NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Steve Erdman

Sen. Steve Erdman

District 47

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at serdman@leg.ne.gov

 

The following is an abridged version of a Memorial Day speech I delivered in Alliance and Hemmingford:

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died while serving our country. Today we enjoy the blessings of liberty, but freedom is never free. It was earned by the valor, bravery, and sacrifice of millions of veterans who have fought our wars from the War for Independence to the current War on Terror. Their selfless service and sacrifice continues to be an inspiration to all of the citizens of our great nation.

On December 28, 2000 Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act out of a concern that Memorial Day was losing its significance among our nation’s youth. Congress passed the Act in order “to reclaim Memorial Day as the sacred and noble event that that day is intended to be.”

May we never forget those soldiers who bought our liberty by paying for it with the full price of their lives. Therefore, I encourage you to take the opportunity this Memorial Day to remember those who gave their most precious possession of all in order to secure your freedom. I hope you will remember to pause at 3:00 p.m. for a moment of silence in order to pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God and to honor our fallen heroes.

The early patriots of our country were mostly uneducated farmers who set out to win what many considered to be an unwinnable war against the British. During those days a simple call rang out throughout the countryside: “Go to the bridge!” These minutemen understood that an important strategy for winning against the overwhelming forces of the Red Coats was to hold the bridges and keep the enemy out of the open fields. And so it was at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts. In order to hold that bridge, they had to ban together as one united force and take a bold stand against the king’s armies. Then, as Ralph Waldo Emerson would later write, a shot rang out which was heard around the world, and all of world history pivoted at that moment in time.
The situation in America today is no different than it was back in the days of the Revolutionary War. We must continue to unite together as one force against our common foe. The call to “Go to the bridge!” is essentially the same today as it was 243 years ago at the Battle of Concord. The only things which have really changed are the identity of our enemy, their tactics of terror, and the size and quality of our weapons.

Therefore, let us not take lightly our call to action to keep America as the greatest nation on earth. We must continue to defend our republic. May we hearken the cry of our Founding Fathers to never allow our great freedoms to be taken from us. Today and every day we must remember those who have taken the bullet on our behalf that we may continue to enjoy our God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But, let us also ready ourselves to take up this noble cause and advance it forward. On this very sacred holiday, let us be reminded of the words that President George W. Bush spoke on September 20, 2001 following the collapse of the twin towers in New York City: “We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire; we will not falter; we will not fail.”

 

 

Reducing the cost of prescription drugs is something that greatly concerns me, especially because I serve on the Legislature’s Health & Human Services committee. Many of us have heard about how much cheaper prescription drugs are in Canada compared to the United States, and I occasionally get asked the question about what can done legislatively to import these drugs from Canada. Well, now there is some hope out on the horizon. So, today I would like to report about what is being done to make prescription drugs from Canada available to customers in the United States.

The State of Vermont is now leading the way. Last Wednesday Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont signed a bill which could soon make Canadian drugs available to the citizens of Vermont. The citizens of Vermont won’t have immediate access to these Canadian drugs, though. This is because the new law directs the Agency of Human Services, Vermont’s version of a Health & Human Services committee, to design a workable program by January 1, 2019. The program would designate a wholesaler, certified by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, who would import and distribute the drugs to pharmacies around the state. The drugs would also have to pass FDA standards for safety and effectiveness. Unfortunately, citizens from other states won’t be allowed to purchase any of these drugs.

Does all of this sound just too good to be true? Well, maybe. There are still a number of hurdles that lawmakers in Vermont will need to clear before access to Canadian drugs can become a reality in their state. Standing directly in their way is the federal government.

The biggest hurdle to clear is the federal government of the United States. Just because lawmakers in Vermont made a new law does not mean that the feds would have to play along. For instance, there is no mandate requiring the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to certify Vermont’s wholesaler, nor is there any mandate requiring the FDA to approve Canadian drugs for sale anywhere in the United States.

The origin of the drugs is another problem. The feds worry that a wholesaler would have no way of verifying that the drugs were actually manufactured in Canada instead of some other country such as China or Mexico. Add into the mix the current opioid crises, and you can see why the feds are wary about Vermont’s new law. Because the Canadians currently do not manufacture enough drugs to supply every pharmacy in America, the feds worry about the threat of non-Canadian, foreign-made drugs crossing our borders.

When he campaigned for President, Donald Trump talked about importing drugs from Canada and railed against the profits of the pharmaceutical companies. However, when President Trump released his plan for lowering the cost of prescription drugs earlier this month, it did not include a plan for importing drugs from Canada.

Americans pay more for prescription drugs than any other country in the world. The average American spent $1,162 for prescription drugs in 2015, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. By way of comparison, citizens in the United Kingdom paid only $497. That’s less than half of what we paid!

Be assured that lawmakers in Nebraska are keeping an eye on Vermont. If Vermont succeeds in obtaining these Canadian drugs, you can expect other states to follow suit. The bottom line, though, is that the price of prescription drugs for sale in America must come down. For many of us, our lives depend upon it!

 

At the Nebraska Legislature I serve as the chairman of a special committee known as the Building Maintenance Committee. The Building Maintenance Committee is an oversight committee which oversees the work of the 309 Task Force. The 309 Task Force does deferred renewal work on our various state buildings.

On May 1 we held a meeting of the Building Maintenance Committee at Chadron State College. During the meeting we discussed the various projects that the 309 Task Force will be working on over the course of the next few months. Most of the projects that the 309 Task Force will be taking on this month will take place right here in Nebraska’s Panhandle.

In the coming days, the 309 Task Force will doing many renewal projects at Chadron State College. That work will include the installation of a new fire sprinkler system at their recently completed heating plant, a fire hydrant replacement, and a new roof for the Armstrong Sports Complex. Inside the library, the 309 Task Force will replace lighting, replace windows, and remodel the restrooms in order to make them compliant with the 2010 standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Those of us living in the Panhandle appreciate the fact that we don’t have to send our students far away to attend college. By completing these renewal projects at Chadron State College, we will hopefully make the campus better for those who are currently enrolled and attract more students to study in Western Nebraska.

The 309 Task Force will also do some much needed renewal work at Chadron State Park. At the Trading Post, for example, the 309 Task Force will do some foundation repair work and remodel the restrooms in order to make them ADA compliant. The 309 Task Force will also upgrade cabins 101-106 in order to make them ADA compliant.

Chadron State Park is our state’s Garden of Eden. It did not take much thought by our forefathers nearly 100 years ago to make the decision that Chadron State Park should become our state’s first state park. Those who have traversed the 100 miles of trails throughout the park by way of hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding can testify to the beauty of the landscape. Chardon State Park’s natural beauty is the byproduct of several buttes and canyons which meander throughout Nebraska’s Pine Ridge.

The work that the 309 Task Force is starting this month at Chardon State Park will help to ensure that those with disabilities will also be able to take in the natural beauty of the park and that all visitors to the park will want to return someday. If you have never visited Chadron State Park, make it a point to do so this year. You won’t regret it!

Straight Talk From Steve…

April 27th, 2018

 

Today we three Nebraska State Senators, Sen. Steve Erdman, Sen. Tom Brewer, and Sen. Steve Halloran, would like to express our disapproval of the recent anti-gun protests by certain faculty members from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL). Following the incident last fall regarding UNL’s English Professor Amanda Gailey and English Graduate Teaching Assistant Courtney Lawton, who together harassed sophomore student Kaitlyn Mullen, as she tabled for Turning Point USA, we advised the university’s administration to develop a code of conduct for the faculty. UNL has established a code of conduct for the students, but no such code of conduct exists for the professors and staff. We three have maintained from the beginning that the incident that happened last fall was a conduct issue, not a free speech issue, although free speech continues to be a problem for the University.

The conduct of UNL’s radicalized professors continue to spiral out of control because the administration refuses to deal with the issue. Once again radical professors at UNL have made national headlines because of their inappropriate and illegal behavior, and their unhinged conduct will only continue to grow worse until the administration decides to do something about it.

Earlier this month Amanda Gailey staged an anti-gun protest in front of the private home of Chris Cox, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association (NRA). Gailey coordinated her protest to coincide with a court date set for Patricia Hill, a UNL Sociology research professor, who had earlier been charged by police in Alexandria, Virginia for using red spray paint to mimic blood as she vandalized the Cox’s home in October 2017 and again in January 2018. Gailey harassed Cox, along with his wife and children, as she demonstrated in front of their home with a sign which read, “NRA Chris Cox profits off dead kids.” Hill is scheduled to appear in court again in Alexandria, Virginia on May 21 to face another Class 1 misdemeanor charge.

Propriety, civility and respect for opposing viewpoints used to be the hallmarks of a good education at UNL. But, progress in civil discourse is more easily undone than achieved. For instance, Charles Henry Oldfather, for whom Oldfather Hall near Memorial Stadium is named, once said: “Truly the history of mankind shows that the steep climb from barbarism is 5000 years up and five minutes back.”

Professors are supposed to be models of right behavior. But, instead of modeling propriety, civility, and respect for opposing viewpoints these UNL professors have pushed the envelope of acceptable conduct out to include illicit behavior. These radicalized professors are incapable of respecting any point of view other than their own, and civility is precisely the value they aim to shatter. For instance, in an attempt to justify her inappropriate protesting in front of Cox’s private residence, Gailey told the Washington Post that “People need to stop treating these predatory, sick people like they’re just a neighbor.”

Whether University President Hank Bounds or Chancellor Ronnie Green will admit it or not does not negate the fact that these radicalized professors now represent the values of the University of Nebraska system. These radical professors have now become the face of the University of Nebraska to the rest of the state, to the rest of the country, and even to the rest of the world. Although Gailey and Hill hardly represent the values shared by the majority of Nebraskans, their inappropriate and illicit behavior now reflects what the University of Nebraska system tolerates as acceptable faculty conduct. For instance, in response to their protests, Leslie Reed, a UNL spokesman, dismissed the behavior of Gailey and Hill by saying, “They did this on their own time and were expressing their own beliefs and it really has nothing to do with the University.” We beg to differ.

Ask yourself this question: “Would my job permit me to engage in this kind of behavior?” If not, then the behavior of Gailey and Hill is undermining what Oldfather once valued as the functionality of a liberal education. By functionality, Oldfather meant that a liberal education should set up university students to succeed on the job. Because the administration refuses to confront the issue of faculty conduct, we believe the University of Nebraska is now setting up students to fail in the real world where conduct matters.

Straight Talk From Steve…

April 20th, 2018

 

LB496 allows new construction of workforce housing to be eligible for Tax Increment Financing (TIF). On the final day of the Legislative session I tried to kill LB496 because I knew how it would raise property taxes. The Nebraska State Legislature passed LB496 over and against my objections to the bill. There were several reasons to oppose this bill and I would like to share some of those reasons today, but the most important reason of all is that LB496 will increase your property taxes.

LB496 offers no clear definition of what constitutes workforce housing. For instance, the bill describes workforce housing as “housing that meets the needs of today’s working families,” and “housing that is attractive to new residents considering relocation to a rural community.”

The original purpose of TIF financing was to redevelop substandard and blighted areas within urban neighborhoods. For instance, Nebraska State Statute 18-2101 states that “land cannot be added to an existing community redevelopment area…unless the additional land is declared blighted or substandard…” So, we should ask if newly constructed workforce housing counts as the redevelopment of blighted or substandard properties.

As Americans we value free-market capitalism. But, TIF financing disrupts our free-market principles. To the contrary, I believe that whenever there is demand for new homes, private investors will build them. Government does not need to be the answer for every problem as some like to believe.

Characteristic of all other government funded programs of this kind, TIF will be nearly impossible to get rid of. Once contractors get a taste of TIF financing and learn that they can always use TIF monies to fund their construction projects, TIF financing will quickly become the norm.

Whenever workforce housing gets financed through TIF, property taxes get diverted away from local units of government. While property taxes from the base of a TIF funded property will continue to go to local units of government, property taxes gleaned from the new construction will not. This results in a net loss of revenue for our local units of government, such as schools. For instance, instead of being used to finance local units of government, property taxes collected from new construction on TIF financed properties will go to paying back bond holders. In Douglas County, for example, local units of government missed out this year on $37 million in property taxes collected from new construction on TIF financed properties.

Whenever workforce housing gets financed through TIF, other property owners have to make up the difference in lost property tax revenues. For instance, if ten new houses get built with TIF financing and ten new families with children move into those new homes, then the other property owners living in the same school district will have to pay for the extra costs associated with educating those children in the public schools. Consequently, TIF financed workforce housing raises the property taxes of all those who purchased their homes in the standard way.

LB496 was a bad bill for Nebraska. TIF financing for the construction of workforce housing is not necessary. Contractors who want to build new houses in our state can fund them in the traditional way without disrupting our free market economy. When Legislators voted for LB496, they were voting for a property tax increase. Unfortunately, government often picks winners and losers and uses your tax dollars to do it. To the contrary, I stand for less taxes and less government!

Straight Talk From Steve…

April 13th, 2018

 

The second session of the 105th Legislature is now over. Overall, very little meaningful legislation got passed this year. The Legislature could not agree to reduce your property taxes, to reform the way agricultural land gets valuated for tax purposes, to call for an Article V Convention of the States, or to secure free speech for our students at the University of Nebraska. In my estimation, this year’s legislative session was essentially a wash.

Instead of passing fiscally responsible legislation for the State, the Nebraska State Legislature passed LB873, a bill that will create more land banks, which will only increase your property taxes. A land bank is a public authority created to hold, manage and develop properties. The Legislature also passed LB496, a bill to increase Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for the building of workforce housing. LB496 will also increase your property taxes.

In a last ditch effort to get property tax relief, 13 State Senators signed a letter and sent it to John Gale, our Secretary of State, calling for a special session of the Legislature in order to address the subject of property tax relief. Only ten Senators were needed to sign the letter, but 33 Senators will have to express their favor for a special session in order for it to happen. The deadline for the Senators to respond is April 23. Of no surprise to me, Governor Ricketts is not in favor of calling for a special session of this kind.

On a much more positive note, the petition drive to put a measure for property tax relief that is similar to my bill, LB829, on the November ballot is progressing very well. The Lincoln Strategy Group, the company Trent Fellers hired to collect the signatures for the ballot initiative, has reported that the task of collecting signatures for the petition drive has been easier than when they collected signatures to re-instate the death penalty. Therefore, I am confident that we will get enough signatures to meet the July 5 deadline and to put this measure on the November ballot.

The fact that we’ve had to resort to a petition drive in order to get meaningful and substantial property tax relief for all Nebraskans needs to be underscored. Meaningful and substantial property tax relief is the number one issue that Nebraskans care about and it is an issue which has united both urban and rural citizens alike in our state. Unfortunately, the majority of the Senators who comprise our State Legislature and our Governor do not understand this desperate need for meaningful and substantial property tax relief nor do they agree that this should have been the number one priority for the Legislature this year.

I have taken my service to the constituents of Legislative District 47 and to all Nebraskans very seriously. I am very disappointed that the Legislature has failed to deliver on property tax relief. This issue continues to weigh heavily upon my heart, especially when I talk with constituents and cannot report that we have fixed the problem. Nothing is more important to me than solving the problem of property tax relief. However, there remains hope for the future.

The citizens of the State of Nebraska comprise our State’s second legislative House. When the Legislature fails to deliver the kind of legislation Nebraskans need most, it becomes incumbent upon the people of the State to act and to assert their own will. Therefore, I want to encourage all of my readers to sign the petition and to vote for property tax relief in the November election.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your State Senator.

Straight Talk From Steve…

April 6th, 2018

Paying for prescription drugs has become a big problem for many Americans as well as for legislators. Legislation designed to control the costs of prescription drugs often stalls in the Legislature. For instance, after Sen. Sara Howard introduced LB862, the Prescription Drug Cost Transparency Act, the bill stalled in committee. Therefore, this week I want to expose what the pharmaceutical companies do to raise the costs of your prescription drugs and what you can do about it.

It may be cheaper for you to pay for your prescription drugs out of pocket than to pay your health insurance company’s co-pay. A recent study conducted by the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics found that customers overpaid for their prescription drugs 23 percent of the time.

The practice of charging copays which are higher than the actual cost of prescription drugs is called a “clawback”. Middlemen who process prescription drug claims for health insurance companies oftentimes make it a practice to claw back extra money from their insured clients when they check out at the pharmacy. For instance, if your co-pay is $10, but the actual cost of your prescription drug is only $7, then you are essentially giving an extra $3 to your health insurance provider.

It does not seem to matter whether or not states have passed anti-clawback laws. Health insurance companies have found ways to get around these kinds of state laws. For instance, some insurance plans prohibit pharmacists from volunteering information about getting cheaper prescription drugs. Therefore, the burden falls upon the consumer to ask the pharmacist if there is a cheaper way to pay for the drug. Six states have passed anti-gag laws to prevent insurance companies from gagging their pharmacists in this way, but Nebraska is not one of these six states.

According to Sydney Lupkin of Kaiser Health News, the top 20 prescription drugs with clawbacks are these: Hydrocodone acetaminophen, levothyroxine sodium, azithromycin, Lisinopril, fluticasone propionate, simvastin, atorvastatin calcium, omeprazole, amoxicillin, amlopidine besylate, sertraline hydrochloride, amox trihydrate/potassium clavulanate, zolpidem tartrate, Ventolin HFA (albuterol sulfate), Crestor (rosuvastatin calcium), metformin hydrochloride, hydrochlorothiazide, metoprolol cuccinate, citalopram hydrobromide, and prednisone.

If you are using any of these prescription drugs, it may be cheaper for you to pay for your prescription drugs out of pocket than to pay your insurance company’s co-pay. The only way to know if you are over-paying is to ask your pharmacist.

On another note, Nebraska State Treasurer, Don Stenberg, has released his 2018 edition of the Unclaimed Property Report. The Nebraska State Treasurer’s office holds more than $170 million in unclaimed money for more than 350,000 current and former Nebraskans. Last year, the Treasurer’s office paid out 16,748 claims totaling $15.3 million. For claims over $500 you will need to mail in a paper claim form. To see if the Treasurer is holding your unclaimed money or to file a claim please go to the State Treasurer’s website at www.treasurer.nebraska.gov or call my office at (402) 471-2616 and my staff will check the list for you.

Finally, although Speaker Scheer’s deadline passed last Friday for the Governor’s property tax relief bill to see another round of debate, he agreed to put LB947 back on the agenda. Without the needed 33 votes, though, LB947 will be dead. So, the petition drive for LB829 represents our best hope for property tax relief this year. Therefore, I want to encourage all of my readers to sign the petition.

Straight Talk From Steve…

March 29th, 2018

I went to the Nebraska State Legislature for one primary purpose: To ease the burden of property taxes for all Nebraskans. Whether a person lives in an urban setting, a suburban neighborhood, a rural small town, or runs a business, farm or a ranch, property taxes are simply too high.

One thing has become abundantly clear to me during my short time working in the Legislature: Governor Ricketts does not want property tax relief. The Governor’s so-called property tax relief bill, LB947, does not bring any meaningful property tax relief to Nebraskans. LB947 is fake news or fake legislation, because it is nothing more than a shell game designed to fool the general public into believing they are receiving meaningful and substantial property tax relief when really they are not.

LB947 begins by offering agricultural property owners a two percent credit or refund the first year the plan is enacted. Considering that property taxes have been increasing by an average of 5.63 percent per year, we should ask: Is this really property tax relief? In 2027 these property tax credits or refunds would max out at 20 percent. Can you afford to wait another ten years to get 20 percent property tax relief?

The bill is much worse when it comes to residential property owners. LB947 would start residential property owners with a one percent credit or refund with a cap set at $25. So, the owner of a home valued at $150,000 would get a credit or refund of $25. Is that property tax relief? These credits would increase over time to 20 percent of property taxes paid until they reach a cap set at $500 in 2030. Is that substantial?

Business owners get shafted the most. LB947 offers no property tax relief whatsoever for businesses. Instead, the bill cuts the corporate income tax rate from 7.81 percent to 6.84 percent. Apparently, Governor Ricketts doesn’t think business owners need property tax relief. LB947 actually raises commercial property taxes in order to give relief to farmers and residential home owners.

By way of comparison, my bill, LB829, would start all property owners off the bat with a 30 percent credit or refund on their property taxes. This is no small matter because LB947 is heavily back-loaded. When you adjust for an average annual property tax increase of 5.63 percent, and factor in 8.5 percent for the value of money over time, the astute observer begins to realize the significant savings contained in my bill compared to the Governor’s bill.

For instance, a parcel of land valued at $283,000 with a mill levy set at 2.21 percent would currently make a property tax bill of $6,254. If no legislative bills ever passed for property tax relief, this landowner would end up paying $85,579 over the course of the next ten years. Under LB947 this same landowner would pay $77,277 over the same ten year period for a total savings of $8,302. However, under LB829 this same landowner would pay only $56,713 over the course of ten years for a total savings of $28,866.

Underlying LB947 lies an even more disturbing problem. Instead of making the necessary budget cuts in order to balance the State budget, LB944 takes another $40 million out of the State’s cash reserves to pay for these credits and refunds. So, the Governor never paid for his property tax relief bill.

I came to Lincoln to deliver on property tax relief. Together with Mr. Trent Fellers, we started the petition drive to put LB829 on the November ballot precisely because we did not believe that the Legislature had enough fortitude to pass meaningful and substantial property tax relief. As a property taxpayer and as a voter you now have the opportunity to let your voice be heard by signing the petition and by voting YES for real property tax relief in November.

Finally, I have posted a property tax savings calculator on my legislative website. By following the instructions on my website, you can see for yourself what your property taxes will look like ten years from now under LB947 and also under LB829.

Straight Talk From Steve…

March 23rd, 2018

One of the most controversial bills of the year in the Nebraska Legislature has been the Governor’s budget bill, LB944. Last Friday the cloture vote on LB944 failed by just two votes. With little time left in the current legislative session, the prospect of the Governor having to call for a special session of the Legislature after we adjourn in April in order to approve a budget is getting closer.

LB944 has become controversial for two reasons. First, the Governor had originally cut funding for the University of Nebraska by 4 percent, but the Appropriations Committee reduced these cuts to 1 percent when they amended the bill. When the bill came up for debate on Select File, I introduced an amendment to restore these cuts back to the Governor’s original proposal of 4 percent. Although my amendment failed to pass, we finally got to have a serious discussion about the various ways that the University of Nebraska misuses taxpayer dollars.

Second, LB944 is controversial because it contains language about Title X funding which excludes those clinics “where abortion is a method of family planning.” According to federal law, Title X funds cannot be used to fund abortions.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has a history of violating Title X funding. For instance, Nebraska’s State Auditor, Charlie Janssen, had reported back in 2016 that Planned Parenthood had illegally spent at least $3,500 in public monies to pay for physicians’ fees, staff salaries, and pathology work specifically related to placenta and fetal tissue. Because Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has a track record of abusing Title X funding, the decision was made this year to exclude them from Title X funding altogether in the State budget.

Last year President Trump signed a congressional resolution allowing states to withhold Title X funds from abortion providers. Under the Obama administration states had been prohibited by a rule from withholding these funds from abortion clinics. In response to Trump’s signing of the congressional resolution, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission had said, “It is a travesty that any taxpayer money goes to support the exploitive work of Planned Parenthood.” I agree. Nebraska taxpayers should never be forced to support an industry that the majority of us hold to be immoral.

Straight Talk From Steve…

March 16th, 2018

The Nebraska Legislature has finally begun debating the State’s biennial budget. The good news is that the language contained in LB944 for Title X spending will exclude those clinics which perform abortions. Our budget ought to reflect our values. Because Nebraska is a pro-life state, it makes sense that our taxpayers should not have to fund those agencies which perform a practice that most of us consider to be immoral.

Unfortunately, when LB944 came up for debate last week on General File we never got the opportunity to talk about funding for the University of Nebraska. However, I have filed an amendment to the bill so that this will be the first topic up for debate when LB944 comes up for debate on Select File. It is time for the Legislature to have a serious discussion about how we fund the University of Nebraska system.

Although the Governor had recommended cutting state funding for the University of Nebraska by 4 percent, LB944 only cuts state funding to the University of Nebraska system by 1 percent. My amendment would restore these cuts to the Governor’s recommended amount of 4 percent.

As I said in my article last week, the University of Nebraska’s operational revenues actually increased by six percent last year. So, a 1 percent reduction in state spending to the University might seem like a big deal to University of Nebraska administrators, but not to the average taxpayer, especially when compared to some of the cuts made to other state agencies. For instance, Program 519, a program to provide homes for Nebraska’s veterans is slated to be cut by almost 17 percent in the State’s General Fund next year.

The fact of the matter is that the University of Nebraska has been spending money recklessly since 2011. For instance, according to the University of Nebraska’s own Operating Budget, the University’s total budget has grown by 23 percent since 2011 while tuition and fees have grown by 45 percent. Over that same period, spending on administrator’s salaries grew by nearly 40 percent, while student enrollment grew by less than 7 percent.

University spending over the course of the last three years has been the worst. In 2014 the University of Nebraska spent $290,256,191 on faculty salaries, but in 2017 they spent $321,693,466. That’s an increase of 10.8 percent in only three years. In 2014 the University of Nebraska spent $36,959,542 on administrators’ salaries, but in 2017 they spent $45,134,137 on administrators’ salaries. That’s an increase of 22.1 percent in just three years!

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, from 2008-2017 Nebraska ranked 4th highest in the nation in state funding for higher education. Nebraska was one of only 5 states which has increased state funding for higher education on a per-student, inflation adjusted basis. While the average state spent 16 percent less per student in 2017 than in 2008, Nebraska spent more per student. Over the past decade more than 30 states have reduced state funding per student on an inflation adjusted basis for higher education by double digits. So, we are clearly moving in the wrong direction.

The University of Nebraska spends money wastefully. When I see the University of Nebraska spending $165,000 per year on a lobbyist, and when I see them spending $370,209 on 7.5 faculty members in the Diversity Chancellor’s pool and another $2,970,392 on the Diversity Central Administration Pool, I cannot help but conclude that University spending is running out of control.
Therefore, I believe the time has come for the Legislature to finally have a serious debate about how they fund the University of Nebraska system with our tax dollars.

Sen. Steve Erdman

District 47
Room #1529
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2616
Email: serdman@leg.ne.gov
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