University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook threw his hat into the ring for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination on Tuesday, while education and other groups continue their spat with the governor over taxes.
Hassebrook is executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, an advocacy organization in the northeast Nebraska town of Lyons. He's served on the University of Nebraska's Board of Regents for more than 17 years. He said he's running because it's a critical time in America.
< "Washington's not working. In fact neither party is working for the common good of America," he said. "Certainly Washington seems to be working pretty good for the rich and powerful special interests. And both parties are certainly working hard to win the next election. But it's not working to create a better future here in Lyons or across rural Nebraska. It's not working to create a better future in Omaha or Lincoln. And it's not working to build a stronger America and a more perfect union. I want to make it better."
< Hassebrook said he favors an investment tax credit to stimulate small businesses, and an end to the Bush-era tax cuts for those in the highest tax brackets.
< Hassebrook said Congress should look at limiting Social Security and Medicare benefits for upper income people. And he advocated a change in agricultural subsidies.
< "We certainly need to look at capping the amount of money that we spend on the nation's biggest farms, because spending that money on the nation's biggest farms is not doing much for the economy. A lot of it is just being bid into higher land prices," he decared.
< "But if we can save some of the money that we spend by making (excessive) payments to the biggest farms, we could turn around and invest that in the kinds of rural development programs that help start new businesses, new farms, new ranches, and help revitalize the rural economy."
Hassebrook joins three lesser known Democrats already in the race: Larry Marvin of Fremont, Steven Lustgarten of Omaha, and Sherman Yates of Lincoln. The winner of the May 15th primary will face the Republican winner in a contest for the Senate seat left open by the retirement of Democratic Senator Ben Nelson.
< In other political news, former state Sen. Ernie Chambers has filed for election to the north Omaha seat he held for 38 years before being forced out in 2009 by term limits. Chambers will face incumbent Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha.
< In the Legislature, senators gave first-round approval to a bill that would raise judges' salaries by 2 percent. Under the proposal, judges on the state Supreme Court would earn just under $146,000 a year. Other judges would also get a 2 percent raise. The bill would cost about $770,000.
< Meanwhile, opponents of Gov. Dave Heineman's proposed tax cuts, contained in LB970, renewed their attack. Nancy Fulton, president of the Nebraska State Education Association and a former teacher in the Wilber-Clatonia district, used a holiday theme. "It's Valentine's Day, and while LB970 offers a sweetheart deal for the wealthy, it breaks my heart to think what it would be to the funding of education for the students of Wilber-Clatonia, and for students all across the state," she declared.
< NSEA's harsh words for the governor are a far cry from the sentiments expressed by the teachers' union the last time he ran. In 2009, more than a year before the election, NSEA endorsed Heineman for re-election, saying "he knows that education and a prosperous economy go hand-in-hand, and he has worked to implement policies that support children and quality education." Fulton was asked if NSEA has any regrets. "At this point I don't see the regrets," she said.
Representatives of AARP Nebraska, Voices for Children in Nebraska, and the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest also spoke against the governor's bill. And Deb Schorr of the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners criticized the governor's proposal to eliminate the inheritance tax, which goes to counties, saying it would raise property taxes and jeopardize services.
Sen. Abbie Cornett
Sen. Abbie Cornett of Bellevue, chair of the Legislature's Revenue Committee and introducer of the governor's proposals, said eliminating the inheritance tax has little support in the committee. Cornett said the panel is waiting for next Friday's revised revenue forecast before dealing with the proposed cuts in individual and corporate income taxes.
< Heineman himself blasted back at critics in a press release Tuesday, calling them "liberal interest groups" who "support higher classes on middle-class Nebraskans." The governor said 75 percent of his proposed tax relief would go to households with incomes of $150,000 or less.
< And longtime legislative Sergeant at Arms Sally Gordon has died. Gordon started working for the Legislature in 1984, at age 75, and kept on going until her retirement last year. She was 102 years old.