- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

Omaha World-Herald. January 18, 2017

Proper balance between rural, urban schools helps Nebraska

A tumultuous situation at the Nebraska Legislature over school aid in 2013 provides an important lesson for the state’s lawmakers now.

Urban and rural public school groups and senators who support them couldn’t agree four years ago on how to carve up the state-aid pie. The various interests locked themselves into rigid positions. A prolonged stalemate resulted, generating uncertainty for overall state budget preparation.

School-aid allocation was finally decided only after months of heated disagreement, with the then-speaker of the Legislature pressing hard for the parties to agree.

Strong jostling among Nebraska school districts over state aid allocation is likely this legislative session. Senators, urban as well as rural, can serve the state best by guiding the process toward a balanced, fair-minded resolution.

As noted here recently, stresses on the agricultural economy involve all of Nebraska. Residents and their elected representatives have a shared interest in the success of all the state’s communities and regions.

After the Legislature struggled in 2011 in deciding how to redraw rural legislative district boundaries, given negative population trends, we observed the need for the Legislature to make sure that all interests are appreciated:

“Although it is understandable that urban lawmakers will be oriented toward the interests of their districts, it will be of growing importance for members of the Legislature to be mindful to show proper respect for rural interests. Regardless of the shifts in population and political boundaries, responsible policy-making in Nebraska will require a sensible balancing of urban and rural interests.”

State senators have complex, difficult work ahead this session as they study and debate how to adjust tax policy and distribute school aid. The best approach is a balanced one that respects all interests, urban and rural.

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Lincoln Journal Star. January 18, 2017

Don’t believe hype on cuts to income tax

Folks down at the Capitol are trying to pitch the income tax cuts in Gov. Pete Ricketts’ budget as a tax break for the middle class.

Nebraskans need to do the math before they start applauding.

A person earning $36,180 in the state wouldn’t get a dime from the proposed income tax cut. One hauling down $37,000 a year would get a tax cut of $6.97 a year if the plan wins approval.

A Nebraskan cashing in at $500,000 a year would get a tax cut of $3,942.

That’s because the proposed income tax cut would benefit only those people in the top income tax bracket. A married couple filing jointly would need to earn at least $72,361 to get a tax break worth less than a penny.

When candidates are out on the campaign trail, they report, year after year, that the voters are most upset about property taxes.

But when elected officials get to the Lincoln, they seem to forget that. They get distracted by the lobbyists pushing for income tax cuts.

There’s a whole flock of think tanks on the payroll of billionaires who have invented a competition between states that focuses on income taxes. It’s a contest to see which state will put the most money back into the rich man’s pocket.

Count the Omaha-based Platte Institute for Policy Research among that flock.

And there’s a gaggle of organizations with mysterious sources of money that launch misleading attack ads against candidates who refuse to do their bidding when it comes to taxes.

The independent-minded OpenSky Policy Institute pointed out in a recent release that about 85 percent of the dollars in the proposed tax cut would go to the wealthiest Nebraskans.

As many analysts have pointed out, Nebraska’s tax structure is a three-legged stool. It’s growing more lop-sided year after year.

The way the Farm Bureau figures it, property taxes account for a staggering 48 percent of taxes collected in the state. Income taxes account for 33 percent and sales tax 19 percent.

The way OpenSky calculates it, the stool is not quite as lopsided, but property taxes are still the longest leg at 36 percent, with sales tax at 30 percent and income tax at 26 percent.

The Farm Bureau and the advocacy group Reform for Nebraska’s Future have the right idea: revenue-neutral tax reform that rebalances the state’s tax structure and gives relief to property taxpayers. An income tax cut, even one that is deferred, will only make the three-legged stool more lopsided. Worst of all, it will do little to help the middle class.

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Kearney Hub. January 18, 2017

Officials warned us, we listened, few harmed

A rose to … emergency preparedness. Scores of responders either sprang into action or were on standby during the past four days as a major winter storm inched through Hub Territory. So threatening it was coined “Winter Storm Jupiter,” the weather carried the threat of rain, drizzle and snow that made traveling hazardous and could have knocked out electrical service.

Residents of Hub Territory who recall the ice storm of 2006 know what a misery cold weather, the loss of electrical service, and the heavy burden to rebuild after such a catastrophe can be.

Perhaps it was the hard-learned lessons of 2006 that prompted such a unified and efficient response to Winter Storm Jupiter. Snow plows were out early spreading anti-icing compound, and the message from emergency managers was uniform and succinct: Stay home, stay safe. Reinforcing that message were school and university officials and business operators who decided they were better off safe, so rather than being sorry they called off classes and kept their businesses locked.

People listened to the warnings. Aside from some crashes early into the storm, the frequency of wrecks diminished markedly as area residents heeded officials’ warnings and hunkered down for the duration of the threatening weather.

When Tuesday dawned sunny and bright, storm damage was minimal and we could thank our luck that Jupiter landed only a glancing blow. We also could thank ourselves for playing it smart. The rain and ice were bona fide weather hazards, but we wisely prepared, then we counter punched by staying put while the professionals tended to streets and roads and any emergencies while we waited for the danger to pass.

A raspberry to … Omaha state Sen. Burke Haar, who wants to redesign the Nebraska state flag because 2017 is Nebraska’s 150th anniversary as a state. We can understand why Haar wants the redesign to coincide with our statehood anniversary, and we agree that as flag designs go, Nebraska’s flag has room for improvement.

However, rushing to accomplish the redesign tempts disaster. For whatever reason, Nebraskans have not had much luck in recent decades with symbolic designs, particularly our license plates.

More important than the likelihood of botching the redesign if we rush it is the fact that Haar and the 48 other lawmakers in the Nebraska Legislature ought to devote their attention to more pressing matters, such as the $1 billion revenue shortfall and the necessity for property tax reform.

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McCook Daily Gazette. January 19, 2017

Perhaps this is a good year to end daylight saving time

A day before the first African American president leaves office and Donald Trump checks into the White House, there are few things less important than daylight saving time.

That’s especially true in Nebraska’s capital, where Gov. Pete Ricketts, in response to projected budget shortfalls, is proposing sweeping changes to the state’s property tax system as well as agency reform and spending cuts finding opposition in from many quarters.

But a bill (LB309) to eliminate daylight saving time in Nebraska is one that was introduced Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft.

We have to admit mixed feelings about the proposal.

One of the highlights of the year is the switch to DST, marking the arrival of the warm, sunny weather we have been waiting for all winter.

When we “fall back,” the extra hour of sleep is welcome.

But the real reason we might support retention of daylight saving time is very personal. Railing against the change has helped fill this space twice a year for many years in the past.

While supporters insist it saves energy, boosts tourism and encourages people to get more exercise and fresh air as well as other benefits, you probably know the arguments against it. Opponents say daylight saving time disrupts the sleep cycle, increases the number of heart attacks, doesn’t really save energy, forces people to leave home when it is still dark and causes more accidents because drivers are sleepy.

On second thought, perhaps repealing daylight saving time is just the sort of distraction Nebraska lawmakers will welcome as a break from dealing with weightier issues.

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