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We worked on the “Bee Bill” this week. LB 499 was a bill I introduced last session that is now the subject of an “Interim Study” by the Agriculture Committee. Typically, those bills a committee selects to do an Interim Study on tend to easily pass out of that committee in the next session. If all the committee members vote for it (no dissenting votes) then there is a very good chance it can be one of the bills that are put on what’s known as the “Speakers Consent Calendar.” These are bills that are voted out of committee unanimously with no opposition testimony during the hearing. Normally these bills pass quickly without debate on the floor. Obviously, a package of different bills that everyone in the Legislature agrees on is a rare thing around here.
Over a third of the world’s food supply depends on a honey bee to pollinate the crops we eat. Suffice to say these tiny creatures are very important. In the past several years a number of different things have begun to threaten the honey bee and make things ever more difficult for the people who raise and keep them. LB 499 tries to make life a little easier on our Nebraska Bee Keepers. I am cautiously optimistic we can get a minor amendment to the bill done over the summer and get this bill passed early next session.
LB 121 is a bill I introduced last session that would make $50,000 in military retired pay exempt from Nebraska Income Tax. Like hundreds of other bills introduced last session it is “held in committee” because there aren’t enough senators (five) to vote it out of the Revenue Committee. Every single State we share a border with does a better job of this than Nebraska does. Wyoming and South Dakota don’t have an income tax at all, and the rest of the States attract retiring veterans by not taxing military retirement (KS and IA), or giving special reduced income tax treatment to military retirement. (CO and MO).
I’ve slowly been changing the minds of Senators on this committee. Hundreds of military retirees leave Offutt AFB in Nebraska each year (for example) and move to Iowa, only to return to work at Offutt as a contractor or Federal Government employee. The income tax from their post-retirement job is lost, as is the property and sales taxes they would pay. We have a dollar chasing a dime going on here. The meager loss of income tax from the military retired pay is more than off-set by all of the other taxation and economic activity Nebraska is losing by not attracting retiring vets to Nebraska.
Full disclosure – my Legislative Aide and I both are retired Army Colonels and we would personally benefit from this, but so would tens of thousands of Nebraskan’s living here now and the many we would attract to our State. We want military retirees in our communities. They are incredibly well qualified, highly educated and experienced professionals who are exactly the kind of people we want joining the Nebraska workforce. I have a hunch I can get this one voted out of committee early next session. It’s worth noting Nebraska is also one of only six States that tax Social Security benefits, which is another travesty for many of the same short-sighted reasons.
For all of you who are big 2nd Amendment Supporters, it’s worth mentioning that I introduced three different bills that dealt with gun rights last session. They all went before the Judiciary Committee. For those of you so inclined, you’ll see the membership of this committee is made up of Senators who just aren’t very anxious to take up any kind of gun legislation. All of these bills are “held in committee” and I would wager that is exactly where they will stay. January of 2019 the 106th legislature will be sworn in, and the composition of this committee will change, hopefully including Senators with a different view of the 2nd Amendment.
Speaking of things that go “bang” I hope everyone enjoyed the 4th of July. Next to Memorial Day, it’s my favorite holiday. I was asked to dedicate the new Nebraska National Guard Museum in Seward and would strongly encourage everyone to visit this outstanding facility. The heart-felt patriotism of my fellow Nebraskans never ceases to humble and amaze me. Few observances remind me so much of what a great place Nebraska is to live, and how fortunate and honored I am to represent some of you in the 43rd District.
Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (402) 471-2628.
As a member of the Nebraska Justice System Oversight Committee, I toured the Tecumseh Correctional Center and the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln this week. What an eye-opener that was. I’ll talk more about this in the near future as the committee completes its reports, but suffice to say Nebraska’s Correctional System faces some significant challenges. Our fellow Nebraskans working in this system are doing incredibly difficult work and I have the upmost admiration and respect for them.
I think we should seriously consider measures that structure the pay system for prison employees that reflects and rewards them for the very special circumstances they work in. They are not your ordinary State of Nebraska employee. State personnel bureaucracy or union formalities shouldn’t force a one-size-fits-all solution on employees who need to recognized for their uniqueness. Vocational opportunities for the inmates need to be explored. Many were lost years ago to budget cuts and now we have populations of inmates stuck in their cell most of the day because there is nothing for them to do. Idle time is a tool of the devil, and that is plainly evident in this situation. Caged men grow into dangerous men that pose a threat to staff and other inmates if they are locked up day and night for no other reason than there isn’t anything for them to do.
I toured a “Veteran’s Wing” of the prison and was absolutely amazed to see part of a prison ran by veteran inmates with military pride in organization and neatness. I sure hope we can come together in the Legislature in the next session and help provide the Department of Corrections with the resources and support they need.
On another note, we continue to work with a growing group of Senators and other Nebraskan’s determined to see property tax reform put on the ballot in November 2018. To know how we got where we are today, it helps to review where we came from.
In 1966, the only tax in Nebraska was a State Property Tax. The citizens put a ballot initiative together and made that unconstitutional.
In 1967, facing a crisis of no tax revenue to run the State, laws creating the sales and income tax in Nebraska were passed. The hearings for these bills were so large they had to be held in the Warner Chamber (the old House of Representatives in the Capitol building). These new tax laws were so unpopular they cost many Senators who supported them their seat in the legislature and after only one term in office, Governor Tiemann was defeated for re-election in 1970 by Democratic nominee Jim Exon after he encountered stiff opposition from within his own party.
Thus began the era of The State of Nebraska spending dollars collected in income and property taxes, and the legislature creating over 650 different Local Units of Government (LUGs) who have the authority to raise and collect and spend property tax dollars.
There are about 125 LUGs in the 43rd Legislative District. Most familiar to folks are our School Districts who spend about 60 cents of every dollar collected in Property Taxes. County Government, Educational Service Units, Natural Resource Districts, Cities, Towns, Villages, Rural Water Districts, Rural Fire Districts, Airport Districts, Cemetery Districts, Noxious Weed Districts, I even found a Bookmobile. Every one of these government entities has a Mil Levy and the authority to lay and collect property taxes within their jurisdiction.
Some of my colleagues like to say Property Taxes are a “local issue.” I don’t accept that. The legislature created the LUGs and defined their authority to lay and collect property taxes. I heard a man say, “Frankenstein needs to be made to dine with his monster.” The legislature created the LUGs, the legislature needs to work with them and help find ways to reduce their demand for property tax revenue.
Don’t get me wrong, many good and decent Nebraskans work very hard every day in our many local units of government, and I’ve heard from them too. I read an article about Colorado Springs, CO. Strapped for cash, the city shut off every other streetlight, among other things. This was followed by copper thieves stripping the wiring from street lights they knew wouldn’t electrocute them and it ended up costing more than just leaving the light on would have. It turns out some ideas to cut spending actually cost money. Nebraska spends too much and we need to cut the size and scope of government, but we cannot be hasty or shortsighted in our solutions.
I hear things like “whatever you do, the idea has to be revenue neutral.” I don’t know where this mindset comes from. For some reason if government spends $100 this year, somehow it is now chiseled in sacred stone tablets that say government must spend $100 next year, regardless of which revenue source is used to appropriate the money. Of course spending the same amount next year would actually be called a “cut” in spending because the amount didn’t increase enough to account for inflation. Government is the only place I know of where spending the same money one year to the next is actually called a cut in spending.
Many fear ANY reform that shifts funding from local property taxes to the legislature because they are afraid the legislature won’t pay 100% of what used to be funded. That is a reasonable fear to have because the only way property taxes will come down is if the legislature starts paying for things property tax currently pays for. The legislature doesn’t have any spare cash laying around so any new outlay means something else isn’t funded, or howls for tax increases will ensue. After all, the legislature didn’t create the LUGs and give them the authority to lay and collect property taxes only to end up paying the bill itself. There is built in resistance in the Legislature not to pay for things the LUGs have traditionally funded with property taxes. This culture needs to change.
Studying this problem I’ve come to the conclusion that all the easy problems must have been solved long before I got elected, because all that’s left are the hard ones. That said, selling the ranch because you can’t raise enough of a calf crop to pay the property taxes and have enough left over to feed your family is one heck of a lot tougher problem than a bunch of State Senators having an argument about tax policy. I won’t rest until property taxes are brought under control. People are really hurting. I welcome the argument. We need to have it.
Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at email@example.com or call us at (402) 471-2628.
As you know from last week’s column, I had a chance to attend my High School reunion in Gordon. I was also able to attend the “Ride the Ridge” event in Crawford and I was also honored to walk with other Senators in the Nebraskaland Days Parade in North Platte.
Being on the Nebraska Justice System Oversight Committee, I’ll be touring the Tecumseh Correctional Center next week, followed by the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln.
I was on the Chris Baker Radio program on KFAB this week. I suggested we pass a law that would allow Senators and Staff to be armed. This has generated some interest. This idea was prompted by the shooting at the Congressional baseball practice last week in Washington, D.C.
I asked a question in last week’s column; why is the 2nd amendment the only constitutional amendment people need to get permission from the government to exercise? Think about that a minute.
Did the newspaper you are reading right now need to get permission from the government to publish this edition, or did the 1st amendment protect their right to do so?
Did my daughter need to get permission from the government to vote in the last election, or did the 19th amendment protect her right to do so?
Do I need permission from the government to be represented by an attorney in court, or does the 6th amendment guarantee that I have that right?
Our constitutional rights are so important, every elected official in the country, from State Senators to the President, all swear an oath to “support and defend” the constitution, so when various people and groups and the government itself do things that interfere with the full and free exercise of those rights, I get very, very concerned. The 2nd amendment is every bit as important as any one of the others. It doesn’t have a * next to it indicating this right can only be exercised in certain, limited circumstances prescribed by the government.
There are a number of people that are absolutely convinced that the presence of a law-abiding citizen with a gun somehow magically increases the likelihood of someone suddenly turning into a bloodthirsty criminal. This fear is irrational and is not supported by the facts. The opposite condition is actually true. A law-abiding citizen with a gun is no more of a threat to the public than a law-abiding citizen without a gun. Tens of thousands of Nebraskans carry a concealed carry gun with them out in public every day. Where’s the evidence that the mere presence of a gun is inherently threating to public safety?
Last year there were about 14,000 murders with guns in the US. At the same time, there were over two million “defensive gun uses” where a gun owner stopped or prevented potentially violent crime, many without firing a shot. That amounts to at least hundreds of thousands (if not over a million) incidents where harm to good people was averted. There are people that simply refuse to accept the fact that the private ownership of guns by law abiding citizens save more lives each year than the criminal use of guns cost.
People who do not like guns are not required to own or carry one. Those who wish to depend on the many laws we already have, the police, and prominent signage announcing gun prohibitions in certain places are certainly free to do so, but their personal beliefs and philosophy should not be forced on someone else, and most certainly should not deprive another law-abiding citizen of their constitutional rights and inherent, inalienable right of self-protection. That condition is as un-American as it is immoral. My rights end where yours begin and vice versa.
In this day and age, where the political discourse has become so toxic that silencing the voice of the opposition now includes shooting people, I think prudence demands I take steps to protect myself and my staff. A trained, law-abiding citizen having a gun and not needing it is far better proposition than needing a gun and not having it.
Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (402) 471-2628.
I’ve been traveling the State a lot. I went to The Cattleman’s Association mid-year meeting and the 100th Anniversary of the Farm Bureau, which gave me a chance to meet a lot of folks from the district and discuss many issues effecting Western Nebraska like brand inspection and property taxes. I was interviewed by the Scottsbluff, Chadron and Ainsworth radio stations. I will attend my 40th High School reunion in Gordon this weekend. I had a great time with a number of players from the Husker football team teaching them teamwork, communications and long-range rifle shooting. I was so honored to have the chance to mentor this great group of young men.
This week the shooting in Washington, D.C. prompted an interview with the Lincoln paper where I said I thought security in our Capitol building was fine, but it would be a good idea for Senators and Staff to receive special training approved by the State Patrol – over and above a conceal carry class – so we could be armed at events we attend. All of this would be voluntary and done at personal expense. I’d hope no one would ever have to use this training and capability I suggested, but “hope” is a poor course of action in the world we live in today.
Had that baseball game in DC been just a bunch of ordinary members of congress without security details, there would have been a historic massacre take place. The many strict gun laws of Washington, D.C. obviously have no effect on criminals, nor will they ever. Gun Free Zones, like this baseball field, are just tragedies waiting to happen. Only a good person with a gun can stop a bad person with a gun. Think about all of your constitutional rights for a moment and then ask yourself why the 2nd amendment is the only constitutional amendment people need to get permission from the government to exercise.
Quite a few folks have talked to me about their desire to do a ballot initiative to try and solve our State’s terrible property tax problem, so I’ve been learning about it this week.
In 1912, Nebraskans added language to the State Constitution which created the “initiative petition” and “referendum” process. Twenty-one states have some form of this, but we’re one of only fifteen states that have BOTH initiative and referendum rights for their citizens. In plain English, citizens can create laws, create constitutional amendments (called initiatives) and also “veto” laws (called referendums) like what recently happened with the Death Penalty.
Going all the way back to 1912, I found where the citizens of Nebraska have done this forty-nine times.
Signatures from ten percent of the registered voters in the last election (about 121,000 today) have to be collected to amend the constitution (for example), and five percent of the voters in at least thirty-eight of Nebraska’s ninety-three counties have to be included in that number.
County election officials have to verify all the petition signatures against voter registration records. All the signatures have to be turned in to the Secretary of State four months before the election.
Unfortunately, the legislature did not pass property tax legislation this past session, but our constitution makes the people of Nebraska the “second house” of State government. Citizens have the right to seek solutions to problems the legislature fails to address. I’m excited to see what the many groups working on property tax reform come up with. I am following this very closely. The devil will be in the details, but I would be honored to support a ballot initiative idea that delivers real property tax reform, as would many other senators I know who are also concerned about this.
It’s important to remember that it was a ballot initiative petition from the people in 1934 that gave Nebraska its unique one-house Unicameral State government, so the people of Nebraska are capable of doing some pretty big things when they set their mind to it.
If the calls and letters I’ve been getting about the property tax problem are a fair measure of the mood of the people, then I think Nebraskans are ready to do something big about property taxes in the next election. I hope they do.
I’ll close by touching on a subject I have mentioned many times in this column. The State Department of Revenue released a report last Thursday showing that tax receipts were down $9.3 million from what they forecast for the month of May. As I have said before, the rosy predictions about revenue growth used to build the budget were unrealistic. The Governor’s spending vetoes (which I supported) may not be enough if this downward trend in revenue continues.
The staff and I have been working on a property tax proposal for the next session. As you may remember, I attended a press conference on the last day of the session with Sen. Steve Erdman (LD 47, Bayard). He announced that one way or another he would introduce a legislative resolution next session that would change the Nebraska Constitution and fix the property tax problem. So far nearly a dozen groups are involved helping with this. I think the people are so fed up there will probably be a ballot initiative. Stand by for news as this effort evolves over the summer.
I am behind Sen. Erdman and the people 1000%. Property taxes are crushing Nebraska. We are the 5th highest in the Country and getting worse. People in my district are being forced to sell homes, farms, and ranches because they can’t afford the property taxes. I had a rancher tell me he has to sell 80 steer calves just to pay the property taxes on a 16,000 acre ranch. Failing to address this in the last session really upset me. Far too many senators in our legislature are not taking this problem seriously enough.
I’ve been to several meetings on Veterans and Native American issues this past week. I did an interview on Sirius Satellite Radio. My staff were interviewed by a French reporter for a Paris newspaper on the Fair Repair Bill. We have our interim study going on with LB 499. This bill will update the law and protect Nebraska Bee Keepers. I will go out on a limb and predict it sails through the legislature next session. It has generated a lot of very positive interest on the Agricultural Committee. Once we work out the details with the Department of Agriculture on how the new laws will be implemented, I think we’ll have a very good piece of legislation that is sorely needed by our commercial bee keepers.
We still have eleven bills “held in committee” right now. We’ll be working on those over the interim with amendments to help address the concerns we heard during the hearings. I said during the hearing last session that LB 504 would be my priority bill next session, and I mean that. This bill puts a two-year moratorium on the construction of new commercial wind energy projects in the Sandhills. I’m all for private property rights but there has to be a way we can do this without tearing the community apart. Pausing construction as this business is carefully studied is prudent to say the least.
I sent a lot of letters to graduating high school Seniors this year, which reminded me that I better go to my 40th class reunion in Gordon next weekend. I look forward to seeing my old classmates.
“The Interim” has begun, (that time between when the legislature adjourns and when we’re back in session next January). I’m getting caught up on all kinds of appointments and chores you have to put off while the legislature is in session. While Senators are out for the summer, we are back to being “normal citizens” and run/work our private businesses, but we are still available to assist and serve the people in our districts, and I am happy to do so.
Close to the end of the session we passed a law (LB 127) that created the “Nebraska Justice System Special Oversight Committee.” Along with the Chair of the Judiciary Committee (Sen. Laura Ebke) five other senators and I make up this committee. We will visit Nebraska’s ten different correctional institutions this summer in an on-going effort to study the various problems in Nebraska’s Correctional System. I have a lot of faith in Director Scott Frakes. He has an incredibly tough job to do, but there clearly have been some problems in the recent past that I think the legislature can help with. Maybe we can move past the finger-pointing and actually work on helping fix some things. I look forward to being part of the solution.
My staff are busy digging through thousands of emails and researching all kinds of ideas that came to me over the session from so many people across the district. We’re trying to follow up on so many calls, such as:
“I was pardoned by the Governor. How come my criminal conviction still shows up on my police background check?”
“Why in the **** do fishing licenses cost $43? When you add the $30 park permit, I’m out nearly $100 just to go fishing. What is going on!!”
“I need to sell 80 steer calves just to pay the property tax on my 16,000 acre ranch. Why is it so high?”
“Why does the State have to put in this gigantic traffic circle on the highway when they could just put up a traffic light?”
These issues and many more are important to me and my staff. We are here to help, and we appreciate all your patience while we work through these together.
I finally had a chance to catch my breath and reflect on some things. For example, I wonder how Texas does it. They have 25.5 million more people than Nebraska does, 1,300 miles of international border, nearly 400 miles of seacoast, no income tax and yet their legislature only meets once every two years for about four months. Would the good people of the State of Nebraska be better off if the legislature was only in session every other year?
I wonder how is it that ranchers in my district with land in both South Dakota and Nebraska tell me their property taxes on their SD ground have gone down, while their property taxes on their NE ground have gone up. What is South Dakota doing that we aren’t?
I wonder what is going to happen in 2021 when we re-district the State after the 2020 census. The population in the western end of the State will continue to shrink while it steadily grows in the Lincoln and Omaha area. Right now only six senators represent all the people living west of Kearney. Lincoln has nine senators today, for example. How will our one-house unicameral system serve Western Nebraskans then? Will Western Nebraska have more or less of a voice in the Legislature? The tyranny of simple math tells me Western Nebraska needs to get set for a disappointment.
I think of everything that has happened during this first session in the legislature as a State Senator, and the one thing that stands out the most is how surprised I was about something. I came to the Capitol thinking my State was a “conservative” State. Nebraska may well be a conservative State, but Nebraska’s Legislature most definitely is not. I came here thinking lower taxes, smaller government, and more freedom and liberty for our citizens were the principals almost everyone in Nebraska shared. Those will always be my principals, but I discovered putting together a simple majority of twenty-five like-minded Senators is something that is very hard to do in “conservative” Nebraska. Putting together thirty-three so we can end a filibuster and actually vote on something is even harder.
We all know the old yarn about how important it is to stay abreast of what your elected officials are doing (or not doing) in your name, and how “elections matter” but this last session really put those old lessons in sharp focus for me.
This first session of Nebraska’s 105th Legislature has adjourned. If I had to describe it in one word I would have to say “frustrated” sums it up pretty well. I wish I could tell you it was about all the things that we got done. Worthy of note is the fact we overcame a $1.1 billion budget deficit and passed “two” budget bills, one that addressed the shortfall we have in the current fiscal year and the other for the next biennium (the next two years.)
We got the Department of Roads and the Department of Aeronautics combined into one new State Agency (Department of Transportation). We got the States Veteran Homes out of the Department of Health and Human Services and under the control of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Both of these changes save money and improve services.
I have learned a lot in this session, as have the other seventeen freshmen senators. I think next session will be completely different, armed with the knowledge and experience we all now have.
I was disappointed we didn’t get the rules changed early in the session. A lot of really good legislation was killed by filibuster this session because we didn’t get the rules changed.
Most of all I was sorely disappointed that we accomplished nothing on Property Taxes. I have teamed up with Sen. Steve Erdman (LD 47, Bayard) and many other senators exploring different options to address the property tax problem next session. A number of ideas are already out there and some groups are considering initiatives to put the matter on the ballot in the next election. I have drafted a legislative resolution that would amend the Nebraska constitution and change how property tax money can be spent. I will keep you posted on all these efforts. The people are fed up and demand action. I will be working on this issue all summer and welcome your thoughts and comments.
I have three interim studies we have introduced to work on over the summer, plus I will get my schedule of town hall meetings in the district over the summer published soon. Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at email@example.com or call us at (402) 471-2628.
Date: 19 May 2017 Contact: Julie Condon
For Immediate Release: Phone: 402-471-2628
This session the Legislature passed a $2.47 billion budget that funded four different programs over the next two years. MEDICAID/MEDICARE, Development Disability Aid Program, Division of Behavioral Health and the Division of Children & Family Services. Governor Ricketts line-item vetoed a total of $32.5 million of the spending across these programs. This amounts to about 2 ½%.
This past Wednesday, May 17th, 2017, we debated a number of veto overrides and in the end upheld the Governor’s veto on LB 327. My vote was included in those to uphold the vetoes. The Governor’s veto cut a small amount of funding to programs that generated a lot of interest from people contacting my office and lobbyists calling me off the floor. I want to address those concerns because a lot of what I heard was either misinformed, or out-right scaremongering falsehoods. These cuts will NOT affect provider rates.
Division of Medicaid and Long-Term Care: Capping payments at the Medicaid rate, as 44 states do, would achieve the general savings necessary to meet the requirements of the Governor’s veto. This does not impact services not covered by Medicare like long-term care, nursing home care, and assisted-living services. The Medicaid program will work with stakeholders to devise an appropriations reduction strategy that protects critical services like long-term care.
Division of Developmental Disabilities: The line-item veto of funding in the DD aid budget will not mean providers will receive across-the-board rate reductions. DD has the responsibility to manage the program within its appropriation and minimize adverse access-to-service issues for DD eligible individuals and families. DD will work with stakeholders to devise an appropriations reduction strategy that protects critical services.
Division of Behavioral Health: The line-item veto of funding in the Behavioral Health aid budget will not mean providers will receive across-the-board rate reductions. The amount of funding included in the line-item veto represents 1% of total contracts funds to the Behavioral Health Regions.
Historically, behavioral health providers under contract with the Regions have received a 10% increase in rates over the last four years, including a substantial increase in two services through DHHS cost model work. Those rate increases are sustained in the current budget plan and Division of Behavioral Health will work with the Regions on the implementation plan to protect critical services.
Division of Children and Family Services: The line-item veto of funding in the Children & Family Services (CFS) budget will not mean providers or contractors will receive across-the-board rate reductions. CFS has identified efficiencies in how it administers drug testing contracts that will garner savings in excess of the amount included in the line-item veto.
I supported these small cuts in spending because without them the legislature was using accounting tricks and unrealistic revenue projections to balance the budget. Without these small cuts in spending, we would have to be called back into special session this fall to make drastic cuts to balance the budget because the gimmicks and rosy projections would have failed to do so.
No one likes to cut State programs people have grown to depend on. This was made very evident by the legions of lobbyists and special interest groups who all loudly opposed these small spending reductions. Watching this I couldn’t help but wonder – where were all the lobbyists and special interest groups screaming for property tax reform this session? Who represents the rancher or farmer who has to sell their place because they can’t raise a crop that will even pay the property tax bill? Who speaks for them? Where is all the passion and enthusiasm to protect ordinary citizens from crushing taxation? I think we need to be just as vigorous in our defense of those who have to pay for the State spending as we are in defense of those who consume it.
This session is coming to a close. The Speaker has announced the legislature will “Adjourn Sine Die” on Tuesday the 23rd of May. “Sine Die” is Latin for “without day.” It means to adjourn without any future date being designated to resume the session, thus will end the first session of the 105th legislature. It will be good to get out of Lincoln and back up to the Sandhills, but I’m disgusted by how little actually got done this session. I suppose we can take comfort in the words of Mark Twain, “No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.”
The Tax Increment Financing bill (LB 496) was debated and defeated in a filibuster this week. I voted against it because the TIF program has grown far beyond its original purpose of urban renewal for blighted areas. TIF provides property tax breaks to encourage these sorts of projects in the poor part of town. Instead, LB 496 would have included the construction cost of private housing for new development projects. This is not what TIF is supposed to be for. The true purpose of property taxes is for members of a community to equally share in the funding of our public safety, schools, and common infrastructure. That’s not what LB 496 did. Sen. Mike Groene (North Platte) said this bill “is an outrage against good government and a strong statement on the power that special interest has on politicians through campaign donations.” I agree. I’m glad it was defeated.
I said last week that I was afraid we were “kicking the can down the road” on the budget problem by using some accounting tricks like reducing our cash reserves and using “creative financing” by making unrealistic future revenue projections. The Governor saw this same set of circumstances and used his line-item veto authority to cut another $32.5 million in spending from across a number of programs. I voted to uphold the vetoes and have issued a separate press release on this subject. The State’s tax collections are still on a downward trend. April’s numbers were $55 million short of what was forecast. Even with the Governor’s vetoes we may not be out of the woods on the budget yet.
I realize people depend on tax-payer dollars to fund programs they have come to depend on, but we had to balance a budget with a $1 billion deficit. The many lobbyists and special interest groups who contacted my office, came to the Capitol, and called me off the floor spoke with a loud voice. I wish this same passion could be generated to defend ordinary Nebraskans being crushed by property taxes. I care about the people dependent on government programs with exactly the same enthusiasm I care about the Nebraskans who have to pay the taxes that fund this State spending.
Next week I will outline the interim studies we have introduced, and will continue to work on a schedule of town hall meetings in the district over the summer. Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (402) 471-2628.
We had another short, but very busy week. Friday was a recess day. We continued budget debate this week. In spite of the $1 billion deficit, the budget we have still increases spending 1.0%. Many of us feel this is unacceptable, so the budget as written faces a lot of push-back. Tuesday, the three main budget bills were passed and sent to the Governor. He still has the option to line-item veto individual appropriations.
The “combined” State Budget is $10.8 billion. This includes federal tax dollars. The $4.5 billion annual general fund budget is what we’ve spent the last two weeks debating. To accomplish the 1% increase, we had to reduce our cash reserves and use some accounting tricks I really don’t like. My colleagues are making an assumption that Nebraska’s economy is going to rebound quickly and state tax revenues are going to increase from the 1% they are now to 5% in the next two years. This is just wishful thinking in my opinion. The downturn in our State’s economy that caused the revenue shortfall in the first place is caused by the sharp decrease we’ve seen in Nebraska’s #1 economic engine: agriculture. That is not something that is bounces back up to 5% growth so easily. I joined 12 other senators voting no on LB331. I predict we will be right back next fall facing the old argument of cutting more spending or increasing the tax burden on our citizens. All we did was kick the budget can down the road in my opinion. I’m not voting for tax increases.
We debated LB75 this week. It was a bill that attempted to give felons voting rights immediately after completing their prison sentence / parole. The law right now restores felons voting rights two years after completing their sentence provided they have no further trouble with the criminal justice system. I voted for the bill during General File debate because I believe there should be a point where someone’s debt to society is paid, but it became clear during subsequent debate this bill was probably unconstitutional. I didn’t support it on final reading and I did not vote to override the veto.
LR1CA was a resolution meant to put a constitutional voter ID requirement on the 2018 ballot for voter approval. I supported this resolution, but it failed to advance because it didn’t have enough votes to overcome a filibuster. Once again, the “cloture” rule of 33 votes stopped a good piece of legislation. The vote was 26 yes, 17 no and 3 present – not voting. That tells me 20 senators did not like the idea of letting the people of Nebraska decide whether or not someone should need an ID to vote.
I am very upset this legislature did not address property taxes reform this session. It is the #1 issue State-wide. Everything we have tried to do to address this serious problem this session has failed. The reason property taxes are out of control in Nebraska is because how we fund K-12 schools in Nebraska is seriously broken. We are 49th in the nation in terms of State funding for schools, the vast majority of funding comes from property taxes. In the Western part of the State, most of the schools are 100% funded by property taxes. We are 5th highest in the nation in terms of property taxes, and getting worse. This issue is crushing our agriculture economy and hurting families and small business all over the State. Far too many of my colleagues are simply unwilling to address this issue. As we approach our adjournment without a single thing being done about this reminds me time is running out for a growing number of people who are no longer able to pay a tax that is levied on people with no regard for their ability to pay it. We need a solution that’s as big as the problem. I am sick of the excuses. I am going to lead on this issue from here on out and provide a real solution if it’s the last thing I do.