- Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

Lincoln Journal Star. Dec. 7, 2014.

Hope that Riley will flourish

The Husker football fans who wanted a head football coach to project a “Nebraska nice” image had their wish granted this week when University of Nebraska-Lincoln Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst selected Mike Riley.

From all accounts Nebraskans won’t have to worry about whether their head football coach will implode in a public venue. There’s little doubt that in terms of personality, Riley is a good fit for Nebraska.

He’s a small-town guy. Corvallis, Oregon, is about one-fifth the size of Lincoln. NU announcer and former football player Matt Davison remembered driving into Corvallis and noticing that the football stadium seemed to be the tallest building in town.

Riley’s calm demeanor seems like a throwback to the glory days when Tom Osborne ran the football program. Riley even uses expressions like “Jiminy Christmas.”

In fact, some of the coverage made Nebraska’s new coach sound almost too good to be true. It came as somewhat of a relief when ESPN ran video footage showing Riley hopping mad on the sidelines of an Oregon State football game, slamming a sheaf of papers onto the turf. Riley does have a demonstrative side.

Make no mistake, what Eichorst said on Sunday when he announced that Bo Pelini was fired applies just as inevitably to Riley.

To remain Nebraska’s head football coach, Riley will need to win - and, especially, win the big games.

The corporate machine that big-time college football has become must be fed. The football program contributes significantly to the local economy, as well as providing a social structure for a good part of the year.

After initial surprise had subsided, there were signs that Nebraska fans were warming to Riley, judging from comments on the Journal Star website, social media and other sources online.

And maybe Nebraska football fans are becoming more acclimated to a faster cycle of coaching changes. The quote from the Roman philosopher Seneca that headed our editorial on the last football coaching change still applies: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

At an age of 61, Riley’s stint as Husker football coach almost seems to begin with an expiration date. “At the stage of my career, it was an opportunity to try something one more time,” Riley said at his initial press conference. “This opportunity is a great chance to do that at a great place.”

The Journal Star editorial board no doubt voices the wishes of Husker fans worldwide when we say that we hope Riley winds up his career with a flourish. Welcome to Nebraska.

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Scottsbluff Star-Herald. Dec. 7, 2014.

Taxes: Making property owners pay more won’t help Nebraska’s economy

With another session of the Nebraska Legislature at hand, you can expect lots of talk about taxes. Already there has been discussion of adjusting ag land valuations to lower property tax bills, and debate over appropriate income and corporate tax rates.

Tax issues often fall victim to simplistic analyses and partisan dogma. Nobody likes taxes, but needs never go away. Unfortunately, tax “cutting” usually means shifting the burden from one set of favored taxpayers to another. State government pays most its bills with income and sales tax revenues. One of its favorite tricks is unloading unfunded mandates onto the backs of property taxpayers. When state politicians shuffle off responsibilities and expenses to smaller governments, they often neglect to provide sufficient funding. That results in higher property taxes, which are virtually the only local source of revenue.

For instance, the Legislature has progressively eliminated financial aid that had been promised years ago when it dumped more responsibilities onto county government. Recently, it required counties to provide office space and supplies for new juvenile probation officers. It failed to fully reimburse Scotts Bluff County for holding state prisoners. It refuses to raise fees that haven’t been raised for decades and that cover only a portion of the expense of providing services, such as marriage licenses.

The taxpayers get defrauded when the state cuts its spending by shifting expenses onto local governments that rely on property taxes. Any gain you might get from an income tax cut, which invariably will help wealthy residents the most, can be quickly overwhelmed by a surge in your property tax bill.

Another form of fraud is the argument that income tax rates cause businesses to leave the state and take their incomes with them when they move. Although tax rates might be a factor in some corporate decision-making, factors such as workforce quality and development costs play a bigger role. For small businesses and workers, job opportunities, family considerations, housing costs and even climate are much more decisive.

In any case, the vast majority of people can’t take their income with them to a new state, because they work for someone else. When former employees leave a state, they also leave behind a job that someone else fills. Even a plumber or doctor will leave customers and patients who’ll find other professionals to do the work they require. The owner of a successful computer shop will usually sell it to someone who will continue to operate it.

On the other hand, deep cuts in income taxes are very likely to lead to deteriorating K-12 education, state universities, parks, roads, bridges, police protection and other services that make states attractive places to do business, and places where the key personnel that businesses must hire will want to live. In fact, states with some of the highest taxation and public investment also have robust business and population growth.

A recent Milken Institute list of “Best Cities for Successful Aging” found that “most Americans want to age at home and in place, and not uproot themselves from their communities.” It ranked Omaha second in the nation based on 84 quality-of-life factors. Scottsbluff isn’t big enough to make the list, but the amenities that went into Omaha’s ranking are worth noting: access to health care, employment opportunities and “community engagement,” which includes factors such as arts and entertainment, recreation and public libraries per capita - things that are important to younger people, too.

When older people move away, it’s often for a reduction in their housing costs, not lower income taxes. Even younger people are likely to pay more attention to housing costs than taxes. A family selling a home in a place with high property values and moving to a place with a lower cost of living can buy a similar home for far less money, saving far more in mortgage payments over the years than in income and sales taxes.

If the Legislature wants to help Nebraskans and make the state a more attractive place to live, it should make living here more affordable. For most people, that means keeping housing costs reasonable. The best way to do that is to cut Nebraska’s heavy dependence on property taxes.

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Omaha World-Herald. Dec. 7, 2014.

Job search a fresh start for Corrections

The old news: Nebraska’s prison system is a mess.

The new news: Nebraska’s next governor knows change is needed. And he’s got a plan to find the right person to clean things up.

“We need to have leadership that can bring about transformational change,” Gov.-elect Pete Ricketts said in a meeting with World-Herald editorial writers.

His plan is to conduct a national search. His goal: a new, proven director for the problem-plagued Department of Correctional Services, someone who can build a team and bring culture change to an agency where too many mistakes and too little accountability have been the order of the day for too long.

The new prison boss must “understand that they’re going to be a change agent,” Ricketts said.

By now, all Nebraskans know the sad story. State prison officials didn’t properly calculate the release dates for inmates, sending hundreds out the door too early and eventually adding 2,000-plus years to the sentences of others after The World-Herald uncovered the problems this summer.

Those officials ignored Nebraska Supreme Court rulings telling them how to calculate the release dates. They felt pressure, they say, to turn inmates loose to keep crowding down. Furlough programs were fashioned, then expanded from nonviolent to violent offenders. That, too, provided a little extra space inside the walls.

Fixing all of this will be a big, difficult job.

To do it, Ricketts has climbed out of the box. He will seek private donations to hire an executive search firm to identify candidates for Corrections, as well as a new leader for the Health and Human Services system and a third job he views as key to Nebraska’s future growth - head of the Department of Economic Development.

It’s an unusual step, to be sure. Commendably, the new governor promises public accountability in this process - he’ll identify the donors and make public names of the finalists. It allows the not-yet-governor, who doesn’t take office until Jan. 8, to get a jump start on the hunt for help and widen the pool of candidates beyond a typical state government job posting.

Ricketts hopes the national search will bring to Nebraska someone focused on excellence in job performance and accountability for results, two qualities clearly missing in the recent controversies. The new director will have to navigate the challenges of improving training of his workforce.

Looming over all of this is a recent consultant’s report on overcrowding, with the prisons now at more than 150 percent of capacity.

That report said the state could start fixing the problem by adding 1,100 beds spread out over three facilities at a cost of $199.2 million. Operating the expanded system would add millions more in costs each year.

Ricketts isn’t ready to go there yet. He voices a desire to take this process one step at a time.

That starts with hiring a Corrections director with experience in working on these issues. The governor-elect wants to look at larger roles for drug courts and veterans’ courts, and to work with judges on alternative ways to handle non- violent criminals. He says he’s not embarrassed to steal good ideas from other states.

All of that makes sense. Whether it is enough to avoid the costs of building new prison cells remains to be seen.

But the search for a new prison chief is the starting point. Nebraskans can hope the new governor finds the right person.

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McCook Daily Gazette. Dec. 5, 2014.

Immigrants more important share of citizenry

Today’s young adults - millennials age 18-34 - are less likely to have been married than their counterparts from 1980 and are more likely to live in poverty despite being more likely to have a college degree.

Oh, and they’re more likely to speak with a foreign accent, having been born somewhere other than the United States.

Those demographics will put an interesting spin on the coming debate on immigration, provided Congress actually gets down to one.

A key generation fits the description in New York harbor, “huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest statistics from the American Community Survey, the percentage of young adults today who are foreign born has more than doubled since 1980 - 15 percent vs. 6 percent.

All states have higher proportions of foreign-born young adults than 30 years ago.

Of course, it’s not the same all over the country; only 9 percent of young adults in the Midwest and 14 percent in the South are foreign born, compared to 21 percent in the West and 18 percent in the Northeast, double or triple 1980 figures.

One in four young adults nationwide, or 17.9 million, speaks a language other than English at home. It’s higher in New York, New Jersey, Texas, New Mexico and Nevada (where it’s about one in three) but California leads with about half of young adults foreign-speaking.

Fitting in with the “huddled masses” stereotype, one in five millennials live in poverty, up from one in seven in 1980. But don’t look for them to be especially hawkish - only 2 percent have served in the military today, compared to 9 percent in 1980.

While only three in 10 young adults have even been married, down from six in 10 in 1980. Utah bucks the trend, with 51 percent married, while Rhode Island, with 25 percent, is the lowest.

Most politicians know which way the wind blows, whether or not they intend to be influenced by the gusts.

Too hard a line on the immigration issue may turn out to be a good way to alienate an important voting bloc.

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