- Associated Press - Monday, November 19, 2018

Omaha World Herald. November 16, 2018

Nebraska needs to prepare for the impending increase in the elderly population

Population-trend analysis by the University of Nebraska at Omaha points to one of Nebraska’s biggest challenges in coming years: making sure the state is prepared to meet the needs of the elderly.

The number of Nebraskans ages 65 and older increased by 4.1 percent during the 1990s and by 6.2 percent in the first decade of this century.

But the projected increase during the 2010s is dramatically higher: 31.6 percent. For the 2020s, this population group is projected to increase 28.9 percent.

For the eight-county Omaha metropolitan area, the number of households with at least one person age 65 or older reached almost 85,000 in 2016, up from about 62,000 a decade earlier.

Given that older men are living longer than in the past, UNO demographer David Drozd finds, the percentage of senior-age Nebraska women living alone is decreasing: 38.9 percent in 2015, down from 46.2 percent in 1990. Meanwhile, Nebraska is seeing a higher percentage of senior-age men living alone (21 percent in 2015, up from 16.6 percent in 1990).

As a result, the demand will grow for public and private programs helping the elderly to live independently. Nursing home reimbursement will likely increase as a share of the state’s Medicaid budget. And retirements will put increased pressure on businesses to fill jobs and on educational institutions to adequately train workers.

The more that Nebraska institutions and individuals plan for these changes, the better off the state will be.

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Lincoln Journal Star. November 16, 2018

New regents bring critical perspective onto board

When the University of Nebraska Board of Regents convenes for its first meeting in 2019, two new faces - winners of last week’s election - will take their seats.

Barbara Weitz and Elizabeth O’Connor will bring plenty of important perspectives to the board.

Yes, the pair will be NU’s first female regents since Nancy O’Brien lost re-election in 2002. But this goes deeper than gender. Weitz is a retired UNO professor, and O’Connor is a former student regent who’s just 27 years old.

Government should represent a cross-section of the people it serves. The current regents have done an admirable job serving the university, especially during this difficult financial juncture with state appropriations in flux, but the addition of viewpoints that don’t presently exist on the board should provide some diversity that can only benefit the state’s public university system.

“What’s really wonderful about this, I think, is that it reflects an awareness that the world is changing and our campuses reflect those changes,” Weitz told the Journal Star after the election. “You can’t shift all at once, but it’s a beginning.”

While a majority of NU students and staff are women - 54 percent and 51 percent, respectively - Weitz and O’Connor are just the fifth and sixth women on the board in the university’s nearly 150-year history. Too few women have been elected to these positions despite the large share of women on campus.

And both of the newly elected regents are eminently qualified for the board.

Weitz was a longtime faculty member in UNO’s School of Social Work whom the university credits for expanding its service learning programs. Her name adorns UNO’s recently constructed Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center, which focuses on making connections for the university with the greater Omaha community.

Meanwhile, O’Connor, an Omaha attorney, is the first millennial to serve on the board. And we don’t mean that term in a derisive fashion, either - the voice of the young people who are on the campus needs to be heard. An elected official with such recent experience as an NU student fills a void that exists across higher education, and that’s before considering her familiarity with the Board of Regents.

Whether it’s age, education, profession, hometown, ancestry or some other trait, a diverse bunch of students compose the enrollment of Nebraska’s public universities. These students are pursuing innumerable educational opportunities before taking their own unique path to enter the workforce.

Though an eight-member board obviously cannot boast as varied of backgrounds as the nearly 52,000 students enrolled across NU’s campuses, having a governing body that more closely resembles and better reflects these perspectives is a plus. Nothing can compensate for what Weitz and O’Connor will bring to the board.

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The Grand Island Independent. November 15, 2018

MAAA bylaws change a step away from transparency

A bylaws change being considered by the Midland Area Agency on Aging governing board raises a very real concern about the agency stepping back from openness in government.

The federal agency, which provides services to seniors in Hall, Adams, Clay, Hamilton, Howard, Merrick, Nuckolls and Webster counties, is one of eight Area Agencies on Aging in Nebraska and one of 667 in the country. According to its website, its mission is to “help ensure older Nebraskans remain independent, healthy and safe in their homes and communities for as long as possible.”

That’s a very important mission, especially to those of us living in rural Nebraska where senior centers and the services they provide are so important to the well-being of our elderly residents.

But as with any government body, it is essential that all the actions of the board and its members be above board and open to the public.

At its October meeting, the MAAA board voted 7-1 to advance a bylaws amendment to the counties it serves, with a final vote on the amendment to take place during its December meeting. According to the bylaw amendment, “a board member who fails to perform the duties of a member or acts contrary to the best interests of the agency may be subject to censure by the governing body.”

This appears to be a move by the agency’s director, Casey Musik, to control what the board members say to the press and the public. It stems from a controversy that erupted earlier this year over Hall County’s Meals on Wheels program and resulted in the agency temporarily suspending the county’s federal funding.

Musik said the amendment was proposed so that the agency’s leadership will speak for the board because comments made to the media had hurt the agency and endangered its funding.

Public transparency is not a threat to any government agency. If a board member has a concern about something the board or the agency is doing, that board member should be able to bring up that concern at board meetings and should be able to inform the public about it through the media.

The bylaws amendment wouldn’t change how the participating counties appoint members to the governing board. It would still be up to the Hall County Board of Supervisors, for example, which of its members three represent the county on the MAAA board. Currently, Supervisors Pam Lancaster, Scott Arnold and Doug Lanfear represent Hall County.

Even if the amendment is adopted and the board voted to censure one of its members, it would be up to that member’s county board whether he or she remained on the board.

But this bylaws change could still act to prevent transparency, causing board members to think twice before being willing to speak about the agency.

So far, Lancaster is the only MAAA board member who is opposing this amendment. It appears that the other board members don’t understand how serious this threat is to their ability to represent the people of their counties on the board. Hopefully, this month they will examine the issue before the final vote and will change their minds.

The people of Hall, Adams, Clay, Hamilton, Howard, Merrick, Nuckolls and Webster counties can also take this time to tell their county board members who are on the MAAA board that they don’t want them to be prevented from speaking about the agency.

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McCook Daily Gazette. November 15, 2018

National taxpayers willing to put up or shut up, sometimes

It would be interesting to see how Medicaid expansion would have fared in Nebraska had it been worded differently.

As it was, the initiative passed on the promise that it would extend medical coverage to more Nebraskans, boost the economy and improve the viability of smaller hospitals.

If it were couched in language that it might cut education and services for other needy Nebraskans, as opponents warned, it might not have done that well at the ballot box.

Gov. Pete Ricketts and supporters vow that implementing the Obamacare expansion in response to the voters’ wishes will be done within the constraints of the current budget - no new taxes, in the words of former President George H.W. Bush.

We’ll have to wait and see.

Popular opinion that people rarely vote to raise their own taxes is largely accurate, but that doesn’t mean they can’t sometimes be convinced.

According to the Tax Foundation, voters in a number of states had a chance to change tax policy.

Colorado voters failed to raise the income tax and make it progressive, replacing the current flat tax rate.

Maine failed by a wide margin to raise the income tax for high earners, and North Carolina voted to lower the maximum state income tax rate from 10 percent to 7 percent.

As for sales tax measures, Arizona voted to ban all sales taxes on services, Colorado failed to increase the state sales tax from 2.9 percent to 3.52 percent for transportation, Georgia authorized a school district sales tax by a wide margin, Oregon failed to ban taxes on groceries, but Washington did ban new local taxes on groceries.

Louisiana voted to require that property tax reappraisals which increase value by more than 50 percent be phased in over four years.

Other measures saw Washington fail to impose a carbon tax, Montana failed to impose a $2 cigarette tax increase to fund Medicaid expansion, South Dakota failed to boost tax on smokes from $1 to $2.53 a pack, and Florida passed a measure that requires new taxes to be approved by two-thirds of each Legislative chamber.

The Nebraska Legislature is now facing the daunting task of implementing Medicaid expansion while continuing to receive pressure to deliver property tax relief.

It will be interesting to see the role sales taxes, cigarette taxes or other types of revenue play in the effort.

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