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Debate focuses on rural issues

By Nancy McGill
Hebron Journal-Register

Incumbent, District 32 Sen. Laura Ebke, gave a glimpse into working across party lines when it comes to bills in Nebraska’s Unicameral while candidate for the Dist. 32 seat, Tom Brandt,  pushed for property tax reform at Hebron’s Majestic Theater Sept. 19.
The debate was initiated by Ebke, who is a liberatarian, and moderated by Thayer Central teacher and speech and debate coach, Justin Bomar.  
“I did want to debate and push him to debate,” Ebke said. “I think it’s important for citizens to hear us side by side.”
Ebke became the Dist. 32 senator in 2014 as a republican. She is the chairperson for the judiciary committee and is assigned to the education committee.
Brandt’s plugs for property tax reform stemmed from the first of four questions posed by Bomar. Brandt is a republican.
“I really tried to focus on rural Nebrarska, and I researched the candidates,” Bomar said about formatting the questions on reforming school funding without the burden falling on rural landowners and farmers; solutions for a weakening ag economy with declining valuations and low crop prices in many rural areas; encouraging economic development outside of the ag sector and keeping corporations in the state; and alternatives to college debt with the state’s management.
The debate was just under 60 minutes with no questions from the public, although a meet and greet with Ebke and Brandt was held afterward.   
Introductory and closing statements were timed to four minutes. The two candidates each had three minutes to answer the questions with one-minute rebuttals. A coin toss resulted in Ebke answering questions one and three first. Brandt took questions two and four.
Ebke’s ideas for school funding included a base cost for the state of $3,000 per student and  work across party lines to pinpoint budget cuts without raising taxes. Brandt pointed out Thayer County schools do not receive state equalization aid, now at $848 million. He wants to re-balance the system through sales, income and property taxes.
For the second question on the agricultural economy, Brandt returned to property tax and compared today’s prices to prices in 1973.
The economy is going through a down cycle, he said.
Ebke said the revenue committee has no interest in reforming tax bills, giving an inside look at how bill banter mulls through the unicameral, but said she has sat down with other senators to discuss bills line by line.
Brandt rebutted, saying he thinks senators understand the agricultural community is suffering.
It was Ebke’s turn to answer the third question on business outside the agricultural economy.
“We have let government control way too many things. We have so much red tape,” she said.
People come back because they love Nebraska, but we need other incentives.”
Ebke was the sponsor for LB299, which the governor signed into law as The Occupational Board Reform Act. The Act requires the state to review  jobs licensing laws every five years and gives people who have been convicted of crimes the right to inquire about their ability to be licensed before they start training.
Earlier this month, Ebke was recognized by The Platte Institute at its legislative summit  the 2018 Connie Brown Freedom Award for her efforts on the bill.
Brandt said the state has “many homegrown advantages,” such as its world class University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, however, rural customers don’t feel as if they have adequate internet services.
“It helps small communities be competitive,” he said.
Ebke responded to Brandt in a rebuttal.
“There is a finite amount of money and lots of demands for state funds. Our manufacturing isn’t what it used to be,” she said.
On the final question, Brandt cited the state’s community colleges and high school students taking courses for college credit.
“There are other careers that do not require four years of college,” he said.
Ebke agreed and said students should not be afraid to try another avenue when it comes to their education.
Jay Huhman thorugh the debate went well.
“I think they addressed the questions a lot of people came to hear,” he said.
Thayer Central students, Maggie Harris, Dakota Cherney and Yong Wang talked with Brandt.
“We asked him what he would try to do with gun violence in schools and mental health programs,” Harris said. “I am concerned.”
Harris said the ban on bumpstocks for the city of Lincoln needs to stretch across the state and there needs to be more background checks before a person is allowed to purchase a firearm.
“Raising the minimum age to 21 would be a good idea,” she and Cherney added.

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