Nebraska Legislature: Heineman’s initiatives coming

Nebraska Legislature: Heineman’s initiatives coming

By Paul Hammel January 14, 2013 9:40 am Comments

This is the week we finally find out what Gov. Dave Heineman has up his sleeve for 2013.

The governor has never been much for tipping his hand before his annual State of the State address (this year on Tuesday). But he’s been even more secretive than ever this year.

That could be, as some speculate, because his plan has been so fluid. You can bet on something dealing with inheritance taxes, but what else? A flat income tax? Eliminating sales tax exemptions?

Heineman says that the budget is the first priority, so maybe he waited to see if the state’s fiscal situation cleared up. That hasn’t really happened. Last month’s bumper receipt of taxes was more about people selling off assets in anticipation of the fiscal cliff than an undication that the economy is on totally solid ground now.

Some observations from the first week:

– definite momentum for cutting taxes on retirees’ social security and pension income. This looks like something the increasingly independent Legislature and the governor can agree on.

– some lawmakers are still ticked off at the governor for calling out then Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood last year after the vote to override the governor’s veto of providing prenatal care for children of illegal immigrants. It helped translate into Sen. Heath Mello’s slim victory as chair of appropriations.

– speaking of that, both Heineman and Mello were saying the right things last week and avoiding the kid of public political jabs the two have exchanged in recent years. If Mello, an up-and-coming Democrat, and Heineman, who is as Republican as they come, can get along, maybe there’s hope for the same in Congress. Nah!

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 One thing we should see in the State of the State address would be a plan to straighten out the serious issues facing the statewide radio system.

The system totally failed during a dangerous shootout at an Alliance drug store last summer. No radios as a heavily armed gunman fires ramdomly and holds the store owner hostage. Luckily, no law enforcement officers were killed (three were wounded), but a couple of troopers were pinned down for hours with only their cell phones to communicate, and the batteries on those phones ultimately died.

 Gov. Heineman, in a recent interview, said that there are bugs to be worked out, and state officials are aware of them and on top of it.

But radios are a lifeline for the troopers, deputies and cops across our sparsely settled state. They need to be able to call for backup, or coordinate operations to difuse dangerous situations.

  This new, $17 million-plus radio system was supposed to eliminate the “dead spots” that existed with the state’s old analog radio system and improve radio communications between state, county and city agencies.

But it clearly hasn’t done that, at least yet. Some additional work is needed – more training, some incentives for locals to join the system, something — if the state’s investment in a new radio system is going to achieve its goals.

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 Attorney General Jon Bruning’s announcement that he’s not running for governor was a bit of a surprise. Bruning has always aspired to higher office, but said last week that “maybe” the AG’s office is where he belongs.

 That’s quite a change. The stunning results from the GOP primary last spring for U.S. Senate — in which Bruning went from presumed winner to losing to State Sen. Deb Fischer — would prompt some soul searching in anyone.