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Sen. Dan Hughes

Sen. Dan Hughes

District 44

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I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. A topic of debate recently has been Legislative Resolution 6. LR 6 will again be before the legislature this session. The resolution calls for Congress to hold a Convention of the States to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the amendments would impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of congress.

Last month in McCook there was meeting on LR 6.  I was unable to attend, however, I am fully aware of the Legislative Resolution and I have looked at the LR in depth. In its current form I do not support LR 6. I am not comfortable calling for a Convention of the States as presented in LR 6. With a multi-issue resolution like this, I am worried there would be a runaway Convention of States. If a Convention of States cannot be controlled to a single topic I am fearful of what the outcome might be too many of the other freedoms we currently enjoy could be in jeopardy. I am not comfortable with giving that much power to the delegates. Also, there needs to be a way to hold the delegates accountable and they vote the way the people of Nebraska would want them to.  I have received letters and emails from many of you. Some support my position and others are urging me to support LR 6 in its current form.

The issue I will support a Convention of States on, is a balanced budget amendment, with provisions to allow for additional spending in times of war and other national emergencies. We in Nebraska must run a balanced budget and I see no reason why the Federal Government should not do the same.

Specifically on the issue of term limit, I have never supported them. We already have term limits, they are elections. Our form of government is a Representative Republic not a Democracy. Therefore, the citizenry is required to play an active role on our government. If they do not, our system will not work as well as envisioned by our Founding Fathers.

I have been getting ready for the upcoming session these last few weeks. The budget will be a big issue this year, as the current forecasting board has us about $200 million short. The next forecasting board meets at the end of February, which will be a better indicator of where the state needs to be. Unfortunately, it is a short session, and if we wait until March to make any adjustments it will be tough for any agency to make the necessary adjustments before the end of our fiscal year on June 30. The good news is we still have a little over $350 million in “rainy day” funds. But I am reluctant to use very much more of that fund to balance our budget.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. As Christmas quickly approaches and the year comes to an end, there is still plenty to get done before the session starts. Over this past week I have traveled across the state to McCook, Central City and Lincoln attending LR 176 hearings held by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. LR 176 is a study of rural broadband.

The committee is looking at ways to speed the process of expanding high speed internet to all rural customers. It is reminiscent of the time when we were working to connect all rural residents to electricity. It is important to the entire State that everyone have access to high speed internet. All citizens need this access for prosperity and equal opportunity. The bigger cities have already had their broadband built to their boundaries, but the rural areas still need this infrastructure. The “last mile” is the hardest and will take a little extra funding. Part of the discussion is having telecom providers and local electric providers enter into partnerships allowing the hanging of fiber from existing poles instead of burying the fiber underground. This is just another idea of how to go about getting the job done faster. Some telecom companies have been able to build out to one hundred percent of their customers, while others are not quite there yet.

Serving the rural areas of Nebraska is becoming more important than ever. With the changing landscape of agriculture, the need for data capacity is growing exponentially. Modern agriculture is using massive amounts of data in the production decision process. Broadband is more than just streaming videos and surfing the net, it is vitally important to all our rural industries.

Expanding high speed internet will have a positive impact on Nebraska’s economy. Golight, a company that produces high powered lighting used by first responders, the military, utilities vehicles, and farmers and ranchers, is headquartered in Culbertson, Nebraska. Golight is a growing company, and without the help of high speed internet the company would not be marketing its products to customers worldwide. A good analogy of high speed internet is, it is just like the road system. Cities and towns have extensive road systems through and around their limits, but they still need pathways and abilities to connect with other cities and towns. While a road traveling through rural areas may only seem to benefit local people, our entire population still needs to have the ability to travel the state. If the rural areas have high speed internet, the entire state benefits just as we do with our roads.

I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other capitol events.

As some of you may have seen and heard there is a small group that has organized from Lincoln County called the Landowners for a Common Purpose. This group is trying to force the separation of groundwater rights from surface or land rights on the NCORPE property. I believe that is a very bad idea. Apparently, this group is willing to go to court to prove it can be done. Initially, the complaint has always been that no property taxes are being collected on the NCORPE property, which is not true. NCORPE is paying property taxes, but NCORPE is also protesting those taxes because state law dictates one taxing entity cannot pay taxes to another taxing entity. Tax Equalization and Review Commission (TERC) has ruled in favor of NCORPE, and Lincoln and Dundy County are appealing that ruling.

I have a bill drafted and it is currently being circulated to interested parties that would allow NCORPE to make in-lieu-of property taxes to Lincoln County. This bills language is similar to language currently in place to allow the Game and Parks Commission to pay in-lieu-of property taxes on property they own to the counties where such property is located. The potential of separating the groundwater rights from the surface rights would have far reaching and long lasting impacts on the State of Nebraska and especially on anyone who irrigates within the state.

One point I need to make that most people may not be aware of, a landowner does not own the water under their land, the State of Nebraska owns the water. If you have an irrigation well you must also have a permit from the State of Nebraska or a natural resource district that says you can pump water from that irrigation well. I am hopeful my legislation will satisfy the Landowners for a Common Purpose by allowing NCORPE to begin paying in-lieu-of property taxes. If it does not, the speculation brought forth by some that this may be a land grab by a few large landowners in Lincoln County may have some validity. Opinions vary slightly, but all of the lawyers, bankers, real estate agents, and government officials I have visited with about this issue are in agreement. It would not be good for the State of Nebraska nor its citizens should the land be separated from the water.

My bill also includes the Rock Creek Project in Dundy County. If the bill passes the Upper Republican NRD will be allowed to pay in-lieu-of taxes to Dundy County for the lost property tax revenue, as well. This augmentation project has been in operation a few years longer than NCORPE. It was created for the same purpose, to insure tens of thousands of irrigated acres in southwest Nebraska will continue making our region one of the most productive and reliable agricultural areas in the state of Nebraska.

A couple of weeks ago, the members of the Natural Resources Committee were invited on a tour through central and southwest Nebraska.  No senator on the committee lives west of Grand Island, except for me.  I thought it would be beneficial for committee members to see firsthand some of the infrastructure, and visit with some of the people affected by the bills we hear in the Natural Resources Committee.

We started the tour in Grand Island at the Upper Prairie-Silver-Moores Creek Flood Control Project, which is being constructed by the Central Platte NRD.  This project is important because it will take more than 1500 homes in Grand Island out of the FEMA floodplain.  Our next stop was the NCORPE water augmentation project south of North Platte.  The project, which ensures Nebraska remains in compliance with the Republican River Compact, will remain on the committee’s radar as two lawsuits on the property’s tax status will be in front of the state’s Court of Appeals within the next year.

Our visit to the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis was very educational for the committee.  We learned about the programs available to students from Dean Ron Rosati and enjoyed viewing the impressive facilities.  The quality and diversity of education, and the opportunity to easily transition to a four-year college, makes this institution vital to keeping young Nebraskans in the state.

The second day of our tour focused on oil wells and public power.  Former Senator Tom Baker showed the group an oil well and an injection well around the area of Trenton, and discussed the practices that are used to protect our drinking water.  We visited Southwest Public Power District in Palisade, where Manager Curtis Kayton and his staff showed the committee how it uses technology to provide service more efficiently.  The tour concluded with a visit to Gerald Gentlemen Station, Nebraska’s largest electric generating facility, which is owned by NPPD.  It’s amazing the expertise and coordination that is required to ensure reliable power is available for us.

On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank Jim Bendfeldt and Lyndon Vogt, with the Central Platte NRD, Kristen Gottschalk with Nebraska Rural Electric Association, Shirley Higgins with NPPD, and Curtis Kayton with Southwest Public Power District, and several other NRD, NPPD, NCTA, and rural electric folks for putting the tour together.  We were impressed with the knowledge and dedication of the employees we met at each tour stop.  Thank you for your work and for taking the time to educate us about what you do.

I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

In my last article I discussed one proposal that is being championed as property tax relief for all property tax payers in Nebraska. That plan would rebate 50% of your property taxes paid to support your local K/12 school district. The price tag is approximately one billion dollars. This amount of money will come from spending cuts, and some of it could be made up by removing some sales tax exemptions. I asked what my constituents thought of this plan. To everyone who talked to me or sent me an email, I want to say thank you. Most of the people who contacted me were willing to look at an expanded sales tax base in order to have property tax relief.

This week I want to explain another approach to tackling our property tax problem.  This plan involves putting in place a set of triggers that will automatically divert state income tax and sales tax revenues into the property tax relief fund. The state of Nebraska has a historical growth rate in tax revenue of about 5% annually. Under this proposal, any year that the state’s revenue grows by 3% or more that revenue would be diverted into the property tax relief fund to be distributed among all property tax payers. There would need to be a cap placed on the amount of repurposed revenue at 4.5%. If the state’s revenue growth exceeded 4.5% in a given year that money could be directed toward income tax relief or the expansion of state government. The appealing thing about this plan is that it does not cost the state any money until it is in the state’s coffers because of increased revenues. The reason we need to leave the first 3% is because it takes about that amount just to keep the state even with inflation.  A couple of the less appealing things about this plan are, it does not provide immediate property tax relief as the one discussed earlier nor does it provide property tax relief every year. As with the first property tax relief proposal, I am interested in what you think about this second idea.

On another property tax related issue. I often get questions about school land. School land is the real estate owned by the State of Nebraska for the benefit of educating our children. In prior articles I have explained how the school land came to be, how the income is generated, and how the money is divided among the counties and students.  But the question came up where does it show up on my schools’ income side of the ledger.  Of the two funds the Board of Educational Lands and Funds makes distributions from, the in-lieu of tax (real estate tax) monies goes directly to the county treasurer to be paid to the appropriate school districts. The second payment is made to the Department of Education Trust Fund; it is then distributed on a per pupil basis to every school district in the state, usually in February.

I have spent the entire summer traveling around the district going to county fairs and community celebrations, by far the most talked about issue is property taxes.  With the next legislative session set to begin in January, I have no doubt this issue will be front and center on the minds of most of my colleagues in the legislature. I have visited with many of my fellow Senators and a majority of them are hearing the same thing. We need property tax relief!

There are several ideas being floated on how to accomplish this. One, is the idea to provide for an income tax credit or refund of 50% of the real estate taxes you paid to support your local school district. K/12 Education accounts for roughly 60% of your total property tax bill. As an example, if you paid $1000 in property taxes and 60 % or $600 went to support your local school, you would be entitled to a $300 income tax credit or refund. This sounds great until you look at the price tag of $1,000,000,000, (ONE BILLION DOLLARS) or more. That is a lot of tax shifting! Of course everyone wants to cut their taxes but we will need to make up for at least a majority of that lost revenue from expansion of the sales tax base or the elimination of sales tax exemptions, because there is no appetite for raising income taxes. We are currently funding the Property Tax Relief Fund to the tune of around $240,000,000 per year. Therefore, we will need to come up with the balance through a combination of spending cuts and increased sales tax revenue. Another down side is if a school district knows that half of any budget increase will be paid for by state tax revenue and not local property taxes it could be very tempting for the local school board to increase their budget. Especially, if the potential of less criticism from the district property tax payers was a possibility.

The hope of the proponents of this solution is to push this plan through the legislature next session and deal with the consequences in following years. If they are unable to get it through the legislature they will try to take it to a vote of the people in next fall’s election. Who is going to vote against cutting their property taxes? This plan is aimed at cutting everyone’s property taxes not just agricultural property tax payers. I am curious to know what the people of the 44th District think about this plan. Are you willing to pay sales tax on food in order to get property tax relief? Are you willing to pay sales taxes on services like attorney fees, haircuts, accountants’ fees, beauty salon purchases, and repair parts for your machinery, car, or pickup truck?

In upcoming articles I will be informing you about other plans that are being floated as possible property tax relief proposals. As always I encourage your feedback on the topic of my columns. I will continue to be out and about in the district this fall or you can call my office in Lincoln at 402.471.2805 or you can email me at dhughes@leg.ne.gov.

On Friday, September 22, the Natural Resources Committee heard LR 125, which is an interim study to examine public power in Nebraska.  I introduced this study resolution as a follow up to the bills that were introduced during this year’s session relating to public power and the electricity market.  While the committee indefinitely postponed those bills, the committee assured the bills’ introducers that we would continue to look at the issues behind those bills.

During the LR 125 hearing on Friday we had testifiers from the Southwest Power Pool, the Nebraska Power Association, Americans for Electricity Choice, Nebraska Power Review Board and several members of the public. The testimony mainly focused on where we are as a public power state and what the changing electricity market may hold for the industry and more specifically for public power in Nebraska. Of course there is a wide variety of opinions and that was the main reason for the LR. It is important that the Natural Resources Committee hears from all sides so any decision we make will be sound and based on facts with the best interest of the majority of Nebraskans in mind.

Prior to the hearing, Senator Brewer asked the committee to allow people to speak about a bill he introduced this past session, LB 504, a bill that the committee did not take any action on during the session.  His request was granted and after invited testifiers spoke on LR 125 the committee opened up the hearing to anyone that wanted to testify on public power, the electricity market or LB 504.  LB 504 would impose a moratorium on industrial development of wind energy projects and would require a task force study.  This bill deals specifically with the sandhills regions of Nebraska.

I myself am not an advocate for industrial wind development, I believe reliability and affordability should be the most important factors when dealing with electricity. One of my primary concerns regarding a moratorium on wind development in the sandhills, is that it would be limiting the property rights of private landowners and telling industry, whatever it may be, that Nebraska is not a business friendly state.

I certainly appreciate everyone who attend the hearing and especially thank those who testified. Electricity in today’s market is complicated and it takes a very delicate balance to keep our lights on and the rates affordable. My hat is off to everyone in the power industry for the outstanding job they do, but I am committed to making sure we are always looking for ways to do it more efficiently while maintaining reliability.

I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other capitol events.

I would like to welcome Grant Latimer to the District 44 office. Grant will be serving as my Administrative Assistant. He is completing his degree at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in Advertising and Public Relations with graduation in December. Grant is replacing Gera Carstenson who will be continuing her career in Florida. My staff and myself are excited to have Grant on board, and look forward to what he will bring to our office.

Last week my colleague Joni Craighead announced that she will be resigning as the senator for the District 6 seat in Omaha. Joni stated how being a state senator has always been a difficult balance between family, business and legislative responsibilities. With recent circumstances within her family, she made the difficult decision to resign. The amount of time it can take to be an effective senator can be a challenge unless you are in a somewhat unique situation. Joni is a good friend and ally on many issues and it was a privilege to work with her. I’m sorry to see her go.

NioCorp, the company developing North America’s only niobium mining project near Elk Creek, Nebraska, held a town hall meeting this past Friday. As chair of the Natural Resources Committee, I’ve been following closely the potential of NioCorp’s niobium mine project. The potential impact for the State of Nebraska would be just short of 500 permanent jobs and around 1200 construction jobs. Once financing is secured, it will take four years for the project’s initial construction, before officially starting up. The potential revenue impact for Nebraska from the project and the jobs created is significant.  The initial direct and indirect capital is projected to cost over $1 billion dollars. Projects like this coupled with the Costco chicken plant in Fremont, Buffalo Genetics in Hays County, and Facebook in Papillion, are all signs Nebraska’s industrial economy is going well. Nebraska is also in the running for a Toyota car manufacturing plant. Although a long shot, it is still good to know we are at least being considered. All of these developments will help us be less dependent on agriculture and consequently the up and down cycles that all industries face time to time.

I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

If you know of a hardworking young person who will be in college in the Lincoln area during the spring 2018 semester and who has an interest in government, policy, politics, or administration, the legislature is currently selecting for Legislative Page Positions. Pages must be high school graduates currently enrolled in a Nebraska college or trade school with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, and able to work 20 hours a week from January through May 2018. It is a paid position and many Nebraska colleges offer credit for participating in the program, similar to an internship. The deadline to apply is September 28 and the Selection Committee will conduct interviews on October 13. We have had a few students from the 44th District who have done this in the past and I would encourage all college students to consider it. If you or someone you know might have an interest in participating, please contact my office.

This summer I have continued to stay busy with legislative work.  Last week in North Platte my interim study LR 160 was heard by the Urban Affairs Committee, the study included a review of current relocation incentives, a review of relocation incentives in other states, and an examination of provisions in the Constitution of Nebraska that could potentially limit the ability of the legislature to authorize additional relocation incentive options.  Currently, municipalities can use Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act (commonly referred to as LB 840) for relocation incentives for new residents.  Those statutes require that these relocation incentives must be provided in the form of a grant or loan to a qualifying business as defined in the act.

Earlier this week members of the Nebraska Justice System Special Oversight Committee and I visited the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln, the Lincoln Correctional Center and the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center.  We also attended a meeting with probation administration employees and then heard a presentation on the class action lawsuit that was filed by the ACLU.  On October 20, 2017, the committee will hold a public hearing on issues facing the Department of Corrections, Board of Parole and Office of Parole Administration. There is no easy fix to the problems we have in our correctional institutions but we will continue to look at all options.

I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.

Since my last article, I have received a few more questions about the R-Line and wanted to give some additional facts about the project, as well as further explain my position. There are two groups in the Sandhills, one is opposing wind development and the other is opposing the R-Line, both are small but enthusiastic.

Senator Brewer and I have sat down with NPPD and had some very frank discussions about all aspects of the R-Line Project and how we have arrived at this point. Probably one of the biggest complaints is why does the line have to go north to Thedford and then east to Holt County. Why can it not go across country north east and avoid a greater distance and much of the sandhills. First, if you think of our electric grid as a spider’s web you will see there is usually a main framework of structural threads with lots of smaller and shorter interconnected threads. Well, northern and eastern Nebraska is missing one of those main structural threads that would keep the entire web from collapsing during a peak demand period or a severe weather event. Another piece of the puzzle is that the Legislature, before my time, passed a law that transmission lines can only be built on the mile or half mile lines. This is sound legislation, but it does make it problematic to build a cross country transmission line in a diagonal direction. Another fact is that most of Nebraska’s major transmission lines run east and west along the platte river valley. By building the R-Project it completes a path for power to continue to serve customers between west and east if there is another ice storm or wind event that takes down the electric grid in that area.

If you review the record, you will find I was one of the few Senators who filibustered LB 824 in 2016. LB 824 is the bill that really opened the door for wind development. The problems I have with LB 504 have to do with personal property rights and local control. First, personal property rights are very important to me as a landowner. Having the government interfere with the use of my land is something that I take very seriously. However, by the same token I must also respect the rights of my neighbors to do with their property what they see is in their best interest. There are local zoning laws in place in most of Nebraska’s counties to help with the siting of developments in an area, and that is truly local control.

If the state stands in the way of wind development what is next, pipe lines, electric lines, golf courses, center pivots, etc…? There are a whole host of well-funded groups who are just looking for an opening to advance their agenda of stopping capitalism and taking away our personal property rights, in any way possible.

Sen. Dan Hughes

District 44
Room #1210
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2805
Email: dhughes@leg.ne.gov
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