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Blueprint Nebraska among groups at forum sharing visions for Nebraska

October 11, 2018

The future of the state, from next year to the next 150 years, was the focus of discussion at a Monday afternoon legislative forum at the Norfolk Public Library.

The forum was held by the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce, the state chamber of commerce and Blueprint Nebraska, a recently formed group that is setting out to create an economic vision for the state as industry, technology and the workforce rapidly change. About 30 people representing businesses and civic groups attended.

One of the featured speakers was state Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk, the speaker of the Legislature. Scheer presented an overview of the coming legislative session in 2019.

One of the primary tasks will be figuring out the state’s budget and tax revenue for the coming years.

“To put it simply, it’s going to be about money,” Scheer said.

While the state is expected to increase revenue from tax on online sales, Scheer is cautious about the expected gains.

“I don’t think the advent of being about to collect (sales tax) from the internet is as good as people perceive it to be,” Scheer said.

He said the state department of revenue will not measure how much income specifically comes from previously uncollected internet sales tax, so the total impact on revenue will be difficult to determine.

Another issue to figure out with the budget is a potential expansion of Medicaid in Nebraska, which is currently on the ballot this November.

“My assumption is that the Medicaid expansion will probably pass,” Scheer said. “And if it passes, that would generate the need for a large portion of funds.”

Scheer said he isn’t trying to sway votes either for or against the expansion, but said that the costs associated with the expansion are probably being underestimated.

“In talking to other state speakers around the nation, in states that have expanded (Medicaid), all of them told me, without exception, it was vastly underestimated,” Scheer said. “Costs have been much higher than anticipated. And if that’s the case for Nebraska, that’s a lot of money we’re going to have to work with.”

Scheer also said a priority will be replenishing the state’s reserve funds, which underwent a dramatic decrease from about $700 million to just over $300 million over the past few years.

He said if the funds can’t be replenished, Nebraska would be in trouble if there is another recession similar to the one a decade ago.

“If we were to have another financial situation as we did 10 years ago, we would not have the ability to withstand it,” he said.

Scheer also mentioned property taxes, saying he understands many Nebraskans are vocal about property tax relief and expects it to be a major issue in the next session again.

Ultimately, Scheer said it will be a difficult session, because there will be a lot of desires for a lot things, and some unpopular choices may have to be made to secure a financial future for the state.

THE FORUM was also a opportunity for Blueprint Nebraska to showcase its goals.

Jim Smith of Papillion, who recently resigned from a his seat on the legislature to lead the organization as its executive director, said the overall purpose of Blueprint Nebraska is for the business community to come together and create a common vision for Nebraska’s future.

“We just celebrated 150 years as a state,” Smith said. “We need to hold onto the things to the things that this ‘the good life,’ while preparing for the next 150 years.”

In a video presentation, Lance Fritz, the president and CEO of Union Pacific, said that Blueprint Nebraska would work on making the state “as good as it could be.”

The group is led by a 21-member steering committee, which is chaired by Fritz and Owen Palm of Scottsbluff, the president and CEO of 21st Century Holdings. Along with the steering committee, there are 16 industry councils with hundreds of business leaders from across the state.

The councils represent industries including agriculture, finance, healthcare, housing, diversity and more.

The group, still in its beginning stages, is currently seeking feedback from businesses across the state through online surveys. Smith said the group would share its next step before the end of the year.

Bryan Slone of the state chamber of commerce said Nebraska and its smaller communities need to do a better job of marketing their opportunities to modern workers.

“We do a miserable job of marketing to our young people and marketing to young people in other places that this is a one of kind opportunity to raise a family, have a great career, make a difference, start a business, and that these are exactly the type of communities you’re looking for,” Slone said.

He said Nebraska needs a common economic vision as energy production, technology, culture and workforce demands change.

Scheer also said he understood the challenges Nebraska faces economically. He said that he has first-hand experience, as his own daughter was born, raised, educated in Nebraska but is employed in Texas.

“Texas spent nothing and gained all of those skills and revenue,” Scheer said. “We need to keep people like that in Nebraska.”

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