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[Author: Mark Othmer, 07.2016 | Keywords: Nebraska Field Notes, Election]
As the summer heat sets in, those involved with Nebraska agriculture often find themselves wishing for rain from Mother Nature and depending on the reliability of the pivot irrigation system. While irrigation in Nebraska is typically as reliable as flipping a light switch, if the light doesnít come on ñ or in this case the water doesnít flow ñ panic can quickly set in.

When temperatures start climbing toward triple digits, irrigation becomes the key step in the process of producing high yield corn or soybean crops, because a lack of water (even for a few days) can reduce overall yield. With row crop margins as tight as they are right now, the loss of water, whether from irrigation or Mother Nature, can be the determining factor between profit or loss for a row crop operation.

Nebraska has been blessed with an abundance of water and the visionary leadership of Nebraska agriculturists for many years. I only hope that water users continue to be prudent in their use of water so the resource will be preserved for future generations to come.

Thoughts on the Election Year

Now that the Nebraska primary election is over, I have spent a great deal of time interviewing the remaining two senate candidates for every district race in Nebraska. I have attended events conducted by the Nebraska Federation of Business Associations (I-NEDA is a member) in Kearney, Lincoln and Omaha. At these events each candidate was given 30 minutes to introduce themselves, talk about their campaign, field questions from attendees and give a final statement. Twenty-six candidates were interviewed. As you may have guessed, it was an intense meeting for the both the candidates and attendees and I found myself quite exhausted at the end of each day.

Thanks to Nebraska term limits, there are two new candidates for a large number of districts, with only a few having one or no candidate to run against the incumbent. Incumbent candidates were not interviewed since we have been working with them for four years and have a good idea of what to expect. I remain optimistic that Nebraska will continue to have qualified candidates running each election cycle, even with two-term limits. However, it may become an issue down the road.

I am concerned with the lack of experience in leadership positions in the Unicameral. There will probably be committee chairs next session with four years or less experience. While term limits were put in place to keep senators from yielding too much power and becoming too close with lobbyists, an unintended consequence has occurred. Many lobbyists are now the most experienced in the Unicameral, making them more powerful. As time goes by I believe attempts will be made to extend term limits to at least three terms, allowing sitting senators more experience and the ability to better control happenings in the Unicameral.

While visiting with the candidates, it became evident that Nebraska citizens are upset with a perceived (if not real) high tax situation. The taxes commonly cited as too high were personal property and income taxes. Several candidates also indicated their constituents felt wages had not increased enough (or not at all) to keep up with growing taxes and inflation. While the federal government continues to report that inflation is very low, constituents aren’t buying it. It appears that many feel there is too much month left at the end of the paycheck, and they are getting upset with government waste and inefficiency.

Beware Next Session

A recent news article in the Lincoln Journal Star reported that Senator Jim Smith of Omaha was planning to run for chair of the Revenue Committee. Having Senator Smith serve as chair would be good, since he worked extremely well with us last session on a bill that achieved overweight exemptions for farm equipment. However, Senator Smith has indicated a willingness to promote a bill for tax reduction this coming session, with the reductions involving income and personal property tax. There are only two ways to achieve this desired reduction: reduce spending or increase sales taxes.

We are extremely lucky that the ag repair and replacement parts sales tax exemption recently passed. However, we should not be complacent in protecting that exemption. If sales tax is the only place where more revenues can be generated, then increased rates, a broadened base or removal of exemptions may all be on the table for discussion next session. I have heard of the desire to put some services on the sales tax rolls, along with collecting sales tax on Internet sales. Obviously the latter of these two choices would be much more preferable to our industry.

General Election

As you can see, our next group of elected officials will be making some important decisions next session. I strongly encourage each of you to get to know your district senator personally and make sure he/she knows how important your business is to the people of his/her district. Invite them to come to your dealership to see first-hand how many employees you have and the significant investment you have made in your community. It will help you develop a good relationship with your senator and will help your senator make prudent decisions on issues of extreme importance to you and your business.


About the Author

Mark Othmer

For nearly 20 years, Mark has traveled across Nebraska calling on members. A “regular” at the State Capitol, Mark keeps his finger on the pulse of legislative issues affecting members. When he’s not driving across Nebraska, Mark can be found golfing, cheering on the Nebraska Cornhuskers and spending lazy afternoons at the family farm.