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Columnists
Fischer:

Like many Nebraskans, my life has been shaped by agriculture. For over 40 years, I’ve worked with agriculture and rural development organizations across our state and recognized how the success of ag producers is connected to the success of our state as a whole. As a state senator in the Nebraska Legislature and as a U.S. Senator, common-sense agriculture policies have always been a top priority for me.

Now, I have an opportunity to be more involved at the federal level. I am happy to announce I have joined the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.

As the committee’s Chairman, Senator Pat Roberts has said numerous times in the past, I’ve always been an honorary member of the Senate ag committee, but now it’s official.

Over the past five years as your U.S. Senator, I have secured many victories for Nebraska’s agricultural producers. That’s why I was chosen to join the Agriculture Committee. From fighting to eliminate the harmful Waters of the United States Rule (WOTUS), which would have stripped our state’s control over our water supply, to modifying costly EPA regulations affecting on-farm fuel storage and restoring fairness when it comes to crop insurance, my commitment to rural America has been clear. Additionally, I also helped pass legislation that eliminated a patchwork of state-by-state biotechnology labeling laws, which reduced costs and provided certainty for Nebraska ag producers and food processors.

Chairman Roberts and key Senate leaders who make committee assignment decisions see me as a leader who fights for rural America and our ag producers, which caused them to choose me to fill the available spot on the committee.

This coming year will be critical as the 2014 farm bill expires and the committee works to write the next one. Throughout this process, I will continue traveling all across Nebraska, as I’ve done for the past five years, to listen to the thoughts, suggestions, and concerns from our state’s many ag producers and rural business leaders. Last year, I was glad to host U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in Cherry County for a rancher-focused roundtable discussion. Nebraskans will continue to have their voices heard as the Senate works on our nation’s agriculture and nutrition policy.

This is a tough time for farm country. Producers are currently facing numerous challenges that range from weather to depressed commodity prices and tight margins. At this important juncture, my priorities for the next farm bill will include supporting an affordable and viable farm safety net, protecting the livestock and forage disaster programs, and safeguarding crop insurance. In 2015, I pushed to reverse a $3 billion cut to the crop insurance program. I intend to fight hard to protect this program.

Moreover, I will continue to work towards expanding market access opportunities for Nebraska producers and their families. I will use my position in the Senate, and especially now on the Ag Committee, to support trade agreements already in place, and fight for new opportunities like I did when I worked to lift the ban on beef exports to Israel, which provided them with Nebraska beef for the first time in 13 years.

The president’s recent remarks to the American Farm Bureau showed his strong commitment to rural America and hardworking farming and ranching families all over our country. I was happy to hear him highlight important policy initiatives like additional regulatory relief and increased broadband access for agriculture. I believe we can turn these ideas into reality, opening the door to greater prosperity for American agriculture producers.

In my new role on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, I look forward to working together with Chairman Pat Roberts and my colleagues on the Committee to advance smart policies that farmers and ranchers need to do their job of feeding our hungry world. Nebraska needed to have a seat at the table when it comes to our nation’s agricultural policy.

Thank you for taking part in our democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.


Columnists
Smith: There were many positive outcomes from 2017

There is a lot of work ahead in the new year. Before we undertake a fresh set of challenges, it is good to take stock of the many positive outcomes and accomplishments of 2017.

Tax reform becoming law was one of the year’s most celebrated victories. As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, it has been a privilege to be part of this years-long effort to overhaul our broken and overly burdensome tax code for the first time in a generation.

The economy is already responding. More than 100 companies across the country, including Nelnet and Pinnacle Bank in Nebraska, have announced bonuses and wage increases for employees, as well as new charitable giving and investments. With lower tax rates, Americans can look forward to higher paychecks, simpler compliance, and a growing economy.

Additionally, our tax reform bill finally eliminated Obamacare’s individual mandate penalty, allowing Americans to make their own health insurance decisions rather than being required to seek the approval of the federal government or face a bill from the IRS.

The confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court marked another important 2017 achievement. President Trump promised Americans he would fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia with a conservative jurist committed to upholding the Constitution, and he fulfilled this promise quickly with an impressive judicial leader.

The Trump administration also followed through on its commitment to roll back regulations. Despite an initial promise to eliminate two regulations for every new one created, the administration actually brought an end to 22 regulations for each new one. Congress also passed 15 Congressional Review Act bills, signed into law by the President, to cut through the maze of red tape put in place by the Obama administration.

I had the opportunity to join President Trump, along with Senator Fischer, at the White House in February for the signing of an executive order to roll back the Waters of the U.S. rule, known as WOTUS. This put a stop to a dangerous overreach which would have given the Environmental Protection Agency the power to dictate local land use decisions and farming practices nationwide.

Regulatory impediments to infrastructure projects have also been on the chopping block, which is especially important as we work toward modernizing our country’s aging infrastructure. President Trump signed an executive order to reduce the average time it takes for infrastructure project permits to be approved from 10 years to two years.

For those traveling by air, new Essential Air Service providers were confirmed for Kearney, North Platte, and Scottsbluff, and will soon begin serving passengers. Due to ongoing issues with cancelled flights, I introduced two amendments to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill. One would direct the U.S. Government Accountability Office to study the state of the aviation workforce, including current barriers to entry and ways to encourage growth. The other would expand opportunities for prospective pilots to accrue training hours to qualify for piloting commercial flights. As Congress considers FAA reauthorization this year, I will keep working to ensure access to commercial air service for Nebraskans.

We also passed multiple bills last year, which were signed into law, to better serve veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act provides the VA Secretary increased flexibility to remove VA employees for poor performance or misconduct, while also strengthening whistleblower protections. The HIRE Vets Act creates incentives for companies to hire veterans, and the Forever GI Bill eliminates the 15-year time limit for veterans to use their GI bill benefits, providing greater opportunities for professional and workforce development.

There is no question 2017 was an eventful year. 2018 promises many challenges and victories of its own, and we are committed to delivering more beneficial solutions for Americans.Congressman Adrian Smith represents the Third District of Nebraska. He can be reached at: Washington, DC Office, 320 Cannon HOB, Washington, DC 20515, (202) 225-6435; or Grand Island Office, 1811 West Second Street, Suite 275, Grand Island, NE 68803, Phone: (308) 384-3900.


Editorial
Editorial: Ricketts’ new tax plan is significant improvement

The Journal Star editorial board’s conversation with Gov. Pete Ricketts’ before his State of the State address, unsurprisingly, focused heavily on the specifics of his proposal to revamp Nebraska’s structure for property and income taxes.

What was surprising, though, was the radical revamp of his plan, which now aims to swing the pendulum more in favor of property tax relief than income tax cuts.

The plan would provide Nebraskans with an income tax credit for property taxes paid on their owner-occupied homes, as well as any farmland they own, and would reduce income taxes on both individuals and corporations. By repurposing the pre-existing property tax relief fund and eliminating a recently enacted personal property tax exemption program to fund the new proposal, Ricketts’ plan is essentially revenue-neutral.

It is not perfect. But it makes a significant turn in the direction of the property-centric, revenue-neutral reform for which we’ve long advocated in hopes of reducing Nebraska’s high overall tax burden compared with other Midwestern states.

Without question, the state needed property tax relief first and foremost. Seeing the governor admit that property tax reduction was Nebraskans’ No. 1 goal and produce a revenue-neutral plan to reflect that reality was refreshing.

Total property taxes levied on agricultural land increased by 164 percent – from $455.4 million to $1.2 billion – from 2006 to 2016 despite reductions in the percentage of valuation that could be taxed.

That runaway growth inspired a well-intentioned but misguided plan that proposed a credit for half of property taxes paid by Nebraskans to their local K-12 school district. Its $1.1 billion price tag, though, raised concerns about affordability. Ricketts warned that asking voters to enact such a plan could ignite a political “civil war,” pitting agricultural interests against countless other groups in the state, something he hopes to avoid.

Nebraska’s urban-rural divide needs no additional exacerbation.

In our meeting with Ricketts, the governor also talked openly about compromise and courting “pro-growth Democrats.” His more moderate, inclusive language was largely reflected by his new tax proposal.

However, at least two provisions within it give us serious pause.

For one, the plan to use an automatic trigger as a mechanism to increase the property tax credit limits flexibility and could drive up budget deficits – just ask Kansas or Oklahoma. Basing the trigger on actual revenues exceeding projected revenues, instead of year-over-year gains, could easily create situations where the state brings in less money than the previous year but remains all but obligated to increase credits.

Furthermore, while we appreciate the governor’s aim of benefitting mainly Nebraska farmers and homeowners rather than non-Nebraskans who own property here, we’re concerned about his plan’s constitutionality. Treating residents different from nonresidents, or one type of property different from another, might run afoul of both the U.S. and state constitutions.

The final version of Ricketts’ plan will almost certainly look different if enacted by the Legislature. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, is correct when he forecasts it has a “very narrow path” to the 33 votes necessary for its passage.

While some improvements remain needed, the governor’s vision of tax reform is now far closer to that of a majority of this state.

— Journal Star, Jan. 12, 2018


Mailbag
Letter: Outside agitators?

Outside agitators?

“My” Fremont Tribune employee wrote a front page article against Costco in my December 2-4, 2017 edition. Two of the three citizens listed are not registered voters with Fremont addresses. So, my questions/observations are: a) Are they outside agitators? b) Are they paid outside agitators? c) Does the Tribune have a conflict of interest by receiving any benefits whatsoever from these alleged citizens or from Nebraska Communities United as quoted on Page 4 of my June 7, 2017 Fremont Tribune where Doug Wittmann alluded to “lack of funds” at that time? d) My Fremont City Council has held public meetings for input for and against the Costco proposal. I attended the public meeting at our city auditorium and people not living in Fremont were allowed to give their address as well as their opinion. e) In the June 7, 2017 Fremont Tribune a letter to the editor alluded to the abuse of blighted. Well, some of us Fremont registered voters previously have driven by the former “cob business” south of Hormel. So, this writer (Marvin) was and is very strongly of the opinion that that area was “blighted area” from all directions.

My opinion of the Dec. 2-4, 2017 article was Fake News or disinformation, and I am not Donald Trump.

I am a watchful citizen thinking about our future and honest cooperation.

Larry MarvinFremont