Nebraska Legislative Forum Held In Gothenburg On Wednesday

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry staff members and the Gothenburg Community Development Office hosted the organization’s annual legislative forum in Dawson County on Wednesday, September 21 at Walker’s Steakhouse in Gothenburg.
Speakers included Nebraska Chamber of Commerce members Jamie Karl and Joseph Young. Karl is the Vice President for Public Affairs and Policy for the organization, having been employed by the chamber for ten years. Young is the Executive Vice President of Vision Nebraska.
District 36 State Senator Matt Williams of Gothenburg also spoke at the luncheon.
The forum was the tenth stop on the 31-stop tour across Nebraska. These forums allow the state Chamber to provide summaries of recent state legislation and review of how Nebraska is performing in key areas of economic competitiveness. The chamber staff also gathers input from local business leaders and community chamber members on issues of concern.
The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry is located half a block from the State Capitol building in Lincoln. 
A presentation on how Nebraska represents 1,700 member business and more than 100,000 individuals. The chamber serves over 150 communities and employs four full time lobbyists. 250 – 400 legislative bills are tracked each year with 900 legislative bills to be introduced in the upcoming legislative session.
Karl shared that the State Chamber focuses on issues related to taxation, workforce and regulation.
He highlighted several legislative bills from the 2016 session including LB960 that is funded mostly by the state gas tax. The bill provides $450 million over 17 years to expedite the repair of county bridges and fund 150 miles of four lane expressways.
LB1093 provides funding to pay half the cost of college interns for Nebraska businesses. The bill eliminates the state residency requirement for interns. It allows 11th and 12th graders to participate in intern experiences and attracts more students to enroll in Nebraska colleges and universities.
LB1059 provides for grants for infrastructure and housing in the state. It allows local economic development funds to be used for workforce housing and helps attract new businesses and employees to the state.
LB1022 extended the Nebraska Advantage Act by three years. This program provides tax incentives to participating Nebraska businesses.
In looking ahead to the 2017 legislative session, Young noted that 25 of the 49 seats are up for election with the possibility of 14 to 16 seats being filled by new senators.
New leadership in the Unicameral will be appointed, including a Speaker of the Legislature. Senator Williams has announced that he will run for this position.
“Senators will be walking into the session with a $350 million shortfall, so this will require many tough decisions to be made by the appropriations committee,” Young said.
Young expects to see tax reform packages proposed during the session, including a lower income tax reform. 
Karl gave a presentation on how Nebraska stacks up against other states in various national rankings.
CNBC ranked Nebraska #11 for business. This is a drop from #7 in 2014 due to workforce issues and retention of college level employees and skilled employees used as its top criteria.
WalletHub.com ranked Nebraska the second worst for overall tax climate due to its high state and local taxes that average 14 percent.
According to Karl, Nebraska ranks second in state solvency, is the third best state for millennials and legal climate and the fifth best state for business development.
Karl broke down this year’s $9.05 billion dollar budget into thirds. One-third funds local government and schools, one-third funds Medicaid and child welfare and the remaining third funds state agencies and the university system.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Nebraska property taxes are the 13th highest overall in the nation. More than two thirds of Nebraska property taxes are residential or business taxes. “This makes it more difficult to recruit new businesses to the state,” Karl explained.”
“Complaining about property taxes to your state senator is like complaining about federal regulations to your city council,” Karl continued.
Karl noted that the State Chamber supports lowering the income tax from 6.84 percent to 5.8 percent.
Senator Williams, Vice-Chair of the legislature’s Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee shared his experiences during his first two years as a state senator. “I’m proud to have a 100 percent voting record from the Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce,” Williams said. “I want to do those things that help us grow economically and decrease regulation,” he continued.
Williams reported that he was proud to have led the fight to address synthetic drugs such as K2 in the state and helped pass a bill that increased the penalty for those dealing and selling these dangerous drugs.
Williams also supported a bill that would expand problem-solving courts such as drug courts.
“This experiment started in Dawson County and is a way to lower the level of criminal offenses and get people out of prison by offering them a safe alternative,” Williams said.
As a member of the legislature’s judiciary committee, Williams has witness how the corrections department in the state has been ignored for quite some time. This has led to a 30 percent turnover rate for employees due to the noncompetitive pay.
“Our prisons are at 170 percent capacity and there is no room for the much needed programs for assisting inmates in rehabilitation such as anger management, drug issues or life skills that could be used to gain employment after their sentence has been served,” Williams explained.
Williams went on to explain that the state has a recidivism rate of nearly 40 percent and it costs $38,000 per year to house each inmate. 
Finally, Williams addressed the current state aid formula for school funding that is not working well for rural school districts.
“Although all 13 schools in our district receive state aid, only Lexington receives equalization aid,” stated Williams.
“Those schools that receive equalization aid educate 80 percent of our students with the majority of these students attending schools in the Lincoln and Omaha school districts,” he continued.
Williams explained that a change in the formula for education is not going to happen by attacking urban senators whose districts receive the lion’s share of funding but by working with them to find common ground.
Williams responded by saying “As a state senator my goal is to lead through wisdom, imagination and compassion.”

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