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The University of Nebraska is an important and valuable institution in our State. I, Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, support the University of Nebraska insofar as they deal equitably towards students and taxpayers. In recent days, administrators at the University of Nebraska have demonstrated a complete lack of regard for student tuition and taxpayers’ dollars. Today I would like to expose how the University of Nebraska really spends its money.
Last fall the University of Nebraska hired former Nebraska State Senator, Heath Mello, to be their new chief lobbyist. Mello earns a salary of $165,000 per year. So, the University spends $165,000 per year in order to pay a lobbyist to help them get more money from the State. I believe it is wrong for any agency which gets State tax dollars to spend those tax dollars to lobby the State for even more tax dollars.
One place where the University might look to save some money comes from their own administrative expenses. In the recent past, student enrollment has gone up seven percent while administrative salaries have increased forty percent.
NU President, Hank Bounds, came to the Capitol last Wednesday in order to testify for one hour and forty minutes before the Appropriations Committee. He asked State Legislators to vote against the Governor’s proposed budget cuts of $23 million to the University. Some students, stricken by a heavy burden of student loan debt, even skipped class in order to testify at the hearing which lasted four and one-half hours.
In an attempt to coerce State Legislators, Hank Bounds and Chancellor, Ronnie Green, have proposed certain program cuts to the University’s budget. Some of these program cuts include ending bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees programs in art history, geography and electronics engineering (bachelor’s level only), and even eliminating a baseball team at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. But these program cuts were unnecessary and do nothing more than send a shot across the bow to State Legislators.
The fact of the matter is that the University of Nebraska has plenty of money to spend. Administrators at the University of Nebraska have not dealt honestly and transparently with the public about the funds which are available for them to use. For instance, the University of Nebraska regularly maintains non-restrictive cash reserves in excess of $230 million. The University of Nebraska has maintained these non-restrictive cash reserves above $230 million for at least the past three years.
According to Nebraska State Senator, John Stinner of Gering, who is chair of the Appropriations Committee, the University of Nebraska maintains non-restrictive cash reserves in excess of $230 million dollars in order to protect their bond rating. However, the University of Nebraska could afford to spend $30 million out of its cash reserves with no change whatsoever in their bond rating. What this tells me, is that Bounds and Green care more about protecting their bond rating than they do about lowering student tuition or keeping established programs intact.
On Monday February 5 I invoked a rule seldom used on the floor of the Legislature. I invoked the rule of Personal Privilege. This rule is used when members of the Legislature need to speak to matters pertaining to their integrity as a Legislator. I invoked the rule in order to respond to the University of Nebraska’s releasing of Senators’ e-mails to the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper, which they had requested via the Freedom of Information Act.
I needed to set the record straight on three important matters relating to developments that unfolded last fall at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL). The e-mails which were released pertained to an incident which had occurred on the UNL campus on August 25 between a sophomore student and an English professor and a graduate student lecturer, who berated the student as she recruited for Turning Point USA, a conservative student group.
The first matter I needed to correct related to the false accusation that I had never reached out to the administration at the University before I submitted my first Op/Ed piece to the newspapers. NU President, Hank Bounds, had sent me an e-mail which said: “I don’t relish the thought of a public dispute with members of the Legislature. Unfortunately, no one contacted me to discuss your questions before the piece was sent to the media, even though senators have my cell phone number and e-mail address…”
To the contrary, I had reached out numerous times to NU Chancellor, Ronnie Green, at his office before I wrote the first Op/Ed for the newspapers, but he never bothered to return my phone calls. Finally, after several attempts to reach out to him, I called his office and said to his staff, “I am going to write an Op/Ed for the paper and I’d like to talk to Chancellor Green. I want him to know what I am going to say before I send it out. Please have him call me because I am sending it out at noon.” I sent out the Op/Ed because he never called me back that day. In fact, Chancellor Green never bothered to call me back until after the Op/Ed had been published and NU President, Hank Bounds, promised me that he would call. I finally got his call two weeks after I began calling him. To me, this is unacceptable behavior from the Chancellor of our flagship university.
The second issue I needed to correct related to the very nature of the incident itself. I have never referred to the August 25 incident as a free speech issue; instead, I have always maintained from the very beginning that it was a conduct issue. The University of Nebraska has codes of conduct for their students; they need to develop similar codes of conduct on their faculty. This lack of accountability explains how these professors have been able to berate and belittle students and get away with it.
The third issue I needed to correct related to a false statement made about Sen. Brewer. NU President, Hank Bounds, had stated on KLIN radio that Sen. Brewer had never seen the Op/Ed piece co-authored by Sen. Brewer, Sen Halloran, and me before it went out to the press one month after my first Op/Ed piece. This was fake news. The fact of the matter was that all three senators had worked on this second Op/Ed piece together throughout the week and Sen. Brewer even made some last minute changes before it went out to the press.
Last Wednesday a public hearing was held in the Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee on my bill, LB 958. LB 958 is a very short bill. It is short because the only thing it does is expand the definition of a massage therapy establishment to include vehicles or mobile units.
The idea for this bill came to me from Mrs. Jean Thunker, a constituent of mine who works as a massage therapist in Paxton, Nebraska. Mrs. Thunker also made the long trip to Lincoln to testify at the public hearing on the bill. Massage therapists need mobile units because their clients oftentimes cannot travel long distances in an automobile to get to a brick and mortar massage therapy establishment. LB 958 would allow massage therapists to take their massage therapy clinics to where their clients live, work, study and play.
The hearing on LB 958 went very well. Only one person testified against the bill. The criticism against LB 958 is that the bill does not provide any stipulations about what kinds of vehicles could be used for massage therapy or about what kinds of equipment these mobile units should contain. Without any such stipulations, a massage therapist could theoretically use a horse trailer as a mobile unit for massage therapy. However, these kinds of provisions are not necessary in the law because they are usually spelled out in the regulations administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). I intentionally wrote the bill vague, because I saw it as an opportunity to remove these kinds of needless government regulations from our lives.
LB 958 will follow a different kind of pathway towards becoming a law than most ordinary bills. LB 958 will get absorbed into a larger consolidation bill currently being written by the Legislature’s HHS Committee. The timing on LB 958 was impeccable, because the HHS Committee was already preparing a separate committee bill to provide for mobile units to be used in cosmetology. So, the HHS committee will simply add another section to their larger committee bill to make provisions for mobile units to be used for massage therapy. Because LB 958 will get absorbed into this larger HHS committee bill, it will stand a much better chance of becoming a law.
So, the day is quickly approaching when massage therapists will come to you, instead of you having to travel long and painful distances in a car or on a motorcycle just to get a good massage. Perhaps, the best measure of good health is determined by which a person takes more of, pills or stairs. With the aid of a good massage, the wise person will always choose the stairs.
The Nebraska Family Helpline provides a single point of access to children’s behavioral health services through the operation of a 24-hour, year-round Helpline for the State of Nebraska. The Helpline is a service of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, provided by Boys Town.
The Nebraska Family Helpline offers a wide range of support including: Screening for immediate safety needs, connecting with first responders, referrals to local resources, development of strategies with families, and collaborative problem solving.
Helpline counselors are standing by to assist you with your family’s needs. All you need to do is call. The Nebraska Family Helpline phone number is: 1-888-866-8660.
Last week was a very busy week for me at the Capitol. On Thursday hearings were held on my two property tax relief bills, LB829 and LB899. LB829 is the bill I introduced to fulfill my campaign promise to lower property taxes. LB899 is a bill which pro-rates the property taxes on a destroyed property to the date of its destruction. The hearing on LB829 was the longest one, lasting approximately four hours. It was a long day, but it was well worth it!
I would like to thank everyone who made the long trip to Lincoln to testify at the public hearing on LB829. Several people drove from the Panhandle to Lincoln to testify. We had a very strong showing of private citizens who testified in favor of the bill. In fact, no private citizens came out testify against the bill. Only lobbyists, unions and non-profit organizations testified against the bill, and I believe that fact shows how much Nebraskans desire this bill. I believe the personal testimonies and stories that were shared at the hearing as well as the numerous letters which were submitted left an indelible mark on the members of the Revenue Committee. Thank you for helping me give Nebraskans significant and substantial property tax relief.
LB829 will finally put taxpayers at the front of the line, instead of at the back of the line behind tax users. This bill unites urban and rural dwellers. It does not pit them against each other. We are all in this together!
LB829 now resides within the Revenue Committee, where it will be up to the members of the Revenue Committee to vote the bill out of committee and into General File. The question which now faces the Revenue Committee is this: Will the members of the Revenue Committee represent the citizens of Nebraska or will they represent the special interests of the lobbyists, the unions, and the non-profits? When asked to explain how I intended to pay for LB829, I responded by asking the members of the Revenue Committee how they expect Nebraskans to continue paying their property taxes.
If the Revenue Committee kills the bill, there is still one measure left I can use as a last resort. As a member of the Legislature I can make a motion to pull the bill out of the Revenue Committee. If the motion were to carry on the floor with 25 votes, the bill would automatically advance to General File.
On Friday, LB17 was debated on the floor of the Legislature. I took over as the primary sponsor of LB17 after Sen. Joni Craighead of Omaha suddenly resigned from office. LB17 is a carry-over bill from last year’s session. This bill is needed in order to put Nebraska into compliance with federal laws and regulations concerning the Nebraska Appraisal Management Act and Title XI of the Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989. LB17 advanced to Final Reading.
On January 25 public hearings will be held on my two property tax relief bills, LB829 and LB899. If you would like to testify at the public hearing for either bill, please arrive at Hearing Room #1524 at the State Capitol Building in Lincoln by 1:30 p.m. In order to testify, you will need to fill out a short form which will be available in the hearing room. I encourage everyone who desires property tax relief and who is able to travel the long distance to come to Lincoln and testify. The Revenue Committee needs to hear your story.
LB829 is my main property tax relief bill. This bill would enact The Property Tax Relief Act, which would give most property owners a 30% reduction in their property taxes. Once passed into law, property owners would be able to get a 50% credit or refund on that portion of their property tax bill which funds K-12 education when they file their Nebraska State Income Tax Return. Should my bill fail in the Legislature, we have put into place a citizen led petition drive to ensure that this measure will appear on your ballot in the November election.
LB899 is a property tax relief bill for destroyed properties. The bill would prorate the assessed value of a home or property to the date of its destruction by fire or by some other natural disaster. For instance, a homeowner should not have to pay property taxes on the full assessed value of a home on January 1 if the home was destroyed on January 2. Instead, homeowners should only have to pay property taxes on the full assessed value of their home or property for those days when the home was intact and livable; otherwise, they should pay a reduced or adjusted property tax amount for that portion of the year when their home was destroyed.
On another note, some area business owners have brought to my attention a matter concerning the Nebraska Council for Corporations (NCC). The NCC has been sending out letters requiring businesses to submit their Annual Records Solicitation Form and to pay a fee of $150. The Annual Records Solicitation Form asks for much of the same information already required by the Domestic Corporation Occupation Tax Report, which must be filed with the Secretary of State.
I have looked into this matter with the Secretary of State’s Office. While the NCC is considered to be a legitimate organization, businesses are not required by State Statute to fill out the Annual Records Solicitation Form, nor are they required by law to pay the $150 fee. Participation with the NCC should be considered voluntary.
If you have any questions or comments about what is going on in the State Legislature, please feel free to contact my office at (402) 471-2616 or send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
LB829 is the number assigned to my, Sen. Steve Erdman’s, property tax relief bill. LB829 will allow tax payers to get a 50 percent credit or refund on that portion of their property tax bill which goes to fund public education when they file their Nebraska state income taxes. For most taxpayers, LB829 will result in a 30 percent reduction in their property taxes.
LB829 is necessary because property taxes in Nebraska have been running out of control. According to the Department of Numbers, Nebraska’s real median household income remained stagnant near $57,000 between the years of 2005-2016. However, the per capita property tax burden rose from $1,150 in 2004 to $1,550 in 2011. That’s a difference of $400 or 25 percent within a time span of only seven years while household incomes remained steady. This year the median property tax bill in Nebraska is $2,164.
In recent years rural areas of our State have been hit particularly hard. For example, I live in Morrill County and according to the Nebraska Department of Property Assessment & Taxation the total amount of property taxes levied in Morrill County in 2006 was $7,390,027, but by 2016 that number had climbed to $17,569,558. That’s an average increase of more than one million dollars per year in a county with only 5,042 residents, according to the 2010 Census. So, property taxes have been rising at an alarming rate while median household incomes have remained stagnant.
Recently, an editorial appeared in the Omaha World Herald challenging the constitutionality of LB829. The editorial criticized my bill by claiming that the Nebraska Constitution gives no authority to the Legislature “to commute taxes or release taxpayers from their duty to pay taxes.” But, this criticism of LB829 is wrong.
The proposition that the Legislature lacks the authority to release taxpayers from their duty to pay taxes ignores what LB829 actually says. LB829 does not release taxpayers from paying their property taxes; all taxpayers will pay their property taxes the same as before. What LB829 does, however, is offer a credit or a refund to taxpayers on a portion of their property taxes which goes to fund public education. So, I welcome my opposition to challenge my bill in court.
The Legislature has the power to change the way people get taxed. If the assertion made by these editors of the Omaha World Herald was ever deemed to be true, then wouldn’t the TIF laws all be declared unconstitutional? Furthermore, if this criticism of my bill was ever sustained by the courts, then there would be no recourse for the Legislature to ever get rid of a bad tax.
Contrary to the editorial, I believe the Legislature has the authority to correct these kinds of wrongs. I also believe that the citizens of our State form our State’s Second Legislative House. As our State’s Second Legislative House, the citizens have the right to decide for themselves how they should get taxed through a provision made in the Nebraska State Constitution known as the citizen led initiative. This year you will have the opportunity to sign our petition to put this measure on the November ballot.
The editorial in the Omaha World Herald went on to challenge LB829 again, but this time it did so on the grounds of violating “the Constitution’s equal protection and due process provisions.” The editorial criticized LB829 because only those who file a Nebraska State income tax return would be able to benefit from the income tax credit or refund offered by the bill. But this criticism, too, is wrong.
This second criticism lodged against LB829 ignores the fact that all laws discriminate to some degree. For instance, speed limit laws discriminate against speeders as well as against those who don’t own automobiles. Just as our speed limit laws do not obligate the State to provide motorists with vehicles, so also my tax relief bill is not obligated to provide property tax relief for those who do not file a Nebraska State income tax return.
The truth about the 14th Amendment is that the Equal Protection Clause simply requires lawmakers to provide a good reason or a rationale for the law being proposed. Consequently, the justification I am proposing for LB829 is that property taxes have been rising at a much faster pace than average household incomes. The burden of continuously rising property taxes has now become unbearable for far too many property owners, and I believe that is ample justification for the Legislature to pass my bill.
Here is a link to the bill: LB 829
One bill I believe Nebraska needs is LB611. LB611 is a carry-over bill from last year. Last year the bill advanced out of the Appropriations Committee, where it also became the committee’s priority bill. The bill currently sits on General File.
LB611 would require annual reporting of federal funds received by state agencies participating in the State’s budgeting process. The report would require every State agency to create two operating plans; the first would go into effect once federal receipts drop by 10 percent and the second would be enacted once they drop by 25 percent. This kind of reporting is necessary so that the executive and legislative branches of the State government would be prepared to act in the best interests of Nebraskans should federal funding ever be reduced.
Because our country’s national debt has now surpassed $20,600,000,000, I believe this is now the next fiscally responsible step for our State to take. Because our national debt now surpasses our gross GDP, there are no longer any guarantees about the future status of federal grant monies.
Federal grants almost always come with strings attached. Whenever the federal government turns off the money spigot, the states are left holding the hose. So, federal grants put the State at the mercy of the federal government, where we are tied to their inconsistent whims.
Federal grants come with the potential to put the State into a spending crisis. In addition, states remain bound by the unintended consequences and extra costs associated with accepting federal dollars.
Besides suddenly turning off the money spigot, federal grants often incentivize unnecessary spending at the state and local level. Because some people view these federal grants as “free” money, it encourages impulsive and unchecked spending. Making matters worse, states are often unable to track how these federal dollars get spent.
LB611 would provide state officials with the opportunity to see where all of their federal grant monies go. LB611 would mandate an audit of all federal funds in the State, including a report of all the strings which are attached to these federal grants.
LB611 would also allow state officials to measure the impact of a future spending crisis. The bill would require a risk assessment to identify potential vulnerabilities so that state officials may make better decisions and plans about what to do in the event of a reduction in federal funds.
More than 30 percent of Nebraska’s budget is currently being funded by federal grants. 91 percent of Nebraska’s Labor Department, for example, is funded by federal grants, while 85 percent of Nebraska’s military spending comes from federal dollars. Because I sit on the HHS committee and the Education committee, it is important to report that $2.7 billion of the Department of Health and Human Services comes from federal grants, and $580 million of the University of Nebraska’s budget comes from federal grants.
The bottom line is that LB611 will help to ensure that Nebraska would be protected against Washington’s next federal funding crisis.
Happy New Year and welcome to 2018! The second session of the 105th Nebraska Legislature will commence on January 3. So, this week I want to offer an update on some of the bills I have been working on and will introduce this year.
The first bill I will introduce will be the property tax relief bill I promised to introduce in a press conference I held last May after the closing of the first session of the 105th Nebraska Legislature. My Property Tax Relief Act will give Nebraska taxpayers a 30% reduction in their property taxes. According to The Hightower Report, Nebraska now ranks as the fourth highest state in the union for property taxes, and we are second only to Illinois when it comes to combined taxes. Therefore, the best action the Nebraska Legislature can bring to the State this year is some much needed property tax relief. To ensure that this measure appears on your ballot in November we will begin collecting signatures for a citizen led initiative starting this year.
The second bill I will introduce is another agricultural land valuation reform bill. Last year I introduced LB 602, which stalled in the Revenue Committee. However, I have improved upon that bill. So, this year I will introduce an even better bill for agricultural land valuation reform. The way agricultural land currently gets valuated for property tax purposes is very unfair. My bill will change agricultural land valuations from the current market based system to a new and improved productivity method.
The third bill I will introduce is a destroyed property tax bill. The late spring tornadoes of 2017 inspired me to write this bill. When a property owner’s house or buildings gets destroyed by a natural disaster, it does not seem right that the property owner should have to pay property taxes for as long as the house or buildings remain unlivable. Therefore, my bill will adjust the property taxes of a destroyed property to cover only those dates during the year that the property is functional or livable.
As you know, I serve on the Health and Human Services Committee. This year the HHS Committee will continue to make improvements in the services offered by the three managed care organizations which comprise Heritage Health. In addition, the HHS Committee will also be looking into recent sexual abuse allegations with children who are wards of the State and who are in our foster care system.
I also serve on the Education Committee. The State Education Board recently lowered standardized test scores for our public teachers. By lowering the standards for public school teachers, are we also lowering the quality of education for our students?
As 2017 draws to a close, I sit by the fire with pen and paper in hand, reflecting on all that has transpired since I first took office back in January 2017. It has truly been an honor and a privilege to represent the good people of District 47 in the Nebraska Legislature. So, I thank you for providing me with this very exciting and wonderful adventure in Nebraska politics.
Nebraska really is the good life. So, I went to Lincoln with the understanding that my job is to somehow make the good life even better. This is no easy task when State revenues have been in decline. Nevertheless, I have communicated my vision for how to accomplish this task every week through these newspaper articles I write. I trust you have enjoyed reading therm.
The most important factor in shaping my vision for Nebraska’s future is you. I appreciate the way so many of you have shared your thoughts, your concerns, and your ideas with me this past year. I hope our conversations will continue. It amazes me to see how deeply so many folks living in the Panhandle care about what happens 400 miles away in a Capitol City far, far away.
This past year, I fought vigorously in the Legislature to provide all Nebraskans with agricultural land valuation reform. LB 602 was the most important bill I introduced this year, and this was strongly reflected by the positive support I received in the public hearing. So, I will continue to fight for the kind of agricultural land valuation reform which makes good sense for our farmers and ranchers.
Going forward, I plan to take up a new cause. I will fight for property tax relief. As I have stated so many times before, I will introduce a bill to give property owners back half of what they pay in property taxes for education. If I cannot successfully push the 50/50 plan through the Legislature, a citizen led initiative should ensure that the measure gets placed on the ballot for a public vote in November 2018.
In many ways, this is the calm before the storm. These days I am busily getting ready for the next legislative session, which will begin on January 3, 2018. For this reason, I will not submit a newspaper article for next week’s newspaper. Nevertheless, I will pick up right where I left off as soon as the New Year arrives. Thank you for reading my articles, and may God bless your plans for the year ahead.
Now we must pause, for we are about to enter one of the holiest times of the year. In a few days, we will celebrate the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ. The baby who was born so long ago in a manger, came only to die as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. This is the true meaning of Christmas, and I invite you to join me in celebrating this most precious and joyous event in human history. Merry Christmas!