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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

Posted September 11

Omaha World-Herald. September 8, 2017

NU is an investment that pays big dividends for Nebraska

The recent harassment of a conservative student advocating publicly for her beliefs at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln was troubling. It was encouraging that university leaders — NU President Hank Bounds and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green — responded strongly and appropriately.

Bounds, for example, rightly observed that NU "must allow for the healthy exchange of ideas without personal attacks, especially against young people who are our future."

To listen to some critics, one would think — contrary to the facts — that NU leadership is abandoning its support of free thought and that the state and private donors ought to pull back from supporting the NU system financially. That would be a supremely irresponsible step harmful to Nebraska's future.

Consider just a few examples of NU's importance to the state:

All NU campuses have adopted initiatives to boost students' entrepreneurship knowledge and skills, including for students studying law or medicine.

The Raikes School of Computer Science and Management at UNL has proved to be a vital resource for nurturing a skilled high-tech talent supply. Agricultural science and natural resources studies at UNL continue to be among the most respected in the nation, and Nebraska Extension provides a range of support for youths and adults alike.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha has repeatedly won national recognition for being a military-friendly campus in terms of its supports and atmosphere.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center is showing great vision with its high-tech iExcel medical training program.

The University of Nebraska at Kearney continues as a hub for many first-generation college students seeking a smaller campus.

UNK and UNMC showed impressive collaboration as they worked together to create the Health Science Education Complex on the UNK campus. This training center is helping Nebraska greatly boost its number of health care professionals across the state.

The 2017 fall enrollment figures indicate NU's continued forward momentum. The NU system is at an all-time high with 52,679 students, up slightly from last year.

UNL and UNMC both set records for overall enrollment. The freshmen classes at UNL and UNO both were all-time highs.

NU strengthens Nebraska in far-ranging ways and is well deserving of continued strong support from state leaders and the public.

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Lincoln Journal Star. September 6, 2017

Fair growth shows win-win for Lincoln, Grand Island

Eight years into the Nebraska State Fair's run in Grand Island, attendance at the August tradition has now exceeded the final fair in Lincoln.

With a reported attendance of 379,108, the number of fairgoers - which has risen every year since the event moved to central Nebraska - in 2017 was roughly equivalent to one in five Nebraskans. The state fair is nearing the all-time record of 389,171 set in Lincoln 20 years ago.

Whether it's because of bigger-name acts for concerts, increases in attendance from the Omaha and Lincoln areas or other circumstances, the State Fair's success at Grand Island's Fonner Park - and development at its former home in the capital city - has vindicated for both sides its move in 2010.

Moving to Grand Island from Lincoln is increasingly evident as a victory for both cities. Central Nebraska gained a marquee attraction that would draw hundreds of thousands to the Tri-Cities area. Lincoln has revived the former State Fair Park, on prime real estate that sat adjacent to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, as the Nebraska Innovation Campus.

What makes Nebraska's success even more impressive is that it created what was essentially an entirely new State Fair in Grand Island. It appears no other state has moved a fair away from its major population centers in decades - and, in less than a decade, attendance at Fonner Park has already exceeded the fair's farewell to Lincoln and trending toward breaking its all-time record.

Many states have several regional fairs, while others have expos that compete for top billing in their states - including six in Pennsylvania and four apiece in Texas and Washington. Most states with a single fair, including the storied ones in Iowa and Minnesota, have long held them in or around the capital city.

Of Midwestern states with fairs located away from capital cities or population centers, all have historic roots there. State fairs in Colorado (Pueblo), Kansas (Hutchinson), Missouri (Sedalia), South Dakota (Huron) and Wyoming (Douglas) date back more than a century at their locations. Grand Island and Nebraska represent the absolute outlier, albeit a successful one.

For something to be truly unprecedented is very difficult. But there is no modern-day comparison for the Nebraska State Fair's relocation to Grand Island - and subsequent rapid growth.

Grand Island has nurtured, nourished and grown the Nebraska State Fair, now its own shining attraction. Lincoln has converted the former fairgrounds into a hub for business and development. Consistent increases in attendance for the former and booming development for the latter has turned the fair's move into a win-win.

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Kearney Hub.  September 5, 2017

Ethanol blending takes sting off at pump

Expect gasoline prices to climb into the $2.80 range, the Oil Price Information Service warns, because Hurricane Harvey has knocked out 20 percent of the United States' crude oil refining capacity.

The bad news outside the hurricane zone is that transportation suddenly has become substantially more expensive. That doesn't just mean it's more expensive to get to work, it means it's more expensive to get food from the field to the processor and to the shelves of the supermarket.

We've seen it happen before when fuel shortages touched off price hikes in many kinds of merchandise, services and food.

The good news is that ethanol will likely soften the blow from Harvey because adding ethanol really stretches a gallon of gasoline. Even the federal Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges that fact. Last week, EPA issued a waiver to relax the rules so E15 may be sold immediately in Nebraska and 37 other states.

According to the Nebraska Ethanol Board, under normal circumstances, reformulated gasoline and low volatility conventional gasoline (winter blends) can be sold only after Sept. 15. The short-term waiver issued on Thursday ensures an adequate fuel supply throughout the country and might even depress a bit of the price increases we're seeing at the pump.

By blending more ethanol, the fuel supply can go farther, especially if flex-fuel vehicle owners fill up with E85 and drivers with a vehicle 2001 or newer choose E15, said Jan tenBensel, vice chair of the Nebraska Ethanol Board.

"One of easiest things we can do to help with Hurricane Harvey recovery is use more ethanol," tenBensel said. "By using our homegrown, renewable fuel, we can allow petroleum to be diverted to areas that are in a greater need, which also helps mitigate price hikes."

If you'd like to boost the volume of ethanol in the fuel you're buying, you can locate higher blends of ethanol throughout the state by visiting www.AmericanEthanolNE.org or www.HuskerFuel.com. Drivers who have been sheepish about burning ethanol in their vehicles now have an opportunity to get better acquainted with the renewable fuel and its lower price compared to unblended fuel without ethanol. Until refineries are fired back up, you can save a few dollars while helping the nation stretch its fuel supply.

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The Grand Island Independent. September 5, 2017

Wage freeze, wheel tax help balance budget

Grand Island city officials and members of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local 647 demonstrated last week how two groups can work together for the public good.

IAFF members, who are Grand Island firefighters, agreed to a two-year wage freeze. That will allow the city to retain two firefighter positions that had just been eliminated the previous week.

The firefighters sacrificed getting a pay increase in order for the Fire Department to be fully staffed. The firefighters themselves know better than anyone the impact that staffing cuts can have on public safety.

Fewer firefighters would mean that response times would increase. Also, the firefighters who are working would be more fatigued, which could lead to injuries.

No one wants to see public safety lessened. City officials and council members, however, have seen the city's personnel costs climb to the point where they had to trim positions.

The firefighters' willingness to keep their wages stable, though, helps the city's budget out in a big way. By not having wage increases, enough money is saved to pay for those two positions.

Mayor Jeremy Jensen said that the IAFF agreeing to the wage freeze shows how collective bargaining units and the city can work together in addressing the city's long-term budget problems.

And he is right. Union members didn't want to lose any firefighter positions, but they understood the city's budget restraints.

The IAFF members and Local 647 President Phil Thomas deserve a lot of praise for working with the city to keep staffing levels at where fire officials believe they should be.

City officials also deserve praise for being willing to work with the union and not just stubbornly saying the positions have to be cut.

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It will be interesting to see what happens after two years, when the wage freeze agreement will end. Will the city still be in a budget bind? Will the issue of cutting positions come up again? We'll have to wait and see.

Another significant action taken at the City Council meeting last week was the approval of a wheel tax. All vehicles in Grand Island will now be assessed a new tax. It is $12.50 for motorcycles, $22.50 for passenger vehicles and $52.50 for large commercial vehicles. It is expected to generate $1.5 million for the city and the funds can only be used for roads purposes. The city will, however, be able to use the funds that would have gone toward roads for another purpose now.

It was surprising that there wasn't much of an outcry against the new tax. It could especially prove to be a burden on low-income families.

A better approach, a half-cent sales tax increase, was rejected by voters last year. A sales tax increase would have been better because those who live outside of Grand Island, but who travel on the city's roads, would have helped pay it. With a wheel tax, the cost falls completely on city residents.

Perhaps more residents didn't object to the wheel tax because they see it helping address public safety staffing. Safety is an important issue to residents and they may view an extra tax as the price to pay for keeping more police officers and firefighters on the job.

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