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COLUMBUS – Four candidates have been knocking on doors for months looking for votes to fill the open District 22 seat for the Nebraska Legislature when current Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus leaves Lincoln later this year.

The top two vote-getters in next week’s May 15 primary election will advance to face off in the November general election race.

The four rivals include Mike Moser, a former three-term Columbus mayor and a longtime business owner, Doug Oertwich, a Pilger area farmer and small business owner, Francis Kuehler, a veteran Columbus firefighter and former school board member, and Kenneth Leischner of Columbus, a retired clergyperson.

Schumacher will finish up his second four-year term this year before leaving the Capitol because of term limits.

District 22 is made up of all of Platte County, most of Stanton County and the northwest corner of Colfax County.

The Telegram sent four questions to each candidate highlighting important issues being faced this election. Each responded with the following:

Candidate: Francis Kuehler

Age: 59

Occupation: Lt. Firefighter Paramedic for the City of Columbus 33 Years.

Marital Status: Married to wife, Mary Pat, of 35 years; five grown children; two grandchildren and a third on the way.

Public Service: Served eight years on the Columbus Public School Board and six years on Nebraska Association of School Boards.

Three legislative priorities that have sparked my interest.

1. Public School Funding - I think we need to come up with a different funding method for our school besides property taxes. School funding should come more from the state level, rather than the local level so that it maintains equality across the state on our property taxes. The state mandates our school curriculum and what can be taught; therefore, it should be responsible for the funding. The property taxes shouldn't be going to the school system, it should be going to local City and County Governments.

2. Mental Health Services - Our mental health services have gone downhill for the last several years. This has left more of our mental health patients in trouble with the law for various reasons resulting in overcrowding of our jail system. Long-term mental health facilities would benefit these patients, as well as the community, due to consistent treatment of the mental ailment and serving at a lower cost than the jail system.

3. Continued support of health care for those that are at and below poverty level.

Property, income, and corporate tax reform have been hot topics for discussion among lawmakers and voters. What tax and spending cuts would you support to better control the state budget?

Better school funding from the state level would reduce property taxes. Equalize taxes for everyone I believe there are too many special interest groups getting tax cuts by placing taxes on others. I think that funding going to special interest groups should be looked into, as well as their budgets.

Should the state lessen its reliance on local property taxes to support K-12 public education and how could lawmakers broaden the revenue stream?

Yes, I believe the state should do a better job of funding K-12. I do not believe that more taxes should be added; however, I think the state needs to come up with another revenue source to fund education.

What is your position on the funding cuts in the University of Nebraska system brought on by pinched state spending restraints?

I am against the University cuts. The Universities are only going to be able to cut their budgets by so much, then they will need to raise tuition. The debt for current college students and university graduates is outstanding, adding to that would just further negatively impact them.

Candidate: Kenneth Leischner

Age: N/A

Occupation: Retired Clergyperson

Marital status: N/A

Prior public service: Chairman, Sandstone, Minnesota, Economic Council; Chaplain, Pine County Sheriff’s Department.

Name three legislative priorities that have sparked your interest in serving voters.

1. The last twelve years of gubernatorial and legislative leadership have depleted funding for education by lowering state tax rates and passing the burden to counties and school districts resulting in out of control property tax increases. The legislature needs to take responsibility for funding education and reduce the burden they have caused by increasing taxes on the wealthiest Nebraskans and Corporation who are profiting from Nebraska’s workforce and low wages.

2. We must understand that government exists to provide for the basic needs of its citizens and to assure that there is a safety net provided for less fortunate Nebraskans. This means we must expand Medicaid, find a feasible way to provide better healthcare in our rural areas and provide a living wage. A recent study published in the Omaha World-Herald showed a ‘brain drain’ of high-paying jobs for our most educated citizens because of the programs and policies now in effect that hinder entrepreneurship and innovation. As the article stated, “Nebraska has enough low-paying jobs.”

3. Our Unicameral is supposed to be a non/bi-partisan body but it is and has been controlled by a particular viewpoint. Tax reform is a must. But voters must ask themselves if things are better after the last twelve years of stagnation and ill-conceived tax and spending cuts that have led to the current budget crisis. If they are not, it is time for change.

Property, income and corporate tax reform have been hot topics for discussion among lawmakers and voters, what tax and spending cuts would you support to better control the state budget?

Tax cuts sound good and most people believe taxes are too high. But if there is an increase of corporate and personal income tax for our wealthiest citizens there would be more funding available for necessary governmental obligations. We also need to Re-fund the cash reserves the legislature has taken from various departments and programs to fund budget shortfalls they caused by needless tax cuts that have not helped the average citizen. Fund education at the state and not the county level.

Should the state lessen its reliance on local property taxes to support K-12 public education and how could lawmakers broaden the revenue stream?

Over 70 percent of Nebraska schools receive no student aid. That is not fair and has caused huge property tax increases in our more rural areas. That aid must be divided more fairly and provided to all schools. Vouchers should not be allowed nor tax credits for non-public schools. An Educational Trust Fund should be formulated with a dedicated tax going to its formation and continuation. The basis for that tax might be an added tax on commodity companies’ profits, expanded services sales tax, internet sales tax, or another to be determined by a consortium of educators, legislators, and business representatives.

What is your position on the funding cuts in the University of Nebraska system brought on by pinched state spending restraints?

Missouri students are leaving to go to out-state colleges and universities because funding cuts in Missouri have caused them to cut programs and majors. Most graduates prefer to live and work in the area where they are educated because of contacts, friends, and family. By cutting funding to the University system Nebraska is forcing our best and brightest to choose between attending a school which is in state or a school elsewhere that provides a more broadly based curriculum. Education is an investment, not an expense and we save little in the short-term and lose much in the long-term by cutting funding.

Candidate: Mike Moser

Age: 66

Occupation: Retail store owner for 41 years

Marital status: Married to Jan for 46 years

Public service: Mayor of Columbus 2004-2016. Nebraska Crime Commission 2007 -2010.

Have been a member of the Platte College (CCC) Foundation Board, President of Friends of Music Board, President of St. Bonaventure Parish Council, Vice President of Columbus Youth Softball.

Name three legislative priorities that have sparked your interest in serving voters.

1. Reducing property taxes and controlling the budget.

2. Making our government more responsive to the needs of taxpayers, seniors, farmers, small business owners and working families.

3. Protecting the lives of the unborn from conception to natural death.

Property, income and corporate tax reform have been hot topics for discussion among lawmakers and voters, what tax and spending cuts would you support to better control the state budget?

As a small businessman for over forty years, I have learned to control expenses during challenging times. As Mayor of Columbus for 12 years, I’ve worked hard to balance the City budget. We got things done within a balanced budget without increasing tax rates. We will have to go through the state budget line-by-line and find cuts if the budget forecast declines further while protecting K-12 education and the University system from drastic cuts. Since State sales and income tax revenues go up and down with the economy, we need to make state agencies budgets adjustable to match revenue shortfalls. We can’t raise tax rates on Nebraska citizens to make up the shortfall since that would only put more pressure on their family budgets.

Should the state lessen its reliance on local property taxes to support K-12 public education and how could lawmakers broaden the revenue stream?

Yes. About 70 percent of schools receive no state aid and are relying primarily on Property tax. The School Aid Formula should be revisited so that all schools receive some state aid. It is heavily weighted toward the low valuation school districts. Also, more state funds need to be put into the property tax rebate fund. The state has reduced funding support for K-12 public education over the years and that has been one of the major causes of increased property taxes! We should look for savings in the budget and not raise State taxes.

What is your position on the funding cuts in the University of Nebraska system brought on by pinched state spending restraints?

UNL holds a special place in the hearts of most Nebraskans. Academically, they, their children or friends may have graduated (myself included) from UNL. We have all cheered on Husker sports and enjoyed watching their successes. Economically, The University System is a major player in the state’s economic system. What affects the University System, affects everyone in Nebraska. We need to be sure that if further budget adjustments are ever considered for the University System, that we keep its special status in mind. The University System is more than just another budget expense--- It is special to me and most Nebraskans!

Candidate: Doug Oertwich

Age: 54

Occupation: Farmer and small business owner

Marital Status: Single

Public Service: Currently serves on the Stanton County Planning Commission and is President of the Stanton County Public Power District Board. Also serves as State Director for the Nebraska Rural Electric Association Legislative Committee

Name three legislative priorities that have sparked your interest in serving voters.

Three legislative priorities for me are workforce development and housing, addressing our high taxes - especially property taxes - so that our state can be more competitive, and ensuring we have the quality roads and infrastructure needed to transport or good and products. All three of these issues go toward helping Nebraska grow our economy. Only by growing the economy can we provide meaningful tax relief to our hard-working citizens.

Property, income and corporate tax reform have been hot topics for discussion among lawmakers and voters, what tax and spending cuts would you support to better control the state budget?

Nebraska has the highest taxes of all of our surrounding states, and this hurts us when competing for new businesses and job creation. As a state senator, I will work to make sure we are not spending on non-priority items that do not help grow our economy. I will work to address high property taxes and the taxes that hold back our state. We cannot tax ourselves into prosperity, and just shifting taxes around is not the answer.

Should the state lessen its reliance on local property taxes to support K-12 public education and how could lawmakers broaden the revenue stream?

We must address how we distribute state aid, and hold our local taxing entities accountable. When one urban school district receives state aid and then has a surplus at the end of the year, they should not be able to stash it away to be spent later. This is what Lincoln did recently. That money could have been used by any number of districts in need of additional funding.

What is your position on the funding cuts in the University of Nebraska system brought on by pinched state spending restraints?

In tough times we all must help bear the burden. Most of the proposed cuts to the University budget this past year were restored by the Legislature. As a state senator, I will look at each and every budget and make the best decision possible based on the current economic climate. I believe the University should be a priority, but so should our smaller state colleges and community colleges. Our post-secondary education system should provide students from across the state with an opportunity to learn the skills they need to succeed in life right here in Nebraska.

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Reporter

Jim Osborn is a news reporter at The Columbus Telegram.

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