Sen. Al Davis
The Christmas season is upon us, a time of joy, love, and good cheer for many families but also a time of heartache and memory for those who have lost family members in the past year.
At Christmas we celebrate our blessings and cherish time with family members who may be home for the season. The Christmas season is often a time of hardship for the poor who try to stretch their dollars between food, shelter, heat and Christmas, so reach out and help someone who really needs it.
The many committees I served on during the interim are finished, and a number of recommendations have been compiled.
The water task force, which consisted of six state senators, representatives from river basins, farm, ranch, business, and wildlife interests, will issue its report to the public on Friday, Dec. 20.
The report recommends the establishment of a governing board, and the development of a funding mechanism which would generate up to $50 million per year to address water quality and water quantity issues across the state.
Nebraska will soon supersede Texas as the No. 1 cattle feeding state in the nation, primarily because Texas is running out of water, and pivot irrigation in Texas is beginning to play out.
It is important that we reach sustainability in Nebraska and the efforts of the Water Funding Task Force over the summer will move us towards that goal, but raising the funds necessary will be quite challenging.
The Education Committee concluded its summer sessions on Dec. 16.
There was general consensus that early childhood education needs to be advanced across the state and there should be some property tax relief, but the committee was unable to come to a consensus about how to implement that goal.
Simply put, the state aid formula is Needs Minus Resources equals State Aid. With static real estate values on residential property and sky-rocketing ag land values, more and more districts are cut out of the state aid formula (because higher land values indicate they have more resources.)
While the committee recognizes the problem, there are many on the committee who fear that their own districts will be hurt by some attempt to modify that formula, so we were unable to come to a clear consensus on what to do about this problem.
Although I did not serve on the Tax Modernization committee, I did attend several of their meetings. The committee's final report came out last week but was not signed by all members of the committee which indicates some dissension on the committee about what kind of substantive tax changes should be made.
Of particular interest to the agricultural sector was a recommendation by the committee to lower the appraised value of agricultural land to 65% of actual value from the current 75% of value.
This recommendation came from the unanimous cry for help from Nebraska's farmers and ranchers who have seen taxes rise significantly over the past 10 years as ag land values climbed.
Modest broadening of the sales tax was suggested with vary little change to the income tax.
I am the vice chair of the state retirement committee, a small but significant committee which is charged with regulating the pension programs for Nebraska's teachers, state patrol, judges, and county employees.
One of our challenges last year was trying to patch a hole in the pension plan which directly related to the collapse of the stock market during the Great Recession.
This summer the committee held several hearings dealing with pension plans. At a recent meeting, I learned that the revenue in the plan has generated a real rate of return of 16% for the year and that the teacher's plan (by far the largest plan under the Nebraska Retirement System) is returning to good health.
Additional revenue may be necessary to restore the State Patrol and Judges plan to the levels we would like them to be, but they are not in any danger of being unable to fulfill their current responsibility.
I've enjoyed being your state senator this past year and look forward to the upcoming legislative session with enthusiasm.
It really takes a great deal of time to learn both the people and the processes of the legislature, and I feel more confident in my ability to make a difference for the residents of the 43rd district.
Please stop and see us at the Capitol if you are in Lincoln during the session.
Have a wonderful Christmas and a prosperous and happy New Year.
As always, I value your input, and welcome phone calls, emails and personal visits from you.
-- Sen. Al Davis, State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509. (402) 471-2628. firstname.lastname@example.org