Omaha World-Herald. June 8, 2015
Keep eyes on the road on gas tax funds
Now that the Nebraska Legislature has passed a 6-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase over the governor's veto, drivers need state, county and city officials to follow through on lawmakers' promises.
An estimated infusion of $75 million a year in user fees, divided about one-third each among state, county and city road needs, might offer the political temptation to pad the wish list of projects.
The 30 state senators who overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto did so by selling the idea that this money was needed to help close the gap between what is needed for already prioritized repairs and road projects and what money is coming in.
Those needs are real, even if the justifications sounded eerily similar to the 2011 debate that earmarked a quarter-cent of the state sales tax for roads. That change helped push state revenues for the Nebraska Department of Roads to the highest level in more than two decades, The World-Herald's Henry Cordes has reported. Cities and counties, too, are seeing an uptick in state road funds.
But the state, county and city share of federal gas tax funds has fallen sharply, due to inflation and people driving fuel-efficient vehicles. As such, Nebraska's 2015 road construction budget fell $53 million short of its projected needs.
Folks know better than to wait on Washington to fix problems.
This lightly populated state contains more than 100,000 miles of roads. It also is home to 20,000 bridges. County and city governments oversee all but 10,000 miles of road and 3,500 bridges.
Over the next 20 years, state roads officials say they expect needs to eclipse $10 billion. Much of that concerns roads and bridges that get people to work and agricultural products to market.
Officials need to remember the voters who drive those roads and bridges when lobbyists show up with hands out touting the next great paved economic experiment. Discipline will be key.
Faster repairs and replacement of dated roads and bridges are what Nebraskans were promised. Roads and bridges built on the principle of need — that's what they should receive.
The Grand Island Independent. June 14, 2015
Farm officials smart to move against bird flu
Poultry shows have been cancelled across Nebraska, swap meets and live bird auctions have been eliminated and 47 million chickens and turkeys have been killed in parts of the country — all because of fears of the bird flu.
Is it an overreaction?
No. Most would say it has been a reasoned response to the mysterious disease plaguing poultry farms.
The scope of the bird flu is startling. So far, more than 47 million chickens and turkeys have been killed by the disease or will be culled to prevent its spread. Most of the hens have been in Iowa. The loss of these egg producers is expected to drive the price of eggs to record highs.
In Minnesota, the top U.S. turkey-producing state, 9 million birds have been lost to the disease.
However, the impact of the avian influenza outbreak will hit more than poultry farmers and fair exhibitors. Consumers also will feel the impact as the price of eggs is expected to skyrocket.
One of the highlights of visiting the animal barns at county fairs across Nebraska and at the State Fair is seeing the variety of poultry shown at the events. Some are exotic birds, but others are poultry cared for and raised by young 4-H and FFA members.
These shows will be missed this year. But the Nebraska Department of Agriculture was right to cancel them. To protect poultry operations throughout the state, steps must be taken to stop the highly pathogenic virus from spreading. And one way it could get spread is through the commingling of birds at these shows.
Already more than 7 million birds have been destroyed or quarantined at four farms in Dixon County and one farm in Knox County where the virus was found.
More than 10 states, including Nebraska, have taken similar steps to protect poultry flocks. So far the disease has been detected in 20 states, spreading from the Northwest to Midwest. Even North Carolina has decided to ban all poultry shows and public sales from mid-August to mid-January.
Much about the bird flu is still not known. It is believed to initially be contracted from droppings of wild birds. The disease can unwittingly be spread by humans who come in contact with infected birds. That's why many poultry farms have strict biosecurity measures.
The latest outbreak however is occurring in bizarre ways that has many experts baffled. Some farms are getting infected, while others aren't. Researchers are looking at if the virus travels by air, and if it does, how far it can go.
All of these unknown factors make it wise for precautions to be taken. Certainly, young people raising poultry will be disappointed in not being able to show their birds. Fairgoers also will be disappointed.
But with the bird flu spreading like wildfire already, ag officials are being smart in doing what they can to stop it.
Lincoln Journal Star. June 7, 2015
Prepare for death penalty vote
Proponents for repealing the death penalty in Nebraska achieved a long-sought goal last week when state lawmakers approved the measure over a gubernatorial veto.
The decisive vote in a conservative state attracted notice around the country.
Now it's time for supporters of repeal to focus on an even bigger prize — a popular vote to take the death penalty off the books and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Supporters of the death penalty are organizing to put the issue on the ballot. Chances are good they will collect the number of signatures needed.
Gov. Pete Ricketts and Sen. Bill Kintner think they represent the opinion of a majority of Nebraskans. The Nebraska Republican Party paid for a poll conducted May 18-20 that showed 64 percent of 504 respondents support the death penalty.
Based on that finding, supporters of repeal will need to organize a massive education effort to put information before voters that will change their minds. It can be done. Supporters of repeal have a mountain of evidence on their side.
It's going to take money to put that information before voters. Based on the attention the legislative repeal received, the fund-raising can be conducted on the national level.
The thirty senators who voted for repeal on the final vote did so for a variety of reasons. For some it was a matter of religious faith. Some hewed to traditional liberal views. Importantly, many of those who voted to repeal the death penalty did so for conservative reasons.
The growing conservative support for repeal of the death penalty has been noted by many, including iconic conservative columnist George Will, who wrote last month about the three-fold conservative case against capital punishment, beginning with the idea that it "cloaks government with a majesty and pretense of infallibility discordant with conservatism."
The route that a typical Nebraskan might take to a change of heart on the death penalty was described by Sen. Robert Hilkemann on his legislative website. Like most Nebraskans, he never thought much about the death penalty, but felt it should be retained for the most heinous crimes and killing law enforcement officers.
When he was elected to the Legislature, he was forced to examine his belief. The turning point in his decision came when he met face-to-face with Ray Krone, a man who had been falsely accused, convicted and sentenced to death.
Common-sense and good-hearted Nebraskans will follow the same path to a thoughtful change of heart on the death penalty, moving from uninformed, misplaced confidence in the death penalty to knowledgeable support for repeal.
If the issue is placed on the ballot, voters will be confronted with a rare vote with life-and-death implications. They will be motivated to seek information. The evidence and the best arguments call for repeal of the death penalty. Advocates need to make sure it is available.
McCook Daily Gazette. June 10, 2015
Save energy during summertime heat
After an unusually mild and wet spring — McCook is .9 of an inch ahead of normal precip — we've moved right into summer-type weather, hitting 96 degrees about 7 p.m. Tuesday.
There are alternatives to sweating through the summer or eating peanut butter sandwiches to be able afford paying your electric bill, according to the Nebraska Public Power District.
NPPD has a vested interest; the utility works hard to keep up with peak demand during the summer air conditioning and irrigation season, and it's in everybody's best interest to make things easier for them.
The simplest is to turn up your thermostat a little, according to Steve Zach, NPPD energy efficiency supervisor.
That's because air condition accounts for up to 70 percent of the average home or apartment's summer electric bill. If you have a programmable thermostat, set it between 78 and 82 degrees if you plan to leave for an extended period of time. Every degree below 79 costs an extra 3 or 4 percent.
Ceiling fans can make you feel four degrees cooler, but fans do no good when no one's in the room to enjoy the wind-chill effect on the skin. Turn them off when you leave the room.
Close curtains to direct sunlight, and consider solar screens on east- and west-facing windows.
Turn off unnecessary lights, and switch to LED bulbs if you can. You can get a one-time incentive of $5 for up to 15 LED bulbs purchased.
How about all those AC adapters? Unplug cell phone chargers, televisions and computers to eliminate "phantom loads" that account to 5 to 10 percent of overall home energy use. Smart power strips can automatically shut off power while in standby mode.
The summer kitchen our ancestors used are still a good idea. Grill outdoors or use a microwave oven to cut down heat inside. While you're at it, lower the water heater temperature to 120 degrees and install low-flow shower heads and aerators for faucets.
Besides the LED?rebates, NPPD and its wholesale customers have other energy incentive programs for things like system tune-ups, attic insulation, high efficiency heat pumps and others.