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Don Walton: Tecumseh adds to Legislature’s challenges

March 6, 2017 GMT

And the plot thickens.

Another violent confrontation at the Tecumseh state prison; two more inmate deaths.

Stern notice from the ACLU that the clock is ticking before it challenges the long-festering issue of overcrowding and under-programming at Nebraska state prisons.

That conceivably could result in a court-ordered $100 million state budget hit. Or more.

Prison and sentencing reform are underway, but now there’s new urgency to the question of whether it should be -- and could be -- accelerated.

That’s an expensive proposition too, with community programming a vital piece of that challenge.

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OK, all that comes crashing down on a Legislature that already is headed toward a High Noon shootout over taxes and the state budget, with funding for the University of Nebraska a major skirmish in that battle and sales tax rates and exemptions on the table.

Is the state facing a revenue problem or a taxation problem?

Revenue is a governing issue, with impact on the state’s future firmly attached.

Taxation is more of a political problem with growing pressure from rural Nebraska to put property tax reduction at the top of that list. Political consequences clearly are attached to the notice that has been hammered on the Legislature’s door.

Both revenue and taxes impact whether Nebraska will enjoy growth and a healthy economy and embrace opportunity now and into the future.

While the state’s political leaders were wise in building and protecting a substantial cash reserve, or so-called rainy day fund -- it’s pouring now -- they’ve also been on an almost annual tax reduction spree that contributes to the current challenge.

So, now senators are moving toward the O.K. Corral.

That’s where they will juggle revenue, the state budget and taxes, with demands for tax cuts growing despite declining revenues and a state budget looming that may limit or curtail quality and growth at the University of Nebraska, an economic engine for the state as well as a center of learning and opportunity.

It’s a shootout; expect casualties.

Tax cuts would reduce revenue even more, now or in the future; creation of new tax obligations to offset different tax reductions raises the political temperature on other fronts.

And now this Legislature’s challenges have become even more complicated.

And there’s an election year ahead.

***

A salute to Clayton Yeutter.

A good man, intellectually gifted, a doer and achiever, a kind man with a ready smile, a man who lived life -- and faced death -- with faith and grace.

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Counselor to presidents, he was U.S. secretary of agriculture and U.S. trade ambassador. And an ambassador for Nebraska wherever he went as well as loyal and constant friend and contributor to his state university.

And at the beginning of all this, he helped shape the state we know today.

Serving as late Gov. Nobby Tiemann’s top lieutenant, Yeutter helped create the new sales and income tax system that would raise the kind of revenue needed to build the university into the institution it is today, enact the first program of state aid to schools and rouse Nebraska from slumber.

Last October, during a telephone interview about trade, Yeutter still had his eye on his home state.

In arguing for continued U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, Yeutter recited how important that would be to America economically and in terms of its future leadership role in Asia acting as an engaged counterweight to China.

And, he noted, the biggest beneficiary of that proposed trade agreement would be U.S. beef and pork exports. Nebraska, he said.

***

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry has introduced bipartisan legislation that seeks to promote peace between the Israelis and Palestinians with a multi-national fund supporting economic and social grassroots programs.

Those resources could help fund education, sports, cultural, and cross-communal economic and environmental initiatives, he says.

The goal is to “bring different communities to work together to develop a better understanding of Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions,” Fortenberry says.

***

Finishing up:

* Sen. Ben Sasse: “The American people deserve a comprehensive, top-to-bottom investigation of Putin’s Soviet-style meddling in self-government at home and across the West.”

* It looks like we have entered a time in our country when there no longer is any distinction between truth and fabrication.

* Mark Intermill, AARP Nebraska spokesman, introducing himself to the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee: “I’m a recovering Kansan.”

* During a legislative hearing on daylight saving time, a testifier who wanted to help secure daylight for golfers into the evening hours suggested that golf helps improve self-esteem. That was never my experience.