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As I sit by the fire with pen and paper in hand, reflecting on the events of the past year, gratitude and thanksgiving well up within me because of the tremendous opportunity I’ve had to serve the people of Legislative District 47. It truly is an honor and a privilege to represent all ten counties of Legislative District 47 in the Nebraska Legislature. The people of Western Nebraska truly are the salt of the earth.
Although it was a very tough session for passing any kind of legislation, I did manage to get one bill passed into law this year. LB 17 was signed into law by Governor Ricketts on March 21, 2018. LB 17 updates the Nebraska Appraisal Management Company Registration Act for compliance with Title XI of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforce Act of 1989. Without this bill Nebraskans would not have been able to sell any real estate this year.
The biggest disappointment of the year, of course, came when Reform for Nebraska’s Future decided to pull the plug on our citizen-led ballot initiative for property tax relief. However, I believe fear of that petition drive caused legislators in Lincoln to act with a higher degree of fiscal restraint than they otherwise would have. Nevertheless, we have since begun a new ballot initiative for property tax relief, and much like the last petition drive with paid petition handlers, our new petition drive, staffed only with an army of volunteers, is practically signing itself. This ballot initiative is identical to the resolution for a Constitutional Amendment that I will introduce in January; it will allow every Nebraska property owner to claim thirty five percent of their property tax bill as a credit or refund on their Nebraska State Income Tax Return.
Although Governor Ricketts and I did not see eye-to-eye on agricultural land valuation reform this past year, I believe that is changing. There is hope for the future. 2019 may become the year that we finally change the way we value agricultural land from the current market based system to a productivity based system. I have been collaborating with the Governor’s office, and I have also been working with experts in the field in order to write a better bill. My hope is that we can pass an even better bill into law next year.
As you may recall, instead of voting for property tax relief in November, Nebraskans voted in favor of Medicaid expansion. Consequently, the Appropriations Committee of the Nebraska Legislature will be searching for new ways to fund it next year. I expect the cost to be much higher than the $33 million originally projected by the Legislative Fiscal Office and the Department of Health and Human Services. Coupled with the fact that we have only 27 operational days of revenue left in our savings, State legislators simply won’t be able to pass any bills with hefty fiscal notes again this year. Instead, Senators as well as the heads of State agencies should be looking for ways to cut spending. The day of our fiscal reckoning will come shortly after we all hang our new calendars on the wall. Nebraska must finally get its fiscal house in order, and that process simply cannot happen without some pain and discomfort for some.
Especially as we consider the needs of those most in need of medical services, let us also be reminded of the poor and humble conditions upon which the Christ child was to be born: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn,” Luke 2:6-7. Although Christ had a humble beginning, he has the power to bless each one of us today. Therefore, my prayer is that God will richly bless you in the New Year. Until then, Merry Christmas!