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Celebrating Oregon Trail Days this year had me thinking: Scotts Bluff County is a great place to live. Every interaction I have with people in the district reminds me of the great, hard-working people that live here and was a huge motivator for me to serve as their representative in the Capitol.
Since the Legislature convened in April, I have been hard at work familiarizing myself with the many issues that will come up in next year’s legislative session. Some of the areas I have been focusing on lately include issues with the Department of Health & Human Services and the improvements that have been made. Some of these improvements include a marked decrease in call center hold times and the fulfillment of all 6 Federal standards for child and family services. The Federal standards determine whether or not Nebraska DHHS receives Federal funding.
Governor Ricketts acknowledged these improvements in a recent trip to Gering with DHHS’ CEO Courtney Phillips. During a press conference, they both laid out DHHS’ new business plan, which outlines a series of 25 different areas identified for improvement. I am pleased to see that CEO Phillips has led the Department to some much needed improvements. In my role as a State Senator, member of the Special Investigative Committee on ACCESSNebraska, and member of the Appropriations Committee, my focus is very often on streamlining DHHS’ processes to make it a more efficient use of Nebraska taxpayers’ money.
I have also done some work with the Legislature’s Planning Committee, which is tasked with studying the emerging trends across the nation that will affect Nebraska. Among them is the growth of the entrepreneurial class. Small business plays an especially important role in rural Nebraska in driving economic growth. Being an entrepreneur myself, I see the importance of nurturing these activities for our state.
Some of the recommendations from the Planning Committee’s report last year included partnerships between small business leaders and local school districts in providing mentorships and teaching opportunities, encouraging development of real estate and other capital investments, and the general encouragement of small business ownership.
Although lessening the tax burden is one way to encourage small business ownership, this is only one piece of the puzzle. There are a number of other measures that can be taken to encourage economic growth. In its June 2016 release of “Removing Barriers in Nebraska,” the Platte Institute studied four key areas of Nebraska’s economic climate: growth of gross domestic product, per capita personal income growth, employment growth, and population growth.
Two of those indicators for Nebraska received high marks. GDP growth and personal income growth in Nebraska were ranked 6th and 10th in the nation, respectively. For the other two indicators, employment and population growth, Nebraska received somewhat lower rankings of 25th and 27th, respectively. While resilient Nebraskans “weather the storm” quite well in tough times, there is a lot more our state can do to encourage economic growth. Addressing the property tax burden, taxes on small and growing businesses, and the regulatory framework in Nebraska are all ways this can be achieved.
Another one of my primary focuses has been on studying Nebraska’s tax profile to determine where adjustments can be made, so we may provide lasting tax relief to Nebraska families. As I study Nebraska’s tax policy, I am reminded of the importance not just in cutting taxes but making sure they are put to good use. This is something that I have tried to live by as a State Senator.
One of the most recent debates on the efficient use of taxpayer dollars was the passage of LB960 this year, the Transportation Innovation Act. The Act ensures that tax dollars used for infrastructure upgrades are invested wisely in our transportation infrastructure and expressways. The initial funds are seeded in part from Nebraska’s Cash Reserve Fund, or “rainy day fund” and partly from gas tax proceeds. These proceeds are then used to provide a number of capital investment packages to various counties across Nebraska. These capital investment activities are essential to the long-term growth of District 48 and Nebraska as a whole.
One of the federally designated high-priority corridors that will be positively impacted by the Transportation Innovation Act is the Heartland Expressway. This expressway connects Nebraska to other transportation networks, such as the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway in Montana, North & South Dakota and the Ports to Plains Corridor running from Denver, Colorado down to Monterrey in Mexico. Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the Heartland Expressway Association’s annual meeting, which outlined the work that has been done in connecting the Heartland Expressway to these surrounding networks. All of these efforts are a vital part of economic development for rural Nebraska, connecting our entrepreneurs and small business owners to interstate and international commerce.
As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have over the interim. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.