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There’s a lot to be thankful for this year. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy a Thanksgiving break with family but am ready to go back to work with the Legislature. I hope everyone has enjoyed their Thanksgiving break as much as I have!
I am currently working on my priorities for the 2018 session. My priorities remain in funding our property tax relief, commitment to K-12 education, ensuring adequate funding for the Department of Corrections, fighting for our rural healthcare providers, and workforce development. I am determined to pass legislation that allows the use of tax increment financing (TIF) for workforce housing in rural Nebraska. The bill is LB496.
TIF is used to incentivize construction of development projects. It works by assessing the current property valuation of an area which can be a neighborhood, commercial district, or other boundary defined by a municipality. Then, using that valuation as a baseline, future increases in property tax revenues are used toward some of the construction costs. This does not affect current revenues and is always limited to a certain number of years defined by law.
In rural Nebraska, many of these projects simply will not happen without TIF.
One of the biggest problems we face in rural Nebraska is twofold: outmigration and difficulty attracting talent to live and work in our communities. In a survey conducted by the Nebraska Chamber, workforce availability remains a top concern for businesses for 5 years in a row. Affordable workforce housing is an essential piece of that equation. In a recent study commissioned by the Western Nebraska Economic Development group, Scottsbluff being a member, it was concluded that the Panhandle region significantly lacks supply of affordable housing.
LB496 will help solve that problem. I am committed to informing the public on the benefits of using TIF for workforce housing and seeing that LB496 passes in the Legislature.
I will also be revisiting a bill which would take an inventory of federal funds coming into Nebraska- LB611. With a federal deficit that continues to grow and changes happening in Washington D.C., our state needs to prepare, just as any household must plan for their financial future.
Many of us are aware that the spending habits in D.C. are simply not sustainable. In Nebraska, federal funds make up 30 percent of our budget. Currently, the Appropriations Committee lacks a summarized view of all federal funds, making it difficult to prepare for changes at the federal level. Our policy decisions are often dictated by federal mandates, instead of what is best for Nebraskans.
The federal funds inventory will allow the Appropriations Committee and Legislature as a whole to conduct cost-benefit analyses that measures the impact of federal funds on our state and sets the framework for contingency planning.
Throughout the course of the last couple months, I have been continuing to meet with various stakeholders in the district including our healthcare providers. There are many issues impacting the quality of healthcare in the Panhandle such as funding issues, substance abuse prevention, mental health, and various regulatory issues.
I’ve also had the opportunity to meet with many constituents in the district. In October, I spoke at an event for retired teachers discussing issues like education legislation and public pensions. I had a wonderful time at the Regional West Foundation’s annual gala, where Dr. Lou Kleager and his wife Carmen were honored. I also stay up-to-date with Scotts Bluff County by meeting with the County Commissioners.
I have also had to travel to Lincoln for the various committees on which I sit. In October, I attended a joint hearing with the Revenue Committee, where we reviewed tax incentives. The forecasting board met, revising Nebraska’s projections for tax revenues. As of the current forecast, there is another $173 million budget shortfall to address. In addition, I have spent time with the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee assessing public school systems’ pension issues so that the Legislature can take any action needed to ensure our public school retirement pensions are sustainable.
I am getting ready for what will likely be a very hectic session, but look forward to the opportunity to represent District 48 and Nebraska’s interests.
As we gear up for legislative session, 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. 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.