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Sometimes working in the State Legislature is like trying to give a dog a bath. You know the dog needs it because he stinks, but the dog only wants to jump out of the tub. In a similar way, sometimes in the State Legislature you need to kill a bad bill because it stinks, but others insist that the odor isn’t so bad.
Such is the case with just about any bill in the State Legislature which contains a sunset clause. Killing a bill with a sunset clause is like trying to give a dog a bath. State Senators seldom ever allow a bill to sunset. Instead, lobbyists working for that organization are very skillful at convincing lawmakers to extend the date.
Such has been the case with LB177. LB177 is a bill which extends the date for the bonding authority of the Papio Missouri River Natural Resource District (NRD) out to December 31, 2024. Back in 2009 the Legislature set the bonding authority for this NRD to sunset at the end of 2019. Instead of allowing their bonding authority to sunset, though, Senators in the State Legislature are insisting on extending it out for yet another five years. Consider that a 30 year bond issued in 2024 would bind taxpayers until the year 2054.
I am not against NRDs. We need the NRDs to manage our natural resources for us, and for the most part they do a very fine job. However, allowing the bonding authority to sunset for the Papio Missouri River NRD would have no adverse effects. This NRD would retain its right to raise its mill levy to as much as 4.5 cents when needed. However, just like all other departments in the state government, the Papio Missouri River NRD needs to learn how to live within its means.
The Papio Missouri River NRD includes Douglas, Sarpy, Thurston, and Washington counties. Altogether there are 23 NRDs in the state, but 33 percent of all property taxes collected by these NRDs goes to the Papio Missouri River NRD. The Papio Missouri River NRD increases their revenues by four to seven percent every year mostly because their property values continue to go up every year. When those running the Papio Missouri River NRD brag about not raising their mill levy, they conveniently leave out the fact that their mill levy has remained steady at 3.794 cents for several years and that their valuations keep going up. In their twisted way of thinking, taxing residents at the same exorbitant rate they have for years somehow means they are not over-taxing the people.
The Papio Missouri River NRD is also the most mismanaged NRD in the State. For instance, a dam they once built for flood control has no stream, creek or river running into it, and they have to pump water into the reservoir in order to keep it full. Moreover, they have sold lots around this same dam ranging from $90,000 – $600,000. Finally, when the manager of the Papio Missouri River NRD applied for disaster relief from FEMA, he never bothered to ask all of the board members for approval. Instead, he only asked six out of the eleven board members for approval.
As you can see, it is difficult for me as a lawmaker to support the idea of extending the bonding authority of the Papio Missouri River NRD when it is so poorly managed. Furthermore, two of the board members of the Papio Missouri River NRD have admitted openly that they would have plenty of money to run the NRD if their bonding authority was allowed to sunset this year.
So, when LB177 came up on the floor for debate, I tried to kill it with amendments and a bracket motion. However, no matter how hard I tried to keep that puppy in the tub, I could never get more than nine votes to do so. For some strange reason, not enough Senators in the Norris Chamber that day could smell what I was smelling. So, they advanced the bill to Final Reading by a vote of 34-9.