Senators from every corner of Nebraska have returned to the Capitol to perform the heavy lifting required to run state government.

The work is far from easy. The hours are long. The paycheck, at $12,000, is minimal. But the duty of the men and women representing their corners of the state in the chamber is one that is too critical to be derailed by infighting this year.

After a bruising long session, one marred by an inexcusably prolonged paralysis over rules, in 2017, the 60-day version follows. In this case, with half the legislative seats up for election this year, we hope shorter means sweeter. Senators face too many topics of vital importance to be slowed down by sparring.

As soon as the gavel falls, lawmakers must close a $173 million budget gap to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities. Balancing the ledgers is made more challenging by the fact previous years’ shortfalls resulted in several state agencies being forced to make bone-deep cuts.

Complicating matters is the need to reform taxes. Two schools of thought exist, with Gov. Pete Ricketts and some urban senators pushing a plan that includes income tax reductions, with a coalition of primarily rural senators backing a credit to lower property taxes.

The former was trapped in a filibuster; the latter is being pitched as a legislative solution before a ballot initiative is put before voters. Both, however, have stoked passions among elected officials.

And taxes represent only one of several such critical debates awaiting senators. The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, University of Nebraska, K-12 education, Department of Health and Human Services and many others are at various crossroads that require legislative action.

The consequences of inaction are too great to Nebraskans to allow needed outcomes to fall victim to squabbling and political games.

With re-election bids looming for roughly a third of all senators, the motivations to hold some ideologically pure line are no doubt present. This is magnified with a governor who's financially supported a handful of challengers to incumbents whose votes have run counter to his own beliefs.

Expecting complete harmony in a political body is pure fantasy and naïveté. We know that there will be discord. The key is harnessing those points of disagreement and passions into hammering out an accord -- or, more appropriately, many deals -- that benefits all Nebraskans in this short, but momentous, legislative session.

Discourse that advances the common good is admirable, one we hope transcends all divisions in the officially nonpartisan Unicameral and keeps Washington-style gridlock out of Lincoln.

-- Journal Star, Jan. 2, 2018

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