- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2017

Omaha World-Herald. February 10, 2017

Level sales tax playing field by collecting internet sales tax

Tax fairness is the best argument for more effectively collecting Nebraska sales taxes on Internet purchases.

State law sets a 5.5 percent state sales tax on goods bought at brick-and-mortar stores as well as those bought online. But while those brick-and-mortar stores are required to collect the tax, online sales tax collection is left to an honor system in which taxpayers are expected to report and pay when they file their state income taxes.

Not surprisingly, fewer than 1 percent of taxpayers self-report.



The state, by looking the other way, gives online retailers a price advantage over local stores, which employ more than 100,000 people statewide. This failing honor system is unfair to retail employers and employees who live and invest in our communities.

State senators can consider one of two bills before them that would require online businesses of varying sizes to collect the sales tax. This is already being done by states such as South Dakota and Colorado. The Colorado law passed muster in federal court.

The fiscal stakes are large for the state. Amazon, the nation’s largest online retailer, has voluntarily started collecting Nebraska’s sales tax. The Nebraska Department of Revenue estimates the state will collect about $28 million in sales taxes on those purchases in 2017-18. That’s from one, albeit large, online retailer.

But setting aside revenue considerations, this is a matter of principle. Lawmakers should focus on fixing a flawed process by fairly applying an existing tax. It’s time to level this playing field.

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Lincoln Journal Star. February 10, 2017

Both sides should get fair hearing

If Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion thought he could fool people into thinking that there is more support for a dubious income tax cut plan than there actually is, he must have a poor opinion of Nebraskans’ ability to see things for themselves.

Smith cut off testimony on the plan at a public hearing Wednesday, leaving opponents who had spent hours on the road to testify without a chance to present their objections.

Meanwhile, Gov. Pete Ricketts and Revenue Director Tony Fulton had only to walk down the hall from their offices in the Capitol to the hearing room, where they got unlimited time. And other proponents were allowed far more time than opponents as well.

It’s true that the hearing before the Revenue Committee went on for seven hours, but Nebraskans may have to live with the effect of the misguided plan for years. If the Legislature intends to make a change of this magnitude, it’s worth taking the time to make sure all aspects are thoroughly explored.

There’s a lot to explore. The plan that would cut the tax rate for Nebraskans in the top income bracket is a bait-and-switch scheme.

For years, Nebraskans have howled about property taxes. Now, Ricketts and others are trying to harness that energy in support of an income tax cut for Nebraskans at the top.

That’s why so many people showed up at the Capitol to testify in opposition to the plan. They want property tax relief, not tax cuts that would benefit the richest Nebraskans.

It’s part of a national movement, apparently funded by the Koch brothers and other wealthy individuals who pour money anonymously into political organizations like Trees of Liberty, an organization responsible for duplicitous mail advertising in the last election that ousted some incumbents.

The decision to cut off testimony from opponents rightfully will deepen suspicion that supporters don’t want the plan examined too carefully.

For one thing, it would put a time bomb in the state tax system. Think about the implications. The Legislature is preparing to make deep cuts in the budget for the University of Nebraska

The university is an economic driver for the state. It provides a talented workforce and research that helps employers grow and prosper. The university is the ladder by which young Nebraskans can climb to a better life.

The income cut plan sets a bomb that would detonate just as an increased flow of revenue might allow the university to recover some of the ground it lost in the current economic downturn.

If senators want to make wise decisions, they need to give both sides of this debate a fair hearing.

It’s often said that in Nebraska’s unique one-house Legislature the people are the second house. On Wednesday in front of the Revenue Committee the people got the shaft.

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Kearney Hub. February 10, 2017

Thankfully spared from flag design fiasco in ‘17

A rose to … lawmaker restraint. This week in Lincoln, the Legislature’s Executive Board wisely voted against advancing a resolution to redesign Nebraska’s state flag this year. The logical side of our brain is telling us that delaying the redesign is sensible because there are so many more important issues to tackle: prison overcrowding, a property tax crisis in farm country, and a projected $1 billion funding gap over the next two years.

The emotional side of our brains is relieved because, with the flag redesign on hold, we only need to deal with the assault on our sensibilities from our state’s new license plates. It’s good to know our lawmakers have mercifully spared us from another comedy of bad design this year by delaying the state flag makeover until 2018.

A rose to … auditors. Where would Nebraskans be without the bean counters to sniff out the many fiscal embarrassments at the state’s Department of Health and Human Services? The latest audit discovered that HHS is continuing to overpay benefits and that there’s still a backlog of cases - 11,580 to be precise.

Nebraska taxpayers could soon be responsible for covering most of the overpayments because so many are almost one year old - too old to pursue based on state and federal law.

The silver lining in the cloud of red ink floating over HHS is that the supersized department has been taking steps to tighten up its procedures and reduce the overpayment of benefits. If HHS can’t get it right, does that give other agencies who are loose with their money a license to continue their wasteful ways?

A raspberry to … squeamish eaters. They’re not the target market for a new Nebraska business that’s trying to figure out just how many insects it can mix into its food. Bugeater Foods, which is working from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, is using finely ground crickets in pasta and rice products while maintaining flavorful taste and cooking qualities.

The Bugeater Foods pitch is to sell customers on the nutritional value of crickets, which are high in protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals. The biggest hurdle, obviously, is the revulsion many people have about consuming insects, even if they’re nutritious.

If Bugeaters products could find their way onto the Huskers’ training table, and our athletes run faster, and with all that cricket energy, jump higher, then perhaps Bugeater products will find space in pantries across the Cornhusker State.

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Scottsbluff Star-Herald. February 6, 2017

High quality care here at home

In rural America, health care cannot be ignored. It is vital for those of us living in western Nebraska to have quality local health care options.

We are an agricultural community. Though we would like to think we don’t experience accidents on our farms or in our small towns, that is not the case.

There may be a tractor roll over, someone gets caught between the fence and an angry cow, or any other potential danger and you are in need of medical help.

We also face the regular urban accidents, a slip in the shower, a car accident, etc.

Then there are the strokes, heart attacks or cancers that are as mean and nasty to rural Americans as they are to urban Americans.

Without fast quality care, a stroke can leave its victim in a terrible state. However, the right help given in a timely fashion can save the brain and mean a full recovery.

Out here in western Nebraska, our home, we are blessed with a number of quality health care providers.

At the top of the list is Regional West Medical Center, a Level II Trauma Center, one of only three in Nebraska and it is right here in Scottsbluff. They have attracted some of the best nurses, doctors and staff providing care to all of us in rural Nebraska.

This great crew recently was honored by Healthgrades as the five-star recipient for the treatment of stroke, the treatment of sepsis, the treatment of pulmonary embolism, the treatment of respiratory failure and for esophageal/stomach surgeries. These are impressive honors.

Air Link is ready, as is Valley Ambulance Service, to quickly get people to RWMC or one of our other great facilities close by.

There is Box Butte General Hospital in Alliance, Sidney Regional Medical Center in Sidney, Morrill County Hospital in Bridgeport, Community Hospital in Torrington, Kimball Health Services in Kimball and Community Action Partnership of Western Nebraska’s Health Center - all providing great health care for all of us in western Nebraska.

Sometimes we feel distanced from the big city amenities, but even out here in western Nebraska, we never have to take backseat to quality health care. To all you in the health care field, we say, “thank you.”

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