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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

May 27, 2019

Omaha World Herald. May 26, 2019

Omaha area has a good opportunity to address its underemployment challenge

Does an adult’s lack of a bachelor’s degree mean he or she has no hope for serious employment? In the Omaha area, that needn’t be so in many cases, provided the individual receives proper training. A new national report explains why.

The study, by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and Cleveland, analyzed the economies of 121 U.S. metropolitan areas and ranked them on how well they provide job opportunities for such adults. The Omaha area scored relatively well: 35th out of the 121.

The study analyzed each metro area for its number of “opportunity jobs” — those that don’t require a bachelor’s degree and typically pay above the national median wage of $37,690. Nationally, such jobs account for 21.6%. The figure for the Omaha area is considerably higher: 26.3%.

This doesn’t mean it’s easy to connect workers with employment in all cases. But the findings do indicate that the Omaha area has considerable potential to address its underemployment problem through outreach, cooperation between businesses and educational institutions, plus strategic investments in workforce training.

These are the most plentiful “opportunity jobs” in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro, according to the report:

“ Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers: 12,900 positions; $39,400 annual median wage.

“ Registered nurses: 8,300 positions; $61,700 annual median wage. This number reflects the statewide employment trend in Nebraska. The health care sector provided Nebraska’s largest employment growth during 2000-17, with the number of jobs increasing from 99,000 to nearly 142,000.

“ Carpenters: 4,100 positions; $40,900 annual median wage.

“ Maintenance and repair workers: 4,000 positions; $39,300 annual median wage.

“ Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks: 3,800 positions; $37,500 annual median wage.

Other opportunity-job categories in the top 10 for the Omaha area: general and operations managers; electricians; supervisors of retail sales workers; supervisors of office and administrative support workers; and plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters.

Those findings are in line with what Metropolitan Community College, the Omaha business community and organized labor have been seeing and working to address cooperatively, says MCC President Randy Schmailzl. MCC has made significant investments, in consultation with business and labor, to provide worker training pegged to real-world needs, Schmailzl said:

“ The Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology, which helps trainees understand the close connections between computer systems and technology-related manufacturing operations.

“ The Construction Education Center, whose training includes disciplines such as architectural drafting, civil engineering, electrical technology and plumbing.

“ Auto technology and auto collision programs, expanding into a 100,000-square-foot building at MCC’s South Omaha campus.

MCC’s cooperation with local businesses, Schmailzl says, enables “earn to learn” training in which students gain on-the-job experience while in school. Businesses provide a considerable number of scholarships for MCC students.

“That kind of cooperation has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last five years,” Schmailzl told The World-Herald, “and is the reason we’re on a better track to fill these jobs than we’ve ever been.”

The report provides information on the Omaha area’s overall job composition. Lower-wage jobs, which on a payment scale below that of opportunity jobs, account for a lower portion of jobs here than nationally (47.3% in Omaha, 50.8% nationally). The Omaha area is slighting below the overall U.S. figure for jobs requiring at least a bachelor’s degree account (26.4% here; 27.7% nationally).

Several of Omaha’s competing metro areas scored higher in the opportunity-jobs ranking than did Omaha: Des Moines, third; Kansas City, 10th; Wichita, 17th; Tulsa, 20th.

There are no quick remedies to the underemployment challenges, but this new report provides encouragement about the Omaha area’s potential for progress, building on the cooperation and achievements already made.


Lincoln Journal Star . May 24, 2019

Peterson right to join generic drug lawsuit

The phrases - “playing nice in the sandbox” and “responsible competitor,” among others - seem innocent enough at first glance.

But using these words in casual conversations, emails and text messages, senior executives at 20 generic drug manufacturers are accused of discussing ways in which they would discourage competition among themselves in a way that would increase prices on medication - and profits for these companies.

The outrageous, brazen nature of these alleged actions has elicited litigation from nearly every attorney general in the country, including Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson. We’re glad to see his office involved in this effort, which undoubtedly has affected numerous Nebraskans.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the lawsuits allege that companies colluded to pick and choose which drugs they would market and which ones they’d leave to their competitors. As a result, everyday citizens, insurance companies and governments paid inflated prices for drugs of all types - including hikes attorneys general claim exceeded 1,000% on some prescriptions.

This case, spearheaded by Connecticut’s attorney general, “seeks damages, civil penalties and actions by the court to restore competition to the generic drug market.” If the companies are indeed found liable of price fixing on billions of dollars of sales, those aims seem entirely reasonable amid the accusations.

Coordinated efforts by state attorneys general to tackle widespread public safety topics clearly have an impact.

Perhaps the best known is the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement, prompted by a lawsuit led by Mississippi’s attorney general. In it, 46 states (including Nebraska) settled cases against the tobacco industry in exchange for the four largest tobacco companies’ paying of hundreds of billions of dollars to recoup the costs of tobacco-related health care and the end of most tobacco advertising.

It’s far too early to tell, but a suit of equal magnitude may be brewing.

A similar case is in the works against Purdue Pharmaceuticals - the maker of Oxycontin - for using deceptive marketing to fuel and exacerbate the nation’s opioid crisis. With Iowa and Kansas among the states joining the suit last week, at least 44 attorneys generals are involved. In a recent statement, Peterson said he’s monitoring the situation, staying in touch with his peers and weighing litigation.

We’re encouraged by the cooperation among attorneys general on such efforts. Though multistate suits are sometimes filed along partisan lines to address controversial political topics - including fighting the travel ban and the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals program - they remain a powerful tool when they transcend party labels and are used in this manner.

The misconduct being alleged by the generic drug companies certainly merits such action, and we fully support Peterson in his participation.


The Grand Island Independent. May 24, 2019

Why high property taxes in Nebraska remain intractable

It is likely that the Nebraska Legislature will end its 2019 session without any meaningful action on an issue that was heralded as a top priority: high property taxes.

There are two principal reasons why the problem has remained so intractable. One is the “War on Poverty” and its successors, and the other is the way Nebraskans pay for local government.

Over 50 years ago, a prosperous nation turned its attention to a segment being left behind: the poor. Thus was born the War on Poverty of the 1960s.

In rapid order, President Lyndon Johnson presided over an avalanche of social legislation. Included was the establishment of Food Stamps in 1964, then Head Start, Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. Other initiatives included the Job Corps, federal funding for education, and a variety of other anti-poverty programs. In addition, the 50 states began to spend their own money to combat poverty and its effects.

These efforts have produced both successes and failures, as expected. But not expected were the billions and billions of dollars now spent annually by all levels of government, as they address a host of social needs and ills ... some old, some new.

Nebraska is part of these efforts, and the explosion of state money now spent on Medicaid, child welfare, prisons and other demands on government is squeezing the state’s budget. The consequences include less state money available for the one thing that is high on local taxpayer wish lists: property tax relief.

Cities can look to sales taxes for help. Not so counties and school districts. They must rely on property taxes as their main source of funding, though they are still expected to address many of the social needs and problems that are common today. In addition, schools are expected to prepare students to be successful in a world far more competitive than ever before, with educations that are far more expensive than years ago.

Schools, the largest consumers of property taxes, look to state aid for help and relief. But the War on Poverty and its successors are taking state money that could be used for this purpose, and there is no way around it.

Repeated failures to achieve property tax relief are now prompting some new questions. For starters, should property taxes continue to be the primary funding source for local governments and schools?

And if not, what are the alternatives?


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