Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers
Omaha World Herald. May 19, 2019
Nebraska Legislature should pass this needed revamp of business incentives
The Nebraska Legislature will neglect its responsibilities and harm the state if it fails to approve a soundly crafted business incentives bill that’s now before lawmakers.
Legislative Bill 720 was developed through careful negotiation. In major ways, it improves on the current incentives law, the Nebraska Advantage Act, passed in 2005. LB 720 incentivizes higher-wage jobs; shortens the payout time to reduce the chances of big fluctuations in year-to-year tax credit obligations; and removes overly complicated procedures in the current law.
The bill sponsor, State Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward, is a capable lawmaker who has shown he can work with a wide range of colleagues. Lawmakers are right to closely scrutinize legislation on an issue this complex, but the bill shouldn’t be allowed to stall. Kolterman has made clear that he’s open to amendments. One example: additional workforce development provisions.
It’s important that the Legislature act this session because the Nebraska Advantage Act is set to expire at the end of 2020. Approving LB 720 would give certainty to the business community as companies weigh possible investment in the state. Failing to pass the bill, in contrast, would leave matters in limbo and create precisely the sort of uncertainty that businesses seek to avoid. Action this session is imperative.
More than 30 states offer major incentives for new business investment, and the committee hearing on LB 720 made clear that in today’s competitive economy, a state will be passed over for major projects unless it offers incentives.
When lawmakers held their first round of debate last week on the measure, some senators said they wouldn’t support the bill unless the Legislature approves property tax relief. But it’s irresponsible for senators to take out their frustrations over the tax-policy impasse by trying to short-circuit this needed incentives overhaul. Losing out on major business opportunities is harmful to the entire state and would increase pressure to raise taxes to pay for needed services.
Having a sound incentives policy in place opens up important opportunities. The economic development benefits from major business projects have a multiplier effect that well exceeds the cost of the initial incentive. The gains include more jobs, more consumer demand for local businesses, an expanded state tax base and more tax revenue for local school districts and government services.
Communities across the state have benefited from the current incentives program. Since 2004, such incentives in Omaha have spurred 40,000 jobs and $10.2 billion in capital investment. Nebraska Advantage Act incentives during 2007-17 supported projects in communities including Scottsbluff, Alliance, McCook, Lexington, Minden, O’Neill, Neligh, Holdrege, Hastings, Albion, Beatrice, Columbus, Fremont, South Sioux City, Plattsmouth and Nebraska City. LB 720 sets differential wage rates for incentives in order to promote development in communities of all sizes.
Lawmakers this session need to demonstrate a can-do spirit, not a “kick the can down the road” mindset. By approving a properly amended LB 720, they can demonstrate vision, help the entire state and show themselves as the practical problem-solvers they need to be.
Kearny Hub. May 18, 2019
Enough with tariffs, farmers want trade
A rose to ... patience. It’s a virtue and farmers have plenty. But even the angels in heaven have a breaking point. We’re beginning to see patience evolving into exasperation, defined in Webster’s as “anger, irritation, provoked,” or, as we in farm country would describe it, “had it with the trade war.”
In the year since President Trump announced his plan to put an end to China’s unfair practices, American farmers have played the role of the patient pawn. As they watched foreign markets evaporate — even before Trump implemented the first round of tariffs and China retaliated — farmers saw the value of their soybeans, corn and other commodities wither. Even our longtime, faithful trading partners, including neighboring Mexico and Canada, were angry about the U.S. tariffs, and their anger was evident as commodities prices plunged.
Today, two months after floods devastated Nebraska, farmers are realizing that all of that patience was for nothing. Their president said trade wars are easy to win, but now they are on the verge of hopelessness.
Playing the pawn is no fun, but that’s a role we’re familiar with in farm country. Presidents from both parties have used the nation’s crop and livestock producers as global bargaining chips. Trump’s China gambit is just the latest iteration.
We are sensing this week, as the agricultural organizations reacted to Trump’s suggestion it’s time for another round of trade war relief, that their patience no longer is for sale. They refuse to be bought. The first round of relief — $12 billion — translated into just a penny per bushel.
Sorry Mr. President, what else can you offer? Farmers want trade, not aid.
A raspberry to ... unfinished business. “While we’ve been patient in trade negotiations, we still don’t have an updated NAFTA and still haven’t resolved disputes with China. It will take more than a penny per bushel trade assistance package to help corn farmers,” said David Bruntz of Friend, chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board.
During the next several days, farmers like Bruntz are being encouraged to drop a call or letter in the mail to the White House.
The Nebraska Corn Growers Association and Nebraska Corn Board are collaborating with the National Corn Growers Association in urging farmers to write and phone the White House to tell the administration how the trade war and foot dragging on other trade issues is crippling their farming operations.
Corn farmers who want to participate in the call to action can dial the White House at email the president at 202-456-1414, or email to https://ncga.com/public-policy/stand-up-for-corn/take-action?vvsrc%2fCampaigns%2f66307%2fRespond.
Farmers also might want to contact Rep. Adrian Smith and Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse, and ask them to please help.
North Platte Telegraph. May 19, 2019
Why it’s vital to be informed before voting
Much of what happened in the four months before last week’s unusual removal of a sitting Nebraska county treasurer will become clearer in coming weeks.
Regardless of those facts, Lincoln County voters already have been reminded of the need to carefully scrutinize their choices for every elected public office.
If nothing else in this situation proves that, consider the rarity of the action our county commissioners took last Monday.
County boards in Nebraska hold their respective county’s ultimate executive authority — but only to a point.
Voters are called upon to elect not only their board members but also a set of “row officials” to lead certain specific departments.
In smaller counties, some of those leaders may be chosen by contract rather than elections. In Lincoln County, voters fill the posts of the county clerk, sheriff, attorney, treasurer, assessor, register of deeds, clerk of the district court, public defender and surveyor.
Though the county board retains the “power of the purse” at budget time, it usually can’t tell that group of row officials how to spend their money or run their offices.
It can’t remove any of them from office, either — except, as we were suddenly reminded, in the rarest of circumstances.
If any county official (including a county board member) is accused of misdeeds or neglect, state law typically directs Nebraska’s courts to judge his or her future.
But the law invoked to dismiss first-year Treasurer Lorie Koertner lets a county board immediately remove a treasurer who “neglects or refuses to render any account or settlement required by law, fails or neglects to account for any balance due the state, county, township, school district, or any other municipal subdivision, or is guilty of any other misconduct in office.”
That law has been in Nebraska’s statute books since 1879. It was invoked in 1880 in Greeley County, north of Grand Island. It apparently hadn’t been used in 139 years.
Until last Monday.
A different state law, in place since at least 1943, requires county boards, county treasurers and county attorneys to ensure that unpaid property taxes are collected, including foreclosing on and selling affected properties.
This law directs the courts to judge and remove anyone among that group of elected county officials “who willfully fails, neglects or refuses to perform” their duties regarding unpaid taxes.
But it adds: “If the county board fails to dismiss the county attorney for failure to foreclose liens, the county board shall be removed.”
That’s all five commissioners, in our case.
These are the only two laws, based on our review, empowering a county board to remove a voter-chosen leader of a county department.
Collection and handling of the public’s tax dollars — this will surprise no one — is serious business indeed.
Nebraskans still like to fill several executive-branch offices ourselves. That’s true at the state level as well as in the counties.
It stems from 19th-century ideas that voters are the best judges of their own peers and that filling such “down-ballot” posts by election keeps executives from gaining too much power.
Well and good. But for that approach to work its best, we voters must be as well informed as possible about the qualifications and the abilities of the people who put themselves forward for those jobs.
No system is perfect. And someone who appears to have the skills for a particular elective office may prove deficient in practice.
But we expect our county board, for example, to make wise choices in choosing nonelected leaders of other county departments, such as roads and emergency management.
Whenever we’re preparing to go to the polls — and no matter how “routine” the office we’re voting on may seem — we must hold ourselves to that same standard.