No decisions are as easy when money is tight. That holds true in our families and in our government, and we got an illustration of that fact recently in Lincoln. Columbus Area Chamber members and staff spent a couple days in Lincoln at the Nebraska Chamber annual Legislative Caucus and Nebraska Chamber of Commerce Executives annual meeting.

Part of the state chamber’s event each year is a panel of the leadership in the Unicameral. As you might imagine, the budget is top-of-mind for the senators in this session. After last year’s huge shortfall, a gap of more than $200-million needs to be filled this year. On one side, there are well-documented concerns from the University of Nebraska, state agencies and local government subdivisions about the budget cuts they may be asked to take. On the other hand, tax payers feel they’re paying too much in property and income taxes. Bottom line, there are no easy answers.

Senator Jim Smith, chair of the revenue committee, gave a summary of LB947, the bill he introduced on behalf of the governor to provide tax relief by providing property tax credits to residential and ag property owners, along with a small reduction in income tax rates. The governor spoke to the group at a luncheon and promoted the bill as well. Both, however, termed it a “work in progress” and acknowledged there is a lot of work to be done before the bill becomes law.

Senator Stinner, chair of the appropriations committee, reported that his committee is taking a hard look at all state spending. I’d guess he has the unenviable task of bearing bad news quite a lot these days.

I would also point out a couple big-picture thoughts that were shared on the panel. Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk said the Unicameral has become “well-equipped to stop bad legislation, but ill-equipped to pass construction legislation.” I think that’s an interesting perspective and while good if you believe that government is best when it simply stays out of the way, it’s a concern if you’d like a proactive body in Lincoln thinking about a future vision for the state.

Senator Smith said that his parting thought to his colleagues on his way out of the body (he is term-limited) will be that they must find a way to work better together by focusing on personal relationships between each other. Sounds like he would like to see the Unicameral function more like Columbus has traditionally, through collaboration instead of competition.

As part of the state chamber’s agenda we also heard from experts on federal issues. John Kirchner from the U.S. Chamber reported that the Trump administration has done good work in reducing red tape in their first year. Three new federal regulations have been adopted in this administration while 67 have been dropped, resulting in $570-million in saved costs.

Trade was also a big topic, specifically NAFTA. Kirchner said there are 87,000 Nebraska jobs at-risk without NAFTA. Tyler Grassmeyer from Senator Sasse’s staff reported that the senator has been to the Oval Office for several conversations with the president about trade. And Nebraska Ag Director Wellman said more than half of Nebraska’s ag exports are done through NAFTA, some $1.39-trillion in value.

Overall, it was a useful two days in Lincoln and we will continue to diligently watch and defend the interests of the Columbus business community in Lincoln and D.C.

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