- Associated Press - Monday, June 6, 2016

Lincoln Journal Star. June 3, 2016

Stand strong for nonpartisanship.

Gov. Pete Ricketts seems to want state senators in Nebraska to act more like members of Congress, who expend more time and energy on political games than lawmaking.

That’s a really bad idea.

About four out of five Americans disapprove of the way that Congress is handling its job, according to the most recent Gallup poll.

Nebraska’s Legislature stands in sharp contrast to the dysfunctional legislative body in Washington., where the public good is all but forgotten.

In Lincoln state senators debate honestly, openly, vote their convictions and formulate effective government policy. Congress ought to emulate Nebraska, not the other way around.

President George Washington warned of the danger of party politics as he left office in 1796, stating, “The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

The wise people of Nebraska heeded that advice in 1934 when they voted that candidates for the Legislature should appear on the ballot without party identification.

But Gov. Ricketts said at the GOP state convention that he wants Republican members of the Legislature to vote lock-step in accordance with his wishes and the party platform.

The pressure could not have been more obvious. He called senators out by name. And some Republicans members of the Legislature with the courage to stand up to him found themselves targeted by robocalls, mailing and radio ads from organizations with shadowy sources of funding.

The tactic was a page ripped from a playbook that has been circulated for years by the likes of Grover Norquist. And what does Norquist want? “We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals - and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship,” Norquist told the Denver Post in 2003.

Norquist and his ilk seem to be getting their way.

When Republicans are threatened within their own party, it goes beyond the usual Democratic-Republican split.

The governor’s insistence that GOP state senators follow the state party platform is an odd notion in light of the blindingly obvious fact that the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee doesn’t adhere to the party’s national platform.

If Ricketts and Nebraska’s party bosses get their way, GOP senators might as well check their brains in at the door when walk into the unicameral chamber. They can just watch their cell phones for a message on how Ricketts and the bosses want them to vote.

It’s encouraging that a small bipartisan band of state legislators, including Republicans, Democrats, a Libertarian and an independent took issue with Rickett’s strong-arm tactics, objecting in a letter: “Our nonpartisan unicameral Legislature has lasted for 80 years and, barring the will of the people for a new legislative experiment, we will not surrender our non-partisan and constitutional duties.

“We support the Nebraska constitution and not any particular political party.”

Somewhere, surely, President George Washington is cheering for them. We hope Nebraskans are too.


Omaha World-Herald. June 3, 2016

Preserve, but carefully.

Omaha homes and businesses can provide a glimpse into our past, revealing a rich tapestry of architectural styles and building materials. And preserving our past is important.

But city leaders need to be careful they aren’t infringing unduly on personal property rights as they seek to protect that past.

Under a proposed city ordinance, city officials could deny a property owner’s right to demolish an older home or building - or a “substantial portion” of it - if it were found to have local historical or architectural significance.

City Councilman Chris Jerram offered the proposal in the wake of recent controversies over the razing of homes in the Memorial-Elmwood Park area and a now-discarded plan to tear down three century-old downtown buildings.

Under his proposal, city planning staff would review all demolition requests for structurally sound buildings at least 75 years old. If they thought a building might have historic value, as defined in the proposal, they would send it to the Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission to weigh possible designation as a local landmark.

If the commission, composed of nine appointed members, recommended landmark status, the owner would have 90 days to consider alternatives to demolition. If no agreement were reached, the City Council could deny the demolition. The whole process could take up to four months.

The city says the ordinance could affect an estimated 10 to 15 other properties a year. But any rule crafted by the City Council will need to be as specific as possible. In that vein, the idea raises a number of questions that merit thoughtful consideration:

“ Does the proposal go too far in restricting personal property rights, particularly since the decision could be made retroactively, perhaps long after someone buys a house?

“ Are the criteria for denying demolition appropriately narrow and objective, or overly broad and subjective? Jerram’s proposal says demolition could be denied if the commission decided a building had “significant historical, architectural, aesthetic or cultural value” or that the removal “would be detrimental to the historical or architectural heritage of the city,” based on its structure, era, building type, materials, ornamentation or craftsmanship, or if a significant architect, engineer or craftsman worked on it.

“ Another portion of the criteria would be whether the building contributes to the “streetscape and neighborhood.” Would that give neighbors more influence than the owner over the future of a property?

“ Who would decide whether an owner is offered viable alternatives? If a person or group offers to buy the property, who would decide whether the price is fair?

“ If a property owner were forced to retain an unwanted building, what would happen to it, and what greater good would be served?

“ Would the proposal unintentionally diminish efforts to rejuvenate the city core, thus encouraging sprawl, by creating a chilling effect on buying older properties?

Preserving Omaha’s history is important. But whenever government officials think about restricting property rights, they would be well advised to consider the matter from every perspective.


The Grand Island Independent. June 2, 2016

ACT not the right test for all students.

Major changes in the assessment of the educational progress of high school juniors are coming to Nebraska schools during the 2017-18 school year.

Beginning that school year, juniors will no longer take the Nebraska State Assessment tests in reading, math, science and writing. They will take a college admissions test, quite possibly the ACT.

We can understand the attractiveness of the ACT as a testing instrument. It comes from the publisher “ready to use.” There is no need or possible opportunity to alter the questions to assure that they have been written in an appropriate format. The exam is nationally normed and provides a well-accepted comparison to the performance of other students across the nation. It takes one day to administer as compared to the several days that are necessary to meet the current testing requirements. It will be validated, efficient to use and less expensive.

However, the ACT is designed to measure the aptitude of students for college work. While it provides scores in English, reading, math and science as well as a composite score, it may or may not measure the standards developed by the state of Nebraska during the past 15 years. That work began with the passage of “No Child Left Behind” and Nebraska has spent large amounts of money on the process.

While the test results will be meaningful to both students and schools, the ACT is not designed to provide data for the improvement of instruction.

The ACT, or perhaps a different college admissions exam, will be given to all students regardless of their aptitude or interest in attending college. Requiring all students to take a college entrance exam even though they have no plans or aptitude for college does not seem fair to those non-college-bound students. Those who choose to be “career ready” immediately upon high school graduation will consider tests such as the ACT unnecessary to their future and they will not be motivated to excel on such an exam; getting students to do their best on any educational measurement that does not seem relevant to them is always a problem.

In our culture, high school graduation has become the acknowledged transition to being an adult. We need comprehensive measurements of student achievement during the last two years of high school that measure how well our schools are preparing our young people for adulthood in the 21st century. Those measurements should be appropriate for both college and non-college-bound students.


McCook Daily Gazette. June 2, 2016

Fiscal study puts Nebraska near the top.

Gov. Ricketts has drawn criticism for his opposition to expanding Medicaid and his penchant for treating state government like a business, but his type of fiscal conservatism has placed Nebraska next to the top when it comes to financial health.

Eileen Norcross, a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University leads its State and Local Policy Project, which seeks to take the mystery out of financial reports.

Using various basic factors such as cash, budget, long-run, service and trust fund solvency, Nebraska ranked second in the United States behind only Alaska.

Puerto Rico ranked at the bottom, just below Connecticut, Massachusettes, New Jersey, Illinois, Kentucky, Hawaii, California, Maine and New York.

Other top states besides Alaska and Nebraska rank, in order,Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Florida, Utah, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Montana.

Nebraska ranks first in long-run solvency, meaning it can meet its long-term spending commitments and is prepared for economic shocks or other risks.

It’s also first in trust-fund solvency, meaning it has low debt, unfunded pension liabilities and health care obligations.

Other rankings include seventh in service-level solvency, meaning it has enough fiscal “slack” to increase spending if residents demand more services; ninth in cash solvency to cover short-term bills; and 14th in budget solvency - taking in enough revenue to cover fiscal year spending.

Nebraska’s revenues exceed expenses, and total taxes as a proportion of state personal income are 5 percent below the national average.

“You shouldn’t have to be a budget expert to know where your state stands financially,” Norcross said. “These rankings give everyone that chance by putting complicated annual financial reports into context, while still allowing experts to take a deeper look at the numbers.”

Proponents of expanding Medicaid or other programs will probably use the figures to contend that Nebraska can afford to increase spending, and that may be true to a limited extent.

But only by keeping its fiscal house in order can Nebraska hope to keep its options open and avoid more painful decisions later.

Check out the original study here: https://bit.ly/1UwT88O

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