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The 107th session of the Nebraska Legislature is in full swing, and while this year’s session is markedly different from past years with our interpersonal interaction limited due to the Coronavirus, we remain committed to addressing the most pressing issues that affect Nebraskans every day.
On Friday, April 9th we approved Nebraska’s state budget for the next two years. Budgets aren’t about numbers on a spreadsheet. Budgets are about values, priorities, and people. In a Unicameral legislature, like the one we have here in Nebraska, we must work together to accomplish our goals. This is my fifth year serving on the Appropriations Committee, so I know how arduous the process can be to put together a budget. State agencies started working on their budget requests ten months ago. The Governor and his staff worked carefully with the Committee for form his own Budget recommendations. We sought input from interested stakeholders and from the public. More than forty bills drafted by myself and my colleagues were incorporated into a package hundreds of pages long. Between 49 State Senators, the Governor’s staff, the agency heads and the public, we worked with hundreds of people to craft this legislation. In today’s hyper-partisan environment, it would have been easy to fail. It would have been easy to refuse compromises, get frustrated, and walk away. But we do things differently in Nebraska, we work together.
Our budget was built using four pillars to support Nebraska for the next two years: ensuring more, better paying jobs; job training to give workers the skills they need to get those new jobs and keep them; making sure that every Nebraskan can live a healthy lifestyle; and finally, guaranteeing that our economy is one where hard workers reap the benefits.
With this year’s budget, we will be providing funding for the Business Innovation Act. Since this legislation first passed in 2012, independent analysts have found the program to be a success. Across 217 participating businesses, there were over 1,100 direct jobs created because of the Business Innovation Act. Even more importantly, the average wage of those jobs created has steadily increased. In 2014, these jobs were paying on average just over $50,000 per year. By 2020, the average wage had increased to over $67,000 per year. That is substantially higher that the statewide mean wage of $47,000 dollars. This success is a result of investment in Nebraska innovation designed to grow Nebraska from the inside-out. We don’t know if there’s an upper limit to the effectiveness of this program – some amount of funding we can hit where we will find diminishing returns. What I can tell you that we’ll never find that limit if we don’t reach for it and push against it, and successful programs deserve additional funding to grow that success.
We’re also funding the Job Training Cash Fund. We created this fund last year when we passed the Customized Job Training Act, though we deferred funding it until this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The appropriation to this fund will help prepare Nebraska’s workforce for the challenges of our new national economy by creating grants to pay for internships and job training at firms that use the funds to either create new jobs, or to enhance the earning potential of existing jobs. Jobs created through these internships and job training grants will be strengthened, and the workers will have better earning potential, with this funding in place. By funding the program, we will actualize the main goal of the Customized Job Training Act: creating newer, higher paying jobs for Nebraskans. This is exactly the kind of commitment to our workforce that we ought to be making. We don’t want new economy jobs moving overseas. We want to keep those jobs and the people who work them right here.
We’re also expanding our funding of Nebraska’s eighteen Public Health Departments. A year ago, many of us didn’t know much about the role of our Public Health Departments. What we’ve found is that these departments were stretched thin even before the Coronavirus pandemic struck, and the pandemic didn’t help the situation. Earlier this year, I introduced LB585 to appropriate $5 million total to improve our public health infrastructure. The first $3 million would be distributed evenly across all eighteen Public Health Departments, and the final $2 million will be distributed based on the population density. These kinds of proactive investments in our public health infrastructure will help us address future public health crises. If we wait to make these kinds of investments until we’re reacting to a problem, then its already too late. The coronavirus pandemic will be a touchstone in all our lives because of the disruption it caused. But it is not the only public health crisis we’ve faced as a state or as a nation during most of our lifetimes, and it won’t be the last. From the bird flu to the Opioid epidemic, HIV/AIDS and asbestos exposure, funding our public health departments will not only ensure a quicker reaction to the next public health crisis, it will also encourage better health decisions among the public because of the programs these public health departments can promote.
These are all important priorities that will help us meet our obligations to Nebraskans today and in the future. We approached this budget in a balanced, bipartisan, and responsible way. Nebraskans have made it clear over and over again that they want their elected leaders to approach policy this way. Over the last five years, I’ve seen the highs and lows of the Nebraska Legislature. It’s not always easy, but I have never been more optimistic about Nebraska’s future. We are a strong and resilient people, and I know we are united in our desire to face the greatest challenges facing our society. When we work together, there’s no limit to what we can achieve.
I hope you began the new year with the same renewed hope, good health, and happiness that my family and I did. Lauren and I were thrilled to welcome our second child, Luca Anthony Vargas, on New Years Eve. As many of you know, I lost my father to COVID-19 last Spring, and Luca was given the middle name “Anthony” in his honor. Lauren and I are so thankful for your support and love, especially over the past year, and could not be more excited and blessed to raise our children in this generous community.
We began the 107th Legislature on January 7th and I was sworn in to begin my second term as your senator with an oath to uphold my commitment to serving you to the best of my ability. I was honored to be re-elected by my peers to serve as Vice Chair of the Executive Board, a role that will require the continuation of the bipartisan, consensus-forming approach that I have taken during my first four years in office.
This session I introduced 26 bills to help strengthen and protect our state and community. These bills will:
Improve public health
Honor our veterans
Strengthen our education system
Strengthen our economy and workforce
Support equity and diversity
You can find more information about each of these bills on my legislative website: news.legislature.ne.gov/dist07/
Every day I am honored to represent District 7 in the Nebraska Legislature. As always, please feel free to reach out to me at (402) 471-2721, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on any of my social media accounts. My Legislative Aide, Meg Mandy, Administrative Aide, Cristina Prentice, and all of our interns are willing and excited to help.
Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 7th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.
Sen. Tony Vargas
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