NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

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 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

Column 4/30/2020
April 30th, 2020

To come to a position on the present COVID-19 crisis, I looked at the latest available 2018 Nebraska’s annual death statistics. 16,906 Nebraskans died that year; deaths due to unnatural causes included 235 from falls, 248 motor vehicle accidents, 35 from homicide, 140 from poisonings and 271 from suicide. All of these deaths would be preventable if the government confiscated step ladders, closed the roads, took away knives/guns/blunt objects, outlawed alcohol/raw vegetables/prescription drugs and forced all citizens to have a personal psychiatrist. Normally we would consider those recommendations foolish, but in the present political atmosphere, not so much. In contrast, examples of those dying from natural causes include cancer (3,513), chronic lung disease (1,063), heart disease (3,578), Alzheimer’s (683), diabetes (597) and HIV (10). The medical community has told us that by changing personal behavior, eating well and getting exercise, we can avoid many of those natural causes of death. Again an all-knowing government could further limit our freedoms by regulating or outlawing our personal behavior. This year many of those natural deaths are related to COVID-19.

Thankfully, we now have enough evidence to know the original predictions were vastly overinflated: Children and adults with healthy immune systems are at a minuscule risk of hospitalization or death. Evidence is building that a high percentage of Americans have already been in contact with COVID-19 and we have ramped up the supplies and facilities to address the serious cases.

This is the first time in history that mankind has forcibly quarantined the healthy when nature has struck with a new virus. Historically we have quarantined the vulnerable and those showing symptoms until the healthy have gained immunity. The term is “herd immunity”; the healthy protect the vulnerable by becoming immune and therefore do not become carriers of the virus. From the beginning no one has denied this truth, what the government has done with its economic strangulation policy of isolation is to slow the herd immunity curve down to ensure that medical services are available to the small percentage of vulnerable citizens who are severely affected by the virus. The policy has actually worked too well; hospitals have laid off staff in elective surgery areas, threatening the health of those needing medical procedures. Hospital beds are empty and in our attempt to avoid a sprint race with the virus, it has become a marathon instead of the middle distance race the policymakers desired.

So, what do we do? The Governor’s decision to allow restaurant and personal care businesses to reopen on May 11th is a good start. It is a relief (I’m still recovering from my original outrage that it was limited in the first place) our freedom of religious assembly will be restored on May 4th.

I am encouraging the Governor to open up outdoor activities. 80% or more of COVID-19 infections can be traced to indoor contacts. The outdoors does not have an HVAC system recirculating the air. We need to allow youth sports activities to commence; the Governor has set a date of May 31st. I have encouraged him to allow teams to practice earlier so games can begin on the 31st.  Game and Parks needs to allow camping at our state parks; there is no evidence that the limited human contact at campsites is any more contagious than at a Walmart, plus viruses do not like sunshine and dry winds.

Lastly, North Platte needs to lead the state in opening up community-wide activities. For the past 50 years, Nebraskaland Days has embodied the spirit of Nebraska’s Western heritage and should not miss a beat, of course with precautions. If the professional cowboys cannot come, we have local cowboys who can put on an entertaining rodeo. Imagine if government would have denied the pioneers their destiny on the Oregon Trail because 5% of them would die along the trail.

In perspective: 9 million people died of starvation and hunger-related causes last year. Meanwhile, due to government actions, on American farms fat cattle go unsold, unsalable hogs are being slaughtered and farmers are facing financial hardship. With common sense we can return to fully living life!!!

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

Column 3/26/2020
March 26th, 2020

With the advent of the COVID-19 virus we have been given a reminder that humans share this world with other lifeforms. We are a global economy and less than six months ago, what was a virus infection transferred to a human from an animal being slaughtered for food in a street market in Wuhan, China has now changed our lives in Lincoln County.

Projections are for Nebraska to experience a 30% or higher infection rate, with most of those infected experiencing symptoms anywhere from cold symptoms to a bad case of the flu.

The fear is for the 5-10% of our neighbors and loved ones with compromised immune systems due to existing diseases or prior medical treatment and for those over 65 years of age who may have deteriorating immune systems. They face up to a 15% mortality rate. Our best hope to minimize the effects of COVID-19 may be found with existing drugs, mainly one presently used for malaria. Its ability to combat symptoms of malaria may also be effective against COVID-19. Its use could allow the immune systems of those who may have severe symptoms the time needed to win the battle against the virus. If we can control the symptoms, we can greatly reduce those who need to be hospitalized. Making those drugs available is in the hands of the federal government.

On Wednesday the Legislature gave the Governor access to up to $83,619,600, approximately 13% of our expected cash reserve funds. He had asked for $58,619,600 for a detailed list of needs his advisors recommended. Wisely, Speaker Jim Scheer made the decision to add another $25 million to the authorization to be used in the event the situation calls for more expenditure. We are working on a very short timetable and he already had concerns of being able to convene the 33 senators necessary to pass the emergency designation for LB 1198. There is a possibility the Legislature would not be able to convene quickly in the future with the votes necessary to authorize additional funds.

The legislation transferred the emergency funding to the Governor’s Military Department’s (National Guard) Program 191-Governor’s Emergency Program-COVID-19, with the bulk of the funds ($38.2 million) going to purchases of Personal Protective Equipment and other supplies and dispersal of those supplies to local medical personnel and first responders. We must keep those individuals healthy as they interact with those infected by the virus. Funds will also be available for emergency staffing needs of local health departments.

Other uses of the emergency funds are $4.04 million for additional DHHS staffing expenditures and $13 million for overtime and additional staff for Veterans Hospitals and DHHS Care Facilities. The University of Nebraska Medical Center will receive $3.1 million to purchase robotic equipment and other supplies and to hire personnel to conduct COVID-19 laboratory testing for Nebraska. We need to pray that things go well and that the Governor will not need the additional funds.

Nebraskans have been proactive in slowing down the spread of the disease. As individuals, we should continue to keep a reasonable space between each other, emphasize personal hygiene and commit to calling or emailing our isolated friends and relatives. We also must support our local businesses; the restaurant business and their employees are being hit hard. You may not be able to eat in their dining area, but drive-through and carry-out options are available.

In three or four weeks I plan to be back at the Legislature finishing up the last 17 days of the Session and voting for passage of LB1106 (property tax relief ), LB720 (economic development bill), LB147 (our teacher/student protection bill) and LB1021 (our Micro-TIF redevelopment plan for small towns). I also plan to be listening to my favorite sport, baseball, on the radio; eating in my favorite restaurants (of which I have many); visiting friends (of which I could always use more); and thanking God that His will was done.

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

Column 11/28/2019
November 28th, 2019

I started to write this column pondering the things government has done to be thankful for.  I soon realized how foolish that frame of thought was. Government in any form exists from the will of the people, from those it rules over or, if you live in America, serves. We are blessed to live in a country where for over 500 years, it has been settled by hardy individuals seeking freedom of religion, economic opportunity or land ownership. Others had to first overcome the evil of slavery to garner freedom. Throughout our history, thousands of Americans have risked all, in worldwide military conflicts to protect the gift of freedom and to end government-supported slavery, not only for Americans but in the hope of planting the seeds of freedom in foreign lands. As any veteran will tell you, “Freedom is not free”.

Free will is a gift from God, the pursuit of freedom is thus a natural result of that gift. Wisdom and common sense are also God-given gifts and if pursued stand as a natural check on absolute freedom.

We live in a society where some seek to define freedom as the ability to pursue pleasure through sloth, drugs, alcohol or deviant behavior; but the wise understand: when those pursuits are gained they do not provide freedom but slavery.

Government does not supply blessings; in fact, too often it not only restricts the rewards garnered from a person’s good choices, but also acts as an enabler for a fool to be foolish.

So on Thanksgiving Day, as on all days, I am thankful for the freedom to worship God without government persecution, to protect my health with what I choose to eat, drink and breathe, to associate with those who have my best interests in mind, to work and live where I see fit, and as an elected official to speak the truth without fearing the wrath of the fool. Freedom, most of all, offers the lasting blessing of forgiveness; for if we fail today to be vigilant in how we exercise our freedoms, tomorrow is a new opportunity to try again.

During the Thanksgiving Holiday, I consider the ability to surround myself with family and friends a reward for the wise exercise of my freedom.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!!!

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

Column 11/21/2019
November 21st, 2019

When a lottery ticket is purchased in Nebraska, a portion of the money goes to the state of Nebraska; last year it amounted to $46.6 million. Our State Constitution requires that the proceeds are allocated as follows: the first $500 thousand plus 1% of the remainder goes into the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund, 44.5% to the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund, 44.5% to education and 10% to the Nebraska State Fair.

Every five years the Legislature directs the Education Committee to make recommendations on how the 44.5% for education should be allocated to best advance the education priorities of the state. Last year, the distribution to education was $20.5 million.

Through June 2021, by statute, the education funds are allocated as follows:

Sixty-two percent goes into the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Fund, which provides financial aid to college undergraduates who qualify due to low family incomes and who already qualify for federal Pell grants. Mid-Plains Community College students are eligible for this financial aid.

Seventeen percent goes into the Department of Education Innovative Grant Fund. Approximately half of the money pays for the ACT test given to all juniors in Nebraska’s public schools. The remainder is awarded to individual schools through competitive innovative grant applications. In 2017, four districts and the Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council were awarded grants. The idea is to encourage innovation in public education with the hope that good ideas will eventually spread throughout the state.

Nine percent goes into the Community College Gap Assistance Program Fund to provide financial aid for courses of study (welding, CDL license training, etc.), which are not eligible for federal Pell grants. To date, Mid-Plains Community College has received $250 thousand. So far the program has been underutilized by community colleges.

Eight percent goes into the Excellence in Teaching Cash Fund, which provides forgivable loans to teaching students working on a bachelor’s degree or teachers working on a master’s degree. Priority funding is given to students majoring in shortage areas, and loan forgiveness is provided for those teaching in a very sparse district or high poverty school. Wallace Public Schools is designated as a very sparse school district. Buffalo Elementary School and Adams Middle School in North Platte, as well as the Brady Elementary School and High School, all meet the poverty definition.

Three percent goes to distance education incentives which are meant to encourage school districts to share educational courses using technology.

One percent goes into the Expanded Learning Opportunity Grant (ELO) Fund which provides matching grants to afterschool programs. North Platte’s Kids Klub has received ELO grants, this year they received a grant for the next two-year period totaling $45,000.

The Education Committee must issue its report by December 31st with recommendations for the next five-year period. One of my priorities is to include funding for behavioral identification and intervention training at the building level across every district in the state to help create a safe classroom environment for teachers and students.

One challenge of the current grant structure is that small school districts don’t generally have access to dedicated, full-time, professional grant writers. The application packet for the 2017 innovative grants was 42 pages. Smaller school districts where administrators serve as principals, coaches, technology specialists and/or bus drivers shouldn’t be left at a disadvantage to receive the benefits of lottery proceeds. By giving direct aid to each school district, it would create fair access to lottery funds.

We held a hearing this last Friday at the Capitol to hear from the agencies responsible for managing the various funds, and a few other invited guests that could provide insight on what is (and isn’t) working well with the current allocation amounts. Now the hard work begins. The Committee is working to determine the best use of the lottery dollars and to make fiscally-responsible recommendations. It is essential that the Legislature pass a bill in 2020. Current and future funding recipients deserve to know what they can expect come July 2021 and need time to plan their programs accordingly.

A copy of the Committee’s report will be publicly available online at the end of the year.

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

Column 10/31/2019
October 31st, 2019

To achieve property tax relief and limit government, I continue to pursue wasteful spending; the prime example is the NCORPE project and its unnecessary ownership of 19,500 agricultural acres.   A recent newspaper guest opinion submitted by an NCORPE official is a case study of a wasteful government entity out of control. I must ask what do the subjects of government paying property taxes, pasture land rental rates, and public hunting lands have to do with groundwater management?

To counter some of NCORPE’s points made in the newspaper piece:

–Property taxes: Unless used for private purposes, government entities should not be paying property taxes; no matter how you sum it up, government paying taxes is double taxation.  If NCORPE land had remained in private hands, Lincoln County taxing entities would be receiving approximately $757,000 in property taxes in contrast to the NRDs agreeing, for now, to voluntarily pay 2019 property taxes of $145,800.

–Management and labor cost of NCORPE infrastructure of 30 wells and 22 miles of underground pipeline.  Without the taxpayer burden to maintain the land, NCORPE’s $370,870 payroll cost could be eliminated, saving more of your tax dollars.  NCORPE could easily contract out the maintenance services for a fraction of their labor cost; even now, when a well has a malfunction the NCORPE staff hires a well service company to do the repair work. The wells are presently operated remotely eliminating any need for manual startups by an employee.

–Mortgage:  Remember when NCORPE claimed they could not sell the land due to the mortgage? We have completely dismissed that claim by simply reading the mortgage documents. Now they claim a bond insurance document limits the sale of the land.  The reality is if you sell the land and pay down the bond or you keep the land as collateral, it has the same result on the bond insurer’s exposure.  What secures the bonds is the $10/acre occupation tax–period.

–May sell the Land: Yes, may sell the land. Our LB606 gives the NRDs the ability to voluntarily sell the land by protecting the continuation of the augmentation project, it does not mandate it. We have worked with the Attorney General’s office, the Department of Natural Resources, the Governor’s office and well-respected private water-law attorneys to create legislation that satisfies our state constitution’s beneficial use requirement.  LB606 will make augmentation the beneficial use for a public purpose, thus eliminating the common law’s tradition of use on the overlying land.  By defining augmentation as a public use, similar to how our state statutes handle municipal and rural domestic water projects, the beneficial use now becomes water necessary to accomplish surface water augmentation.

–Lawsuits: The statewide NRD bureaucracy scares NRD board members with fears of lawsuits.  The two NCORPE lawsuits so far that have been brought are against an NRD’s eminent domain powers and related to property tax collections. In the Dundy County property-tax case, the court referred to language from a 1985 Supreme Court case that actually strengthens our argument for enacting LB606.  In that case, the Court affirmed that ownership of as little as a half-acre of land encompassing the well was sufficient to satisfy the beneficial use requirement for a public purpose. The lawsuit they have not yet seen and should fear is when the Court is asked to answer the question, “How does pumping groundwater down a creek satisfy the common law’s requirement that use of the groundwater must directly benefit the public’s domestic or agricultural need on the overlying 19,500 acres?” LB 606 when enacted will eliminate that fear.

I have taken on powerful political entities many times and I have become accustomed to being politically threatened and shunned, but nothing comes close to what I have witnessed dealing with the NRD establishment. My personal livelihood has been threatened, brave public servants who have aided my efforts have been confronted by the establishment, a helpful professor versed in water-law was told in no uncertain terms to stop or face exclusion from the good-ole-boy club, and local farmers and ranchers who have stepped up on this issue have endured character attacks.  There is presently an unhealthy political environment within our State’s Natural Resource community. It needs to be addressed.

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

Column 10/10/2019
October 10th, 2019

Column 10-10-19

Economic growth is driven by the old real estate adage: The top three reasons real property sells are “Location, location, location!” Union Pacific’s railyard is in North Platte because it sits on the Platte River’s natural transportation route and lies at the midpoint of the United States; its national location is the paramount reason. Regionally, location again is the reason the Walmart distribution center is in North Platte and on a smaller scale, why North Platte is considered a natural place for medical and lodging facilities.

In a perfect world, the economy moves smoothly and government concentrates its efforts on providing public safety, streets and utilities. Problems start to arise when government tries to become more than the supplier and conduit needed to deliver public services to citizens and businesses. When government expands into areas of public wants such as entertainment, tourism, and attempts at job creation, taxes must go up to pay for those activities. High taxes then in turn create a barrier to economic development that would naturally occur. For businesses, location now becomes secondary to simply being able to make a profit.

A recent example is a company’s interest in building large-space warehousing facilities in North Platte. Due to the growth of the marijuana industry in Colorado, the cost of warehousing has tripled there. The natural response is for warehousing services to expand to nearby locations in states where marijuana is not legal. In these states, the marijuana industry cannot compete for space with construction material and other commodity sellers who rely on reasonable storage cost in order to be profitable. North Platte’s location fits that description, but apparently our high state and local taxes have raised a barrier to the warehouse investor’s ability to profit from their investment. Even North Platte’s ideal location can’t overcome burdensome taxation. Thus starts the vicious cycle of tax abatement for new commercial projects and tax increases for existing residents to fund the additional city infrastructure needed for the project. As taxes go up, a city becomes more desperate and the cycle grows in magnitude.

The use of a million dollars of Quality Growth Fund and up to 15 years of lost property tax revenues from TIF probably will not be the final tally for North Platte taxpayers. The company in question is well-known for accessing Nebraska’s Advantage Act, and if it does the city will lose thousands more in sales tax receipts on the project’s materials cost.

The above scenario is why next year I will hesitate to support the present form of LB720, Nebraska’s newly proposed economic development plan. The new legislation has been given the name the “ImagiNE Nebraska Act” and would replace the existing “Advantage Act”.

Last year, the Advantage Act refunded $152 million in sales and corporate income taxes as incentives for business growth in Nebraska. You would think that the purpose of an economic development plan would be long-term job growth, but in fact, sales tax refunds amounted to approximately $109 million and income tax refunds amounted to the remaining $43 million. Only 2,489 new jobs were reportedly created from the taxpayer investment. I have a philosophical distaste for sales tax abatements on products not produced in Nebraska. For example, windmills for wind energy projects have received millions in sales tax refunds on materials built in other states that created no jobs in Nebraska.

I am also concerned with language added to LB720 that for an unexplained reason added new construction for commercial banks as qualifying for incentives. With the exception of businesses doing 75% of their sales outside of Nebraska, no other retail businesses qualify. Why do banks?

Politics, political donations and lobbyists play a part in economic incentives, making their cost higher than necessary. The reality is that incentives of some sort have become part of our state’s tax policy. I will vote for a version of LB720, but first I must be assured that property tax relief is achieved with the passage of a version of LB289. I firmly believe property tax relief for the average citizen will do more for our economy than all the tax giveaways combined.

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

Home District Column 9-26-19
September 25th, 2019

Thanks to those who attended the McCook Natural Resource Committee hearing on the N-CORPE land ownership issue. The testimony came from successful agri-business people, attorneys and from Lincoln County officials. The Natural Resources Committee heard the truth; it was convincing, pertinent and backed by fact.

N-CORPE’s public land ownership is a direct assault on a highly-valued Nebraska governing tenant: “LOCAL CONTROL” on issues of property taxation and land use. They also heard a very weak defense by NRD employees as to why taxpayers need to own 19,500 acres of land for a groundwater to river augmentation project that in a physical aspect is unrelated to how much land is involved.

Their argument for land ownership is based on old English Common Law, which is based on tradition and related court cases. Common law goes back to the days when water for domestic and livestock use primarily came from surface water streams. It was commonly accepted that you could not dam up a stream and deny a neighbor his share of the stream water as it flowed through his property. Nebraska’s common law on water, as defined by the Nebraska Supreme Court is, “your use of groundwater is limited to the beneficial use needed on the ownership of overlying land.”

Nebraska’s Constitution of course takes precedent over all laws: legislative, court case or common. It states “The use of the water of every natural stream within the State of Nebraska is hereby dedicated to the people of the state for beneficial purposes.”

The Nebraska Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed that when the Legislature enacts a statute that is contrary to any common law, the new statute takes precedent, common law and past court cases are no longer relevant. The Nebraska Legislature has in the past created statutes that have made an exception to common law. In 1963 they created the Municipal and Rural Domestic Groundwater Transfer Permit Act, which defined the Constitution’s beneficial use clause for public water projects as other than the common laws use on the overlying land. It is the reason the City of North Platte does not have to own 19,500 acres of land surrounding their water wells in order to supply you drinking water. The statute was upheld in the 1985, “Sorensen vs. Lower Niobrara NRD” case in which the Court clearly stated that NRD’s ownership of half acre well sites to supply domestic water to rural citizens was sufficient for the public purpose and that, “in permitting transfer of groundwater from the site of its extraction the act has removed use on overlying land as an index for the ‘reasonable and beneficial’ required by common law.”

How much water NCORPE uses can easily be protected from lawsuit by deed reservations on the land sales and by the local NRD’s ability to set allocations on the amount of water used.

Two recent Supreme Court cases concerning NCORPE make it clear that the augmentation project is a public purpose similar to public domestic use water projects. In both of the cases the Court made references to the Sorensen Case by stating in Estermann, “Since the Nebraska common law of groundwater permitted use of the water only on the overlying land, legislative action was necessary to allow for transfers off the overlying land for as pressing a need as supplying urban water users.” In the Dundy County Case the Court referred back to language in the Sorensen case where concerning a public use a half-acre of land ownership over a well-site was sufficient to satisfy the common law’s requirement of land ownership over the source of the groundwater.
It is a complicated issue, but as you can see we have done our homework. At the hearing Thursday when NRD representatives were asked by senators about the ability of the Legislature to rectify the competing interest in this matter, they had no answers. I believe that a majority of senators on the Natural Resources Committee now see through the scare tactics and misinformation presented by the landowner proponents. I would not continue to be in Lincoln if I did not believe that commonsense and justice can prevail. It is time for legislative action.

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

Sen. Mike Groene

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

You are currently browsing the archives for the Opinion category.

Committee Assignments
    Agriculture
    Committee On Committees
    General Affairs
    Natural Resources
Search Current Bills
Search Laws
Live Video Streaming
Find Your Senator