2014 Legislature begins; Heineman cool to increased water funding

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January 8, 2014 - 4:05pm

~As snow drifted down on the Capitol, the Nebraska Legislature began its 2014 session Wednesday with a flurry of new bills.
 Meanwhile, Gov. Dave Heineman dashed a little cold water on plans to seek up to $50 million dollars a year for water projects.
Members of the Nebraska Legislature assembled to begin 60 business days of lawmaking, scheduled to stretch from now to mid-April.
 Sixty-nine proposals were put in the hopper the first day. There were tax breaks proposed on income, ag land, social security and military retirement income.
 Sen. Ernie Chambers proposed going in the other direction by ending property tax exemptions for religious organizations, and also prohibiting hunting mountain lions.
 Still to come are many others, including proposals to address prison overcrowding, which Speaker Greg Adams says lawmakers must address. “I think we have to do something this session. Can we solve the problem this session? No. But we have to begin chipping away at this thing,” Adams said.
Meanwhile, spending on water projects, another issue expected to be prominent this session, got a somewhat chilly reception from Gov. Dave Heineman.
Speaking to a meeting of the Nebraska Water Resources Association, Heineman said he would listen. But he said advocates of spending more on water projects like dams and reservoirs have their work cut out for them. “I think you’re going to have to explain to the public: Why does someone in McCook have to pay for a water project in Omaha? Why does someone in Chadron have to pay for a water project in Lincoln, or vice versa?” Heineman said. “I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I don’t think the case has been made.”
Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, said he agrees more persuasion is needed. But Carlson suggested Heineman’s own principles argue in favor of funding water projects. “The governor also has said so many times, and I’ve quoted him, ‘In Nebraska we don’t spend money we don’t have.’ And that’s because we don’t borrow money,” Carlson said.
“We need to be in a position as far as water is concerned that we’re not using water that we don’t have, and we’re not borrowing water from the future,  which is what’s happening in some places in the state today because we’re not sustainable,” he added.
A task force has recommended raising up to $50 million a year for water projects, and said they could be paid for by various means including taxes on ethanol, bottled water and pop, or sales taxes. Legislation on the subject is expected to be introduced in the nine business days remaining for bill introduction.

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