveloping truly blighted and substandard areas, we are on the same side of the issue.

Don’t let the political antics on the legislative floor fool you, as it apparently has the editorial writer. Sometimes people of principle, as Senator Wayne, Senator Chambers, and I are, need to reestablish where our boundaries lie. At the end of the day, Senator Wayne and I will continue to work together on TIF, property taxes, and education legislation, as we have in the past with the clarification of TIF statutes in passage of LB874.

The editorial writer’s concern about rural versus urban cooperation is foolishness. What has turned Nebraska into a high tax, over-regulated state is the willingness of past senators to nod and agree to vote for “let’s get along” legislation. Respect for each other’s priorities is what will accomplish the task at hand, and respect was built last week during the floor-rumble on LR14CA.

Sorry about not writing more columns, but as you can see, I have been busy.

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

Home District Column 03/07
March 7th, 2019

This winter, as I contemplated how to address our burdensome property tax issue, I took into consideration that expanding our property tax base should be an option. Thus, with the passage of Medicaid expansion in November, I wondered why so-called nonprofit hospitals needed to be exempted from property taxes. Our state Constitution states, “The Legislature by general law may classify and exempt from taxation…property owned and used exclusively for educational, religious, charitable, or cemetery purposes, when such property is not owned or used for financial gain or profit.”

There are 104 hospitals in Nebraska. Eight are for-profit, tax-paying facilities (Kearney Regional Medical Center, for example), 37 are tax-exempt, government-owned and operated (Gothenburg, Callaway and Imperial are examples) and the remaining 59 are classified as nonprofits (Great Plains Health for example).

Does anyone believe that their mission fits under the 100% “exclusively charitable” classification in the Constitution? I believe that answer to be No, especially with the passage of Medicaid expansion and the expected infusion of over $600 million in Medicaid, most of which will end up in hospital coffers. In most cases, those who received charitable care in the past will now be covered by Medicaid. Considering that in 2017 Nebraska hospitals only gave $131 million in charitable care, the $600 million expansion of Medicaid adds up to a nice profit.

A recent study by the Urban Institute shows that hospitals in Medicaid expansion states have more revenue, lower uncompensated care cost (charity?), and fatter operating margins. Margins improved by 2.5%. Charities normally do not have profit margins.

Another reason why non-government-owned hospitals should pay taxes is the recent announcement of CHI Health system’s recent purchase of the naming rights of the former CenturyLink Center in Omaha for $23.6 million. In addition to the naming rights, CHI Health will get to use one corporate suite and four club level seats for all events at the arena. Why does a nonprofit need to advertise? Who is CHI competing with in Omaha, the government-run University of Nebraska Medical Center?

Hospitals, like most profitable businesses, pay high compensation to administrators and other highly educated employees. This is unlike the compensation offered to employees and volunteers at what one would consider a true charity like a soup kitchen or a public health clinic.

What better way for a hospital to support a local community than to become a taxpaying member of the community, helping to support our schools, public safety and maintaining the community’s infrastructure? If a hospital is going to operate like a for-profit corporation, I believe they need to pay taxes like one! My bill to address this issue, LB529, was heard in the Revenue Committee last Thursday.

Other news:
LB63, our bill to make positive changes to the Mutual Finance Organizations and allow for local property tax control by rural fire districts, passed Final Reading last Friday by a 45-0 vote.

LB65, our bill to modernize the State Electrical Act thus allowing underground boring contractors to install electrical conduit without being a licensed electrician and instead only being supervised by an election, passed Final Reading last Friday by a 44-0 vote with one present not voting.

LB148, our Open Meetings Bill concerning local government budget hearings, requiring meeting announcements in newspapers, and the necessity for the NRDs’ interlocal agreement-N-CORPE to have a budget and hearing, came out of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

LB 606, our bill to define in law the ability of NRDs to sell land without jeopardizing the augmentation project, will be heard in the Natural Resources Committee next Wednesday, March 13. We would appreciate emails of support. Please send them by 5:00 pm on Tuesday to the Committee.

Property tax relief is still a top priority for the Legislature this year. The Revenue Committee, led by Senator Linehan and of which I am a member, is working on a package to reduce property taxes and find a solution to fund it.

I regret my columns have not been available weekly; time management is at a premium this session. I am not one to report what should be done, but instead what has been accomplished.

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

Home District Column 02/13
February 14th, 2019

LB695, which is my Property Tax Relief/TEEOSA Stabilization bill, was heard in the Education Committee on Tuesday. The bill is a result of the TEEOSA Study Group we formed last summer. Below is an abbreviated version of my opening remarks.

“LB695 will provide long-term property tax relief for all Nebraskans, stabilize the TEEOSA formula’s proportional funding of state income, sales and local property taxes, plus make the formula reflect the reality of real-life economic factors.

LB695 addresses Nebraska’s overburdensome reliance on property taxes to fund our public schools. I have come to an understanding that the TEEOSA formula has flaws, but it still remains the best option we have to provide ‘free instruction in the common schools of this state’ for children in our 244 school districts with varying student populations from 60 to 51,000.

A) Foundation Aid: (property tax relief for Wallace, Hershey, Brady, Maxwell, Sutherland) Establishes a stabilizing factor in the amount of state aid given to each school district by using a base per student funding amount. LB695 proposes to dedicate 25% of the State’s prior year total income taxes (both individual and corporate) plus sales tax revenues to be distributed equally to school districts on a per K-12 student basis. In 2018, total state income and sales tax revenues were $4.28 billion. There are 307,753 K-12 students enrolled statewide in our public schools, which would equate to a foundation aid factor of $3,474.40 per student. Creating a reliable state aid funding source through foundation aid will give long-term stable property tax relief to taxpayers in the 175 districts that receive no equalization aid, as well as those hovering towards receiving none. Foundation aid will replace the income tax rebate.

B) Property Tax Relief for Equalized Districts (North Platte): All districts will receive foundation aid as a resource. Districts lacking enough local resources to fund their schools will still receive equalization aid. LB695 proposes lowering the max levy from 1.05 to .95; therefore, the local effort rate used in the formula will be lowered from 1.00 to .90, giving those property taxpayers a 10% reduction in their school general fund property taxes. State equalization aid will fill in the created funding gap.

C) Local Property Valuation Distortion: LB695 proposes to slow growth of the ‘local effort yield’ from property taxes by creating a base year yield (.90 LER) in the 2020/21 school year. In subsequent school years, growth will be limited by new construction growth and the CPI-calculated inflation rate. In the future, this provision will stop the funding shift to property taxes by alleviating the distorting effects of unreasonable valuation increases on the taxes paid by local property owners.

D) Growth of School Needs: LB695 uses factual economic data to adjust needs growth. Instead of the present arbitrary base limitation that is used as the 2.5% allowable growth rate factor, in the future we will use the most recent available year’s CPI-calculated inflation rate. The inflation rate used for the allowable growth rate will not be allowed to go below 0% or above 2.5%.

E) Net Option Funding: With the enactment of LB695, the foundation aid ($3,474.40) follows the option student; therefore, because the net option school district is now only lacking the property taxes paid by the students’ parents, the correct thing to do is for the state to assist the school with an amount equal to the statewide average property tax cost. The average general fund property tax expenditure per student would be $6.194.51 for the 2019/20 school year.

LB695 will balance over time the ratio between state and local funding. State revenues have had a healthy annual 4.8% increase over the last 38 years. As those revenues grow, so will the state’s 25% contribution to foundation aid, causing the reliance on property taxes to continue to ease over time.”

Thursday, property tax relief bills from Senators Friesen (LB497) and Briese (LB314), and my LB677 will have hearings in the Revenue Committee. I believe to achieve property tax relief, it will be necessary to join forces and create one bill out of many. To quote President Lincoln, “A house divided against itself, cannot stand”.

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

Home District Column 02/07
February 8th, 2019

The legislative process is in full swing. Mornings are spent on the floor debating bills that have come out of early committee work, most are just technical changes to existing laws. For example, the Education Committee has sent out three bills. One, LB115 by Senator Blood, whose district includes Offutt Air Force Base, eased the early school enrollment requirements for children of military personal who are being transferred to Nebraska for duty. It only affects a few military families, but to them, it is a frustrating hurdle to clear as they prepare to move to Nebraska.

LB66 was the first bill debated this year that met resistance and was eventually killed on the floor. It would have required any city with a population of over 800 citizens to include in its City’s Comprehensive Plan an early childhood element to assess the availability of quality early childhood education, health and child care. I spoke against the legislation because it was another mandate to local governments. A town does not have the personnel to do such an evaluation and would be forced to hire a consultant, with your tax-dollars, to do the study for them. We already have plenty of existing programs that are tied to receiving certain federal and state tax-dollars for early childhood programs, available in areas of education and health and human services. City councils have enough on their hands worrying about filling pot holes and zoning regulations, they don’t need to worry about if Mom and Dad are capable of managing the early years of their child’s development.

Senator Chambers took offense to the defeat of LB66 and we found ourselves in the unlucky position of our LB63 just happening to be the following bill. Therefore, he proceeded to filibuster a bill he basically found no fault with. After every election, Senator Chambers puts on a clinic for the new freshman members on his mastery of legislative rules. In some ways his antics serve the body well. He does educate the freshmen and refresh the memory of incumbent senators on the proper way to run a filibuster, and more importantly, he slows down the process and actually unites the body on an issue. By the time he is done, everyone on both sides of the political aisle is mad at him.

Senator Chambers has made it clear that he literally stands alone (in 45 years he has never sat in his assigned chair, he always stands) and he does not seek or need friends or political allies. He is a rare individual that can do it and do it well, even at the age of 82. I will say that I used to think the longest five minutes I ever spent was the five minutes before I asked my wife to marry me, but 34 years later I have come to understand I was wrong. The longest five minutes in the world is the proceeding five minutes after Senator Chambers hits his light the third time to address the body.

After three hours of political pontificating, LB63 was passed to Select File 41-0. As I mentioned last week in the column, LB63 is a simple local control and property tax relief effort concerning rural fire districts.

Next Monday, what we refer to as our teacher/student protection act, LB147, will have its hearing in the Education Committee. The bill gives teachers a tool to better control the overall behavioral climate in their classrooms and gives administrators and teachers guidance to address student behavior directly with parents and students.

Next Tuesday, LB695, our attempt at long term property tax relief through a fix of the state’s school funding formula (TEEOSA), will have its hearing on Tuesday in the Education Committee. The bill would create a reliable state aid source through the creation of public school foundation aid for each student. The source of the aid would be based on 25% of the state’s total income and sales tax receipts.

The road to success on any major legislation is long and tedious. We see a path forward for property tax relief, but there will be bumps and branches to clear before we get there.

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

Home District Column 01/31/2019
February 1st, 2019

We are at the 16th day (Thursday) of the 90-day session of the 106th Legislature. The pace has been hectic. There have been 744 bills introduced. I introduced 17. Four of those are standard legislation that the committee chairman traditionally introduces to cover annual Department of Education and committee cleanup work. The Education Committee was assigned 56 bills to address during the 16 afternoons on which the committee holds hearings. The Judiciary Committee received the most (142 bills) and one resolution to be heard on 26 afternoons of hearings. As you can probably guess, many afternoons will turn into evenings. Nebraska has a unique system that allows all citizens, as the second house of the Legislature, to testify on bills at committee hearings. I remember from my past as a concerned citizen too often testifying in front of school boards and city councils where the members sat silently and asked no questions. Hence as Chairman of the Education Committee, out of respect for the testifiers, I try to engage with them; many of which have taken a day off of work, or driven long distances to testify for 5 minutes. They appreciate the respect questions from the committee offers them, and quite frankly, many times amendments are made to legislation as a result of testimony.

Each year as the session begins, the Legislature debates the rules that govern our legislative process, either accepting the present ones or including changes. I picked up the mantle from past senators who introduced changing the present rule that allows a secret vote on the speaker and the committee chairs to a public vote. Our argument was the Legislature should honor the citizens’ expectation of transparency in government which was clearly exemplified in Senator George Norris’ original 1934 constitutional amendment. We all associate his successful effort with the creation of the unicameral form of a legislature that Nebraska has had since 1937, but there were actually 10 constitutional requirements in his amendment that governed the operation of the Legislature, including non-partisan elections, senator numbers limited to no less than 30 members and no more than 50, length of senator’s terms, salary limitations, and that “the request from any one member to be sufficient to secure a roll call on any question”. That last requirement in our State Constitution, simply put: it is clear that any question (vote) taken by the legislative body must be public. Claiming a vote is not a question does not change the constitutional mandate. The rule change failed by a 25 to 22 public vote. Next year, you will be assured a senator will request a roll-call vote on a chairman vote and when denied, the Nebraska Supreme Court may need to decide the issue.

Our bill, LB63, addressing property tax levies for fire districts in counties with Mutual Fund Organizations (MFO) has had its Revenue Committee hearing and has been advanced to the floor for debate. When a county creates an MFO, it allows for some of the taxes you pay on your insurance policies to flow back into our fire district’s budgets. Fire districts in Lincoln County received $300,000 last year. LB63 will allow individual fire districts to have tax levies below an agreed upon common levy (in Lincoln County it is 3 cents) for 2 out of 3 years of the agreement. It’s basically a local control measure that will allow lower property taxes for fire district residents that have well-managed volunteer fire departments. Also, our LB65, changing electrical codes to allow horizontal boring machine operators to be non-electricians as long as their work is supervised by a licensed electrician, was heard by the General Affairs Committee on Monday. It’s a common-sense elimination of overregulation that will lessen the cost of electrical work for the consumer while allowing electrical and horizontal boring contractors to work together.
So far in the Education Committee, we have heard a couple of controversial bills: Senator Erdman’s LB73, requiring the national motto “In God We Trust” to be displayed in all public schools, and Senator Slama’s LB399, updating Nebraska’s Americanism statutes. I will expand in future columns on those bills’ outcomes.

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

Since the election, I have purposely avoided writing columns. I feel we all needed a little time away from the political stench of the elections and there was no need to write, just to be writing.  My hope is that most of us have more important things to consider besides the grind of politics during the holiday season. This Christmas season, Barb and I watched the new Christopher Robin movie with our granddaughter.  In it the fictional children’s philosopher Winnie the Pooh made profound statements that struck true to me. The words of the writer were to the effect that, sometimes doing something is doing nothing and sometimes doing nothing is doing something. I chose to do nothing in the line of redundant writing until something of import happened that needed to be discussed.

We’re now just a few days short of commencing the 106th Legislature, First Session on January 9th with the swearing in of 26 recently elected senators of which 13 are incumbent, 11 are newly elected and 2 are Governor Appointees.  During the first days of the session we will also elect the Speaker of the Legislature and Committee Chairs; I again am running for Education. I have had no complaints from colleagues as to the way we managed the committee last year or about the accomplishments that came from committee actions. I am proceeding under the belief that I will be elected again to the position, but with term limits and the resulting 13 new senators plus the political reality that personal feelings, pressure from the lobby and partisanship play a part in the outcomes of democratic government, we understand there is no guarantee that the person with the necessary ability and experience always wins.

That said: On the Education front, we are moving forward with legislation to fix our over-reliance on property taxes to fund our schools. The bill’s content is based on what we learned through our TEEOSA study group. We are also introducing a revised version of last session’s Classroom Discipline bill, to empower teachers to legally protect themselves and students from violence and to enable them to create a better classroom climate.  We are also bringing a revised version of last session’s American civics bill. An update of the present 1940’s Americanism statutes is needed more now than ever as we continue to watch the deterioration of America’s civility.  We owe it to our children to inform them that freedom and rights have a cost, to teach them of the sacrifices of those who came before them and that they have a civic duty to be informed and involved in government.

My office is continuing to pursue clearly defining in statute that NCORPE can sell the land and continue to operate the augmentation project.  It’s hard for me to convince my urban colleagues that we need property tax relief in rural Nebraska when they see the total waste and disrespect of tax dollars being expended on unnecessary land purchases where $50 million or more could be saved if only all parties involved would work together to make the land sale happen.

Other areas of legislation we are pursuing:

— Legislation to increase transparency in our open meetings statutes.

— Legislation to eliminate a burdensome and costly electrician code on underground boring.

— Easing rural fire department tax levy requirements when involved in mutual funding agreements.

— Legislation brought to us by Sheriff Kramer to alleviate burdensome occupational regulations on operating lie-detector devices that add unnecessary cost to police departments.

One of the truths I have learned at the Capitol is that the folks who pay their taxes and act as good public servants are often too busy with their work and family to be in Lincoln to present their views, but those who spend or profit from your tax-dollars are in full force, lobbying to keep your taxes flowing to them and, of course, wanting more. As we go into the New Year and the new legislative session, you can expect me to be vigilant for the threats that could grossly expand the State government or abuse your dollars in the system, but that’s not a new resolution for me.

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

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.

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.

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.

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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