Override the veto

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A plan to improve Nebraska’s roads and bridges has hit a roadblock in the form of Gov. Pete Ricketts.
The first-year governor made it clear from the get-go that tax relief will be high on his agenda, which is a message anyone who talks Nebraska politics can agree with. Taxes are high in our great state and the heavy property tax burden falls especially hard on rural land owners.
There is strong support, however, for a bill that would increase the state’s gas tax by 1-1/2 cents per year for four years, raising an estimated $75 million per year once fully implemented. Dist. 34 rookie Sen. Curt Friesen said he didn’t run for office with a plan to raise taxes, but he supports this particular proposal, and with good reason.
Nebraska has a billion dollar problem, some have calculated, when looking at the condition of the state’s roads and bridges. Never mind any long-term plans to build new roads, the Nebraska Department of Roads doesn’t have enough money in its coffers to keep up with needed maintenance.
As Friesen explained in a recent town hall meeting here in Aurora, there is a cost to poor road conditions. It’s a hidden cost, one that’s hard to measure, but it’s significant.
How do you quantify, for example, the lost opportunity if a transportation logistics or related company wants to come to your community but decides to look elsewhere because of road or bridge conditions? You can’t put a band-aid on those kinds of economic development issues, nor can you solve them quickly. There simply has to be a commitment to on-going maintenance, and while the desire may be there, the funds are currently not.
Another factor in this debate is language which Friesen argues actually makes LB 610 a form of property tax relief. As written, the funds would be split equally between cities, counties and the Nebraska Department of Roads. Cities and counties that are caught up in their roads and bridge maintenance program would have the option of lowering their levy, while those who have work to be done could use the funds on needed maintenance. That local control factor is a definite plus.
Though $75 million is a lot of money, it won’t solve the state’s road woes. It’s a necessary start, however, and could well draw the 30 votes that will be necessary to override Ricketts’ veto.
Kurt Johnson

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