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Omaha World Herald. Nov 8, 2019

Construction for Omaha's first rapid transit bus service will be worth it

Making positive change can require complications during the transition. Temporary lane closures are necessary in stretches on Dodge Street as crews install the stations for Omaha's first bus rapid transit system.

The complication should be worth it, though. When ORBT — Omaha Rapid Bus Transit — begins operation next spring, our city will have taken a welcome step forward in meeting demands for better public transportation. The bus will run between downtown and Westroads Mall, using a technology to hold a green light longer, with a dedicated ORBT lane east of 30th Street.

An ORBT bus will arrive at about 10-minute intervals. It will take 26 to 28 minutes for a full ride between Westroads and downtown, The World-Herald's Jeff Robb reported.

ORBT will go far to meet public expectations for fuller transportation amenities. The stations will have Wi-Fi and ticket kiosks. Buses will have Wi-Fi, too, and on-board bike racks. A raised platform, train station-style, will facilitate riders' entry and exit.

Rebecca Ryan, a consulting economist who has worked with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce to develop long-range transportation goals, explained the significance of such a step in comments to The World-Herald last year: "You're going to get skipped for the big next-generation opportunity if you don't have that mass transportation that is an alternative to owning your own vehicle."

Recent analysis by the Nebraska Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency agreed. They recommend focusing 40% of the Omaha area's long-term transportation spending on public transit needs.

The arrival of ORBT next year will help our area move forward on that needed score.

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The Grand Island Independent. Nov. 7, 2019

Shopping local pays off in many ways

With the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce promoting the entire month of November as Shop Small Month and the Christmas shopping season already underway at many Grand Island retailers, it's time to emphasize the importance of shopping locally.

As the chamber is emphasizing this month, every dollar spent in Grand Island "turns over" up to seven times. Spending locally supports the payrolls of the stores at which you shop and the employees there spend much of their paychecks locally as well. Plus, the local sales tax revenue supports our community's infrastructure, as well as its services and recreational facilities.

Shopping online or in a bigger city, on the other hand, gives that support to "a faceless online business or another community," said chamber President Cindy Johnson.

"Shop and buy in Grand Island, as those are the businesses that support the projects that are important to all of us," Johnson said.

Whether you find the items you want to buy at Grand Island's big box stores, smaller national chain stores or locally owned retailers, the fact that you make the effort to do your holiday shopping in Grand Island makes a big statement about your support of the community and the people who live and work beside you every day.

A big concern for the chamber is the economic well-being of our community's local businesses.

"Low sales and limited cash flow are the main reasons local businesses close," said Dana Dennison, the chamber's vice president, who is overseeing its shop locally campaign. "It is tough for small businesses to survive their first five years in business."

The chamber is challenging local and area consumers to look for a local retailer or service provider instead of an online or out-of-town retailer. The hope is that consumers who are successful in doing this in November will continue to shop at those local businesses throughout the year.

Americans have continued to do more shopping online in recent years and even local businesses are trying to take advantage of this by making it possible to place orders by telephone and online and have your purchases delivered. If that time-saving convenience makes it easier for you to get the rest of your shopping done locally this holiday season, that's great.

But taking the time to look around at what local businesses have to offer is part of the fun of Christmas shopping. You may discover some businesses you didn't even know exist and you definitely will see that Grand Island has more gift ideas to offer than you expected.

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Lincoln Journal Star. Nov. 7, 2019

11/8: 1 year later, expansion of Medicaid still cloudy

On Nov. 7, 2018, Nebraskans awoke to learn that Initiative 427 had passed the night before with 53% of the vote, with voter approval beginning the process to expand Medicaid in Nebraska.

On Nov. 7, 2019, Nebraskans, including state senators, were still trying to determine exactly what Medicaid expansion will mean for the roughly 90,000 people newly eligible for health care coverage, when it goes live next October.

This lingering uncertainty must be cleared up soon. Some 5% of Nebraskans are hanging in limbo as the finer details are still being debated, much less ironed out.Fine.

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Just make sure the half-cent tax, if approved, can be used to fix and replace streets, water and sewer lines and any other types of infrastructure that can't be done without when they fail.

That would still help, indirectly, with our parks and recreation needs. Several could be dealt with for the cost of one street project. Less spent on big street projects in the regular city budget frees up funds for cheaper fixes.

And if we want property taxes kept down, we haven't helped ourselves in the past by waiting until the city has had to issue bonds — which fall outside state tax lids — to replace aging concrete and asphalt only when it falls apart.

No, a half-cent infrastructure tax can't fix everything. The last proposal was estimated to generate $2.5 million a year over 10 years had it passed.

It's not "the" solution. We said you wouldn't find that here. But it can be part of the puzzle.

We know what the needs are. Let's figure out the best solutions — plural — to fix up our common home.

People who now qualify under the expansion have annual incomes at or below $16,000, or 138% of the federal poverty line, meaning a medical emergency could very well bring financial ruin. Hence the need for a swift resolution to the ongoing discussion about what Heritage Health Adult will contain once it's active.

By the time this initiative takes effect, 23 months will have elapsed from the approval of Initiative 427. In comparison, Nebraska needed just 20 months from the time voters reinstated the death penalty in 2016 before convicted killer Carey Dean Moore was executed last August.

Yes, this is somewhat apples and oranges. But the former - an arduous process, to be sure, as is any involving the federal government this heavily - seems like it's stuck in neutral, while the state charged ahead with the latter at reckless speed. It invited a lawsuit for moving too slowly, as Nebraska Appleseed as alleged, rather than too fast on the death penalty.

Most of the heartburn from critics of the deliberate approach taken by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services stems from the responsibility and community engagement requirements it's proposed for the top step of coverage, beyond the basic level.

This two-tier system is unlike any other in the states that have expanded Medicaid. And it's being rolled out more slowly than any other, too.

The intent behind this structure is to ensure Nebraskans take an active role in their own health care. That's understandable, but such a construct further complicates an already challenging transition and would presumably create additional bureaucracy. Plus, work requirements - a more onerous means to a similar end - in states such as Arkansas and Kentucky were struck down in court.

The state's working poor need health coverage as they work their way to employment that provides benefits, as we wrote earlier this year, rather than staying underemployed to preserve their eligibility for Medicaid before it was expanded.

Therefore, this new system should serve as a temporary boost for the Nebraskans who qualify, rather than as their health coverage forever. But they can certainly be forgiven for anxiously awaiting resolution of a process that seems to be taking forever.

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