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Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 47th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.
Sen. Steve Erdman
One of the complaints that I often here about the EPIC Option Consumption Tax has to do with the loss of local control. For example, the League of Municipalities held an informational meeting last week, where they complained about how the EPIC Option Consumption Tax eliminates local control. This was a false assumption. The EPIC Option Consumption Tax does not eliminate local control.
The pink postcards we all received recently in the mail were the result of a bill that passed in the Legislature called, “The Truth in Taxation Act.” In short, it means that it is true that your taxes will go up! The pink postcards are supposed to inform the people about a public hearing, but for many Nebraskans, the pink postcards arrived after the date of the public hearing. That was the case for me with one of my own properties. The hearing was scheduled for September 19 and I received the pink postcard on September 27.
Pink postcards need to be mailed out earlier. When pink postcards are mailed out in September, it is too late for local units of government to hear from the people. Budgets have already been passed, and hearings are treated as a mere formality. Instead, the people need to become part of the budgeting process and that can only happen when local units of government hear from the people before they pass their budgets. Therefore, the pink postcards need to be mailed out ahead of time and hearings need to take place while the budget is being crafted.
Property taxes seldom ever go down. There have been a few rare occasions when a local unit of government actually requested fewer tax dollars than they did the prior year, but that is a very rare exception to the rule.
Lobbyist organizations and farm groups like to dupe the public into believing they are getting property tax relief when they are not. For example, Southeast Community College (SCC) tried to raise their mill levy this year to the maximum amount allowable by law. They did this on top of the 15 percent increase in valuations on everyone’s property. My property taxes to SCC increased 29.5 percent! After a public hearing was held where more than 200 taxpayers complained, the SCC board decided not to raise the mill levy. Afterwards, several lobbyist organizations and a farm group praised SCC for keeping their mill levy the same. But what these groups failed to realize is that keeping the mill levy the same merely amounts to a decrease in the amount of everyone’s tax increase. In other words, the 15 percent increase everyone received on the valuation of their property means that everyone’s property taxes will go up despite the fact that SCC kept the mill levy the same.
Every pink postcard that was sent out was mailed by a local unit of government with local taxing authority. Not one state agency mailed a pink postcard. Why do people continue to believe that local control is the solution to their tax problems? Insanity is continuing to do what you’ve always done and expect different results. So, now I must ask, how is that local control working out for you?
Whenever you hear the phrase property tax relief that is almost always code for a decrease in the amount of your tax increase. I recently met with a County Commissioner in eastern Nebraska, who was boasting about how his county did not raise their mill levy. I asked if the county’s valuations had gone up? His answer was that they went up four percent. I then suggested that he raised taxes by four percent. He responded, “No we kept the mill levy the same.” So, I explained to him that people don’t pay their taxes in levies; they pay them in dollars. Because everyone’s overall property tax burden will go up, he effectively raised taxes on everyone in the county by keeping the mill levy the same.
One of the biggest problems facing states today is empire building. Empire building is the mentality of
growing governmental entities without regard for the best interests of the community or the interests of
private taxpaying citizens. Many managers of governmental entities and directors of state agencies view
their mission in terms of expanding the reach of their organization, and that is not good when it hurts
the community or affects the standard of living of their constituency. So, today I would like to expose
the latest example of this kind of empire building that is affecting folks living in Western Nebraska.
The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District (CNPPID) is a political subdivision of the State
of Nebraska which was created for the purpose of developing the state’s irrigation and electrical power
needs for those living in south-central Nebraska. However, they are also committed to building and
expanding their own empire. This is clearly evident through their own vision statement which reads in
part, “…by becoming a national and worldwide leader in the area of integrated water resource
management.” Missing from their mission and vision statements is any kind of commitment to fiscal
responsibility or frugality for the taxpayers.
Recently CNPPID purchased approximately 1,050 acres of land on the south side of Lake McConaughy in
Keith County for the purpose of shoreline erosion control. Purchasing this land by a political sub-division
of the State means that the property will soon be taken off of the tax rolls. Whenever properties are
taken off the tax rolls, it means that private landowners will have to make up the difference in lost tax
revenue. In other words, those living near Lake McConaughy will soon see their property taxes go up
even more. This is a problem because over the past seven years, I have received more phone calls
concerning out of control property taxes from folks living at or near Lake McConaughy than anywhere
else in Western Nebraska.
When asked why they purchased the land, CNPPID said it was for erosion control. CNPPID did not need
to purchase this land. CNPPID had already been given the rights to perform erosion control measures
along the shores of Lake McConaughy. They have had these rights ever since the reservoir was built,
and they have neglected erosion control ever since. So, citing erosion control is a bogus reason for
purchasing this land.
CNPPID purchased too much land. The land that CNPPID purchased may extend as far as one mile from
the shoreline of Lake McConnaughy. If erosion control was, indeed, the real reason for purchasing this
land, then CNPPID could have accomplished their stated goal of erosion control by negotiating with the
developer to purchase enough land along the shoreline for their erosion control measures. Had they
done this, some 900 acres could have remained for development.
When I spoke with CNPPID they suggested that they might sell the unused land. When was the last time
CNPPID ever sold land to a private owner? When I asked who would make the decision to sell the land,
the response I received was that the decision would have to be made by the board of directors. So I
suggested that the board of directors sell the unused land.
It is my understanding that CNPPID hired a third-party agent to bid on the land on their behalf. Had
CNPPID not outbid a private owner, the land could have been developed for private use, enhancing the
economy of Keith County. Instead, CNPPID bought the land for $5 million and will take the land off the
tax rolls. Part of the solution to solving these kinds of problems is the EPIC Option Consumption Tax,
which would eliminate property taxes altogether. If you have not already done so, please visit our
website at www.epicoption.org.
A pirate does three things with his treasure: He seeks more of it, he buries it for safe-keeping, and he fights off scallywags who are trying to steal it from him. Interestingly, these three jobs of a pirate describe events that happened last week. So, today I am going to tell you where America’s new treasure can be found, who is safe-guarding Nebraska’s treasure, and who is trying to steal your treasure and how you can prevent it.
On January 24, 1848 James W. Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill along the American River near Coloma, California. What followed was the California Gold Rush of 1849. While gold is still considered a precious metal and is still highly valued, the new gold of the 21st Century is lithium. Lithium is used to make batteries and as governments around the world continue to press for more green energy, the value of lithium continues to rise.
The old adage of “Go West, young man” has suddenly become true in America once again. Australia, Chile, and China have historically been the world’s top three leading producers of lithium, but all that is about to change because of the American West. Geologists have discovered an ancient super-volcano along the Nevada-Oregon border which they now believe contains the world’s largest single deposit of lithium. Researchers from Lithium Americas Corporation, GNS Science, and Oregon State University published their findings on August 31 in the Journal for Science Advances. That report found that the McDermitt Caldera, measuring 28 miles long and 22 miles wide, contains some 20 to 40 million metric tons of lithium worth an estimated $1.5 trillion. When mining begins in 2026, the USA will suddenly become the world’s leading producer of lithium.
Although states don’t bury their treasure, the person safe-guarding it matters. Nebraska now has a new State Treasurer. Gov. Jim Pillen announced last Thursday that he has appointed the State Senator representing Legislative District 41, Tom Briese of Albion, as Nebraska’s new State Treasurer. Sen. Briese is an excellent pick for this job. During his tenure in the Nebraska State Legislature, Sen. Briese proved himself to be a champion for property tax relief and tax policy reform. Appointing a strong fiscal conservative to this position was a good move by Governor Pillen; however, Sen. Briese’s boots will be hard to fill in the Legislature.
Sen. Briese has been the Chair of the Legislature’s Executive Board and has also held a seat on the Revenue Committee. The Executive Board supervises the Legislature and members of the Executive Board form the Reference Committee, which decides which committee bills get assigned to. Consequently, presiding over the Executive Board is viewed as a very prestigious and coveted position by many in the Legislature. The current vice chair, Sen. Raymond Aguilar of Grand Island, will take over operations of the Executive Board during the interim, but a replacement for Sen. Briese and a new chair will have to be voted on during the opening days of the legislative session next year. Sen. Briese will also have to be replaced on the Revenue Committee. Finally, Gov. Pillen will have to appoint a new State Senator to represent the people of Legislative District 41.
Finally, the scallywags of the 21st Century are today’s online scammers. Online scammers try to trick innocent and unsuspecting people into giving them money. Last week Nebraska’s Attorney General, Mike Hilgers, filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Nfluence and Kenneth Jason McCants of Memphis for scamming the public through fraudulent online ticket sales. More than 50 people paid $1,000 each for the promise of two luxury suite tickets, access to a Husker and social media validation by a former player as a fundraiser for charity, except that the monies raised never went to charity.
To guard against this kind of online theft, Nebraska’s Attorney General is asking the public to do three things when buying tickets online. First, Hilgers is advising Nebraskans to only buy tickets from reputable and verifiable online retailers and to avoid unsolicited offers to buy or sell tickets. Second, Hilgers is advising against the use of social media or third-party apps for paying for tickets; instead, Hilgers is advising members of the public to use a credit card when making these kinds of purchases. Third, Hilgers says to follow your instincts. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you do fall prey to an online scammer, please report it to the Attorney General.
Last month Gov. Jim Pillen put together a new task force to examine Nebraska’s workforce shortage. In predictable fashion, Gov. Pillen stacked the task force with those who continue to ignore Nebraska’s most pressing problem, namely the need for tax reform. Instead of choosing people who care about tax reform, those who were selected for the task force represent the most supportive of our state’s broken tax system. Besides state agencies, the task force will consist of representatives from the University of Nebraska system, the state college system, and the Nebraska Community College Association, all of which are institutions funded by tax dollars.
Nebraska’s labor shortage is a direct consequence of our broken tax system. Out of control property taxes is the number one factor that is causing people to leave our state. The fact of the matter is that the State of Nebraska is nearly surrounded on every side by states with better tax codes and better economies than Nebraska. Until those running our State begin to listen to the people of our State who pay the taxes rather than the institutions of our State which spend the tax dollars, will we never begin to take the first steps towards solving our labor shortage problem.
It is a fundamental mistake of governments to believe that they can somehow attract new workers. The power of governments to proactively attract new workers inevitably comes in the form of new kinds of grants, subsidies and incentive programs for laborers, which require even more tax dollars to implement, and any such government programs automatically cross the line into socialism. Consequently, whenever the government money runs out, so does the flow of new workers into the state. The bottom line is that government programs as such cannot provide any kind of long-lasting, meaningful solutions to our state’s labor shortage problems.
The one good thing that governments can do is to get out of the way. It is not the job of the state government to pay workers to move to Nebraska; instead, people will move to our state when they realize that Nebraska has a good economy with an affordable standard of living. According to the U.S. News and World Report, Nebraska ranks number 17 on the list of most affordable states to live in. More importantly, though, Iowa ranks number 6, South Dakota ranks number 8, Kansas ranks number 11, and Missouri ranks number 13. Only Wyoming, at number 18, and Colorado, at Number 43 rank behind Nebraska. Workers do not come to Nebraska because it is more affordable to live elsewhere.
Until the leaders of our state government come to this most basic understanding of economics, they will continue to fraternize with solutions which simply do not work and they will continue to squander our hard-earned tax dollars. For example, building more government subsidized workforce housing won’t cause people to move to Nebraska so long as they would be better off living and working in one of our neighboring states.
The best solution to Nebraska’s labor shortage problem is staring our politicians right in the face. The EPIC Option Consumption Tax would eliminate the state income tax, the state sales tax, the property tax, and the inheritance tax and replace these taxes with a consumption tax at a rate of 7.5 percent. Passing the EPIC Option Consumption Tax would make Nebraska the most tax friendly state as well as the most affordable state in America, and this is the right way to bring people to Nebraska.
The EPIC Option Consumption Tax would bring new workers and new opportunities to Nebraska. When the Beacon Hill Institute published their dynamic study of the EPIC Option Consumption Tax in February of this year, they determined that the population of Nebraska would grow by 1.9 percent in 2026 and by 2.3 percent in the year 2030. In addition, 47,154 new jobs would be created in 2026 and another 58,056 in 2030. Most importantly, though, Nebraska’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would grow by $23.25 billion in 2026 and by another $32.22 billion in 2030. Considering that Nebraska’s 2022 GDP was $123.54 billion, that amounts to more than 25 percent growth by 2030. So, the EPIC Option Consumption Tax would be a win for everyone. Even if Nebraska only experienced half of these growth rates, it would still give us the best economy in America. The EPIC Option Consumption Tax would grow our economy, keep senior citizens, students, and young families from leaving our state, stop the brain drain, and bring new skilled workers into our state.
Last week Riley Gaines came to Nebraska. Who is Riley Gaines? Riley Gaines is one of America’s most decorated female swimmers. Swimming for the University of Kentucky, she became a 12-time All-American as well as the SEC Female Scholar-Athlete of 2022. However, she has begun speaking around the country in support of women’s sports and against transgender athletes competing in women’s sports.
At the 2022 NCAA Swimming and Diving national championships Riley Gaines found herself having to compete against a certain biological male athlete in her events which were supposed to be reserved for female athletes. Riley Gaines tied for fifth place in the 200-meter freestyle event with a University of Pennsylvania swimmer, Lia Thomas, a transgender athlete. Then, Thomas beat her in the 500-meter freestyle race, becoming the NCAA champion. Afterwards, Gaines filed a formal protest which seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Biological males participating in women’s sports as transgender athletes has now become a big problem for female athletes all across America. Many female athletes have now expressed that they are becoming disillusioned and disenfranchised from competing because of this new movement that is overtaking women’s sports.
For example, Andraya Yearwood is a transgender athlete who took first place in the women’s 100-meter dash and took first place again in the 200-meter dash during a track meet competing against two other high schools in April of 2017. Later that same year, on June 4, 2017, at the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference state championships, Yearwood finished second behind another transgender athlete in the women’s 100- meter dash.
Because there are obvious biological differences between male and female athletes, several states have begun taking action to prohibit biological males from participating in women’s sports. Nebraska is one of those states. Last year, Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha, introduced LB 575, a bill known as the Sports and Spaces Act. The bill would require athletes to compete in sports according to the sex assigned to them at birth and as recorded on their birth certificate. The bill would also prohibit transgender youths from using bathrooms and locker rooms which do not match the sex assigned to them at birth.
Although Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood, a co-signer of the bill, declared it as his 2023 personal priority bill, the bill never advanced out of committee nor did it get debated on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature this year. Therefore, Sen. Kauth, who introduced the bill, announced to a crowd of approximately 1000 people while speaking at an event with Riley Gaines in Omaha on August 27, 2023 that she will declare LB 575, the Sports and Spaces Act, as her personal priority bill for next year.
The legislative road ahead for Sen. Kauth’s bill is certain to be an uphill climb. I say this because ten dilatory motions and amendments have already been filed on the bill by Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, which are all designed to kill it should it ever reach the floor for debate. Nevertheless, last year the State Legislature passed LB 574, the Let them Grow Act, a bill which prevents physicians from performing gender altering procedures on youths under the age of 19, so it may be possible to pass this kind of legislation again next year.
Dr. Gregory A. Brown is an exercise science professor at the University of Nebraska. Dr. Brown affirms that transgender athletes hold a tremendous advantage over biological women in athletics. According to Dr. Brown, in 2017 more than 5,000 biological male runners recorded 400-meter times faster than Sanya Richards-Ross and Allyson Felix, two of our best U.S. Olympic gold medalists in the same event. Dr. Brown also points out how research has shown that such things as bone size and configuration cannot be altered by puberty blockers and hormone therapy.
For reasons such as these, common sense says that biological males should not be allowed to compete in women’s sports as transgender athletes. Women should not be forced to compete against men, and the time has come to put an end to this practice. I readily co-signed LB 575 last year and I look forwarding to supporting it again in 2024.
Last week the South Carolina State Supreme Court upheld that state’s new law banning abortions after the sixth week of gestation. Bill’s which ban abortions after the sixth week are known as heartbeat bills because that is when a baby’s heartbeat is normally first detected. Writing for the majority, Justice John Kittredge said that while the new law infringes on a woman’s right of privacy and bodily autonomy, the South Carolina Legislature had reasonably determined this time that “interest of the unborn child to live” outweighs the interest of the mother. I wholeheartedly agree.
After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, decisions about abortion were returned to the individual states. Several states, including Nebraska, introduced legislation this year further restricting abortions. Earlier this year the Nebraska State Legislature passed a bill, which lowered the threshold on legal abortions from 20 weeks of gestation down to 12 weeks of gestation. The original version of the bill (LB 626) was a heartbeat bill, which called for a six-week ban on abortions, but it failed to advance. For a while it looked like the bill would never pass.
Because of the constant filibustering of bills this year by a small minority of Senators in the Unicameral Legislature, State Senators began amending their bills into other bills, creating what are called omnibus bills or Christmas tree bills. That is what happened to the heartbeat bill. The contents of the heartbeat bill were amended into LB 574 with AM 1658, changing the threshold from six weeks to 12 weeks. LB 574 is known as the Let Them Grow Act, a bill which prohibits physicians from performing gender altering procedures on individuals under the age of 19, and that bill passed on a vote of 33-15. This action of amending the heartbeat bill into LB 574 is what is now being challenged in the courts.
One week after Gov. Pillen signed LB 574 into law on May 22, 2023 the ACLU of Nebraska sued the State of Nebraska on behalf of Planned Parenthood and requested a temporary injunction to prevent the new law from being enforced. The argument presented by the ACLU was that the omnibus bill or the Christmas tree bill that was created by amending the contents of the heartbeat bill into LB 574 violated Article III, Section 14 of the Nebraska State Constitution. That section of the constitution says, “No bill shall contain more than one subject…” In other words, the ACLU argued that the two bills address two distinct and separate subjects. For example, Mindy Rush Chipman, the executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska recently said that “State senators combined unrelated restrictions into a single bill in their rush to take away Nebraskans’ rights.”
The 12-week abortion ban has now survived the first round of appeals in the courts. On August 11 the District Court dismissed the lawsuit and ruled in favor of the omnibus bill or the Christmas tree bill known as LB 574. Lancaster County District Court Judge, Lori Maret, ruled that combining the two bills did not violate the single subject rule contained in the Nebraska State Constitution because all of the regulations contained within the bill fall under the general category of health care.
Following the District Court’s decision, the ACLU of Nebraska immediately filed an appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court, who will have the final say in the matter just as the South Carolina Supreme Court settled the matter once and for all for the residents of South Carolina last week.
How the high court rules on this case could have enormous ramifications for Nebraskans. If the high court sides with the lower District Court, abortions will be banned after the 12th week of gestation. However, if the high court decides that the single subject rule was violated, then all of the other omnibus bills or Christmas tree bills that the Legislature has passed would be in jeopardy of also being declared unconstitutional.
Finally, I would like to express my utter disgust and contempt for last week’s arrest of our former U.S. president, Donald J. Trump. The arrest was made for purely political reasons. Trump has never been convicted of a crime, has never gone to jail, and it has never been shown that he stole an election. The arrest was intentionally made one day after the Republican presidential debate in order to publicly humiliate him and to allow the media to broadcast his mug shot all over the USA and all around the world. It is past time for Republicans to speak out on this matter and to condemn this two tiered system of justice, which targets political opponents for purely political purposes. If they can do this to Donald Trump, then they can also do this to us.
Whenever it comes to delivering on property tax relief for the good, hardworking citizens of Nebraska, governmental entities with tax asking authority always seem to find ways to shut it down, and that is exactly what is happening in Nebraska again this year. Today I would like to inform you about how the Nebraska Department of Education is undermining the Legislature’s efforts to provide property owners with some much-needed property tax relief this year.
Earlier his year Sen. Tom Briese of Albion introduced LB 589, which became known as the School District Property Tax Limitation Act. The Legislature amended this Act into LB 243, passed the bill, and Governor Pillen signed it into law on May 31, 2023. LB 243 put a cap on each school district’s revenue growth. This was done with the intention of giving property owners some much-needed property tax relief. However, a provision in the bill allows school districts to exceed their property tax authority whenever 70 percent of the school board members agree to do so.
Because school districts all across Nebraska will soon have their revenue growth capped, they are becoming nervous about the future. As a result, Bryce Wilson, a fiscal analyst for the Nebraska Department of Education, has begun suggesting to superintendents and business managers across the State to consider this provision in the bill. As a result, some school boards have begun the process of allowing them to use the unused property tax authority granted to them under LB 243.
Summerland is one such school district. The business manager for the Summerland School District told the members of his school board at a recent school board meeting that Bryce Wilson had suggested that the school district consider adjusting their property tax authority. So, the school board took the first step in this process by voting to make LB 243’s seven percent threshold in the tax levy available to them, and the school board will soon be voting on whether or not to actually raise the tax levy. Because of this provision in the law, it has now become incumbent upon concerned taxpayers all across Nebraska to begin attending their school board’s monthly meetings.
Nebraska State law (NSS 79-1027) puts restrictions on how much money school districts can stash away in their cash reserves. However, schools have found other ways of getting around these restrictions. For example, extra cash can be stored in funds which are not connected to the school district’s general fund or the general cash reserve fund, thereby skirting the restrictions in the law, and that is what I expect some of them will do. Bryce Wilson has only been suggesting that school districts take advantage of their unused tax asking authority when it is actually needed.
Helping property owners and taxpayers survive during hard economic times is not something which falls within the scope of the Department of Education.
Many governmental entities with tax asking authority have demonstrated over the years a gross negligence in caring about the plight of property owners and taxpayers, especially during hard economic times, and this is a major reason why I introduced the EPIC Option Consumption Tax. The EPIC Option Consumption Tax would solve the problem of governmental entities taxing you beyond your ability to pay. In other words, the EPIC Option Consumption Tax plan contained in LB 79 would finally force these governmental entities to live within their revenue means, and this is the only way that Nebraskans will ever be able to solve this difficult problem.
As long as we continue to live with our current, broken tax system, governmental entities with tax asking authority will continue to abuse the system and over-tax the people, and that just might prove to be a blessing in disguise. As my high school FFA adviser told me this week, “Taxes are not yet high enough for tax reform.” What he meant by that statement is that tax reform will not come to Nebraska until enough Nebraskans finally come to the conclusion that they can no longer pay their taxes. Sign the petition!
Are Nebraska’s elections fair, accurate, and transparent? To answer this question, concerned citizens must consider how Nebraska counts its ballots in statewide elections. Nebraska uses ES&S vote counting machines to count its ballots during statewide elections. ES&S stands for a company called Elections Systems & Software. Understanding how these ES&S vote counting machines work is critical for answering these crucial questions about the integrity of our elections.
The use and accuracy of vote counting machines have come under attack ever since Stacey Abrams lost her 2018 gubernatorial race to Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Secretary of State, who conducted the election, and Donald Trump, who lost the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden. In addition, when Fox News in April of this year agreed to pay Dominion, another manufacturer of vote counting machines, $787 million in order to avert a defamation lawsuit, the settlement left more questions than answers and further raised suspicions about the use of these vote counting machines.
There is a lot of important information that citizens who are concerned about the integrity of our elections need to know about our state’s use of vote counting machines and that information is not being made available for public viewing. So, today I would like to update readers about some recent developments regarding our use of ES&S vote counting machines.
Christopher Gleason recently invoked the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on behalf of The Justice Society in order to request Audit Logs from ES&S. An Audit Log is like the little black box on an airplane. The Audit Logs record every action and every event that ever occurs when using a vote counting machine. If any nefarious activity ever occurs, the Audit Logs would catch it and make a record of it.
ES&S is not releasing important ballot counting information to the public. ES&S denied the FOIA request filed by Christopher Gleason on the grounds that releasing the Audit Logs could compromise the security of future elections. In responding to the FOIA request, ES&S said, “The Logs should additionally be protected from disclosure as the Logs contain sensitive information that if publicized could provide a roadmap to bad actors to attempt to compromise your ES&S voting system.”
Concerned citizens do not need to know any sensitive information which would compromise the integrity of future elections; instead, they merely need enough information from the Audit Logs to ensure that past election results have never been compromised or tampered with and ES&S has the capability to release this this kind of information to the public with ease. For example, ES&S machines can be told to print election summaries and precinct reports without compromising sensitive data. In fact, ES&S advertises the ease of this function as a major selling point on its website: “The DS200 generates a detailed audit log of all actions and events that occurred on the unit, which can be printed at any time.”
Without a mechanism of transparency to hold election officials accountable for the results of elections, suspicion will likely continue to grow around the use of these vote counting machines. Concerned citizens in Nebraska have now been backed into a corner and are being asked to believe the good word of ES&S.
What many Nebraskans don’t know is that Nebraska has just committed itself to using these ES&S vote counting machines for the next seven years. Nebraska’s Assistant Secretary of State, Wayne Bena, recently signed a contract with ES&S for $15,746,546.10 for use of the machines over the course of the next seven years. What this means is that any desire to move to hand counting ballots will be off the table for the next seven years.
Earlier this year I introduced legislation that would have required Nebraskans to show a photo ID when voting at the polls, required the use of paper ballots, and required ballots to be counted by hand at the precinct level during statewide elections. Counting ballots by hand is how we used to count ballots in Nebraska, so it can be done. Had the Legislature adopted these methods, we could have averted all of the controversies that will continue to surround the use of these ES&S vote counting machines for the next seven years.
Last week Nebraska State Senators learned that the federal Bureau of Land Management will soon begin enacting the Buffalo Resource Management Plan in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. This means that a moratorium is being placed on the mining of coal in that region because the lands are federally owned. In their attempt to go green, the Biden Administration is refusing to renew lease agreements in the Powder River Basin, which supplies roughly 40 percent of the nation’s demand for coal.
This decision will have a direct effect on folks living in Western Nebraska. To give you some perspective, consider that the Gerald Gentleman Station, located along State Highway 25 in Sutherland, Nebraska, supplies electricity to approximately 600,000 Nebraskans using clean, low-sulfur coal from the Powder River Basin. Because Nebraska relies so heavily upon coal from this region for its energy needs, 19 Nebraska State Senators signed a letter last week to the project manager, asking him not to move forward with the moratorium or any other prohibitions against coal mining in the Powder River Basin.
Nebraska, along with many other states, cannot afford to go without coal. Recall that during the winter of 2021, Midwestern states experienced a unique weather event which shut down power lines and caused rolling blackouts from North Dakota all the way down to Texas. Wind turbines as far away as Texas froze and natural gas was in short supply. Without coal, the winter of 2021 would have been much worse.
Renewal energy alone cannot supply Nebraskans with energy on demand. Wind turbines produce energy only when the wind is blowing and solar panels produces energy only when the sun shines. There is currently no efficient way to store wind and solar energy, so going completely green would result in untimely black outs. Because it takes a few hours to get a coal plant fired up, wind and solar can only supplement our reliance on coal, that is, so long as we value having our energy on demand.
Renewable energy is also inefficient. What makes renewal energy so inefficient is its energy density. Energy density is how you measure energy, such as by volume, weight, or area. When it comes to energy density, renewable energy comes out much lower than traditional energy sources. Because renewable energy sources also require some kind of storage, they represent the most inefficient ways of producing energy.
Renewable energy can be very expensive to transmit. In cases where electricity generated from wind or solar has to be transmitted long distances to a population center, such as in the Nebraska Sandhills, the costs associated with energy transmission are very high. For this reason, former State Senator, Mike Groene, once famously remarked on the radio that the City of Lincoln needed to put a wind turbine on the 50-yard line at Memorial Stadium. The point is that wind energy become much less expensive to transmit when it is generated near a population center, but the people living in the cities do not want the noise pollution nor do they want to look at the wind turbines.
I share these things with you today in order to alert you to the green policies of the Biden Administration which are now threatening Nebraska’s power needs. A responsible energy plan would be one that meets Nebraska’s needs for energy on demand, respects the pocket books of those who pay the energy bills, and one that does not leave Nebraska vulnerable to another winter storm like the one we experienced in 2021.
High School shop classes are beginning to make a comeback. For those of us over the age of 50 shop classes were considered a high school staple, but many high schools have since retired these classes and switched to technology classes. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, this trend of students taking fewer credits in shop classes started in the 1990s. The result of students taking fewer shop classes over the years is that demand has now gone up for people working in trade industries, such as electricians, plumbers, welders and building contractors.
Nebraska does not fair well when it comes to supporting skilled workers in these kinds of trades. For example, Nebraska ranks 41 out of the 50 states for the best places for electricians to work. The average income of an electrician in Nebraska is only $40,237 according to Zippia. Nebraska is home to 2,810 plumbing companies, but Iowa has 3,326 companies, Kansas has 3,371, and Colorado has 5,457. So, Nebraska needs to improve in this area.
The primary reason that people avoid the trades is the desire to obtain a college degree. According to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, those who graduate with a bachelor’s degree still have an 84 percent higher earning potential than those with only a high school diploma. Obtaining that bachelor’s degree usually results in a wage increase of $36,000 or more.
The tide is beginning to turn in favor of those working in the skilled trades. According to the most recent JOLTS report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings in the skilled trades climbed during the months of April and May even though overall job openings declined. Demand for workers in the skilled trades is increasing, and when demand goes up, so do the wages.
Now might be a good time to consider training for a job in one of the skilled trade industries. Consider the fact that the Regents at the University of Nebraska this year had to face a $27 million budget deficit for next year. To make up for the loss President Ted Carter decided to increase student tuition by 3.5 percent. In-state tuition and fees at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL) will run $10,108 for the next academic school year. After you add in food, housing, personal expenses, books, supplies, and loan fees, the grand total for the year is $28,594.
Going into a skilled trade has the potential to give students a big head-start in life as an adult. For example, instead of paying back $100,000 or more in student loans along with interest, a students could get trained in a skilled trade for a fraction of that amount and become debt free in just a few short years. For example, a student at Western Nebraska Community College attends school for only two years at $106.50 per credit hour compared to $268 per credit hour at UNL.
The growing demand for skilled trade workers is already beginning to benefit those working in the industry. For example, Tyler Sasse was a high school dropout who became certified as a welder and started his own welding school in Gillette, Wyoming called the Western Welding Academy. Nolan Brunn, who is only 22-years old, recently graduated from Western Welding Academy, and he is now making $30 per hour and up to $70,000 per year as a certified welder. Not bad for someone with only a trade school degree.