April 16, 2014

Southwestern Nebraska declared disaster area due to lingering drought (AUDIO)

Rain continues to come in short supply in portions of Nebraska, prompting the federal government to declare eight southwestern counties disaster areas due to the lingering drought.

Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Dan Steinkruger announces Keith, Perkins, Lincoln, Chase, Hayes, Frontier, Hitchcock, and Red Willow have been declared disaster areas.

“It reflects the on-going multi-year drought conditions that we have in that entire region,” Steinkruger tells Nebraska Radio Network.

While much of Nebraska has received sufficient rainfall to official declare an end to the drought, drought conditions enter their third year in southwestern Nebraska.

The dry conditions affect not just grain producers, but also cattle grazing.

Until more rain falls in southwestern Nebraska, the USDA will offer emergency loans to producers.

“I think the question is, going forward, are we going to moderate and maybe decrease that drought area in Nebraska or are we going to continue right on into the summer months,” according to Steinkruger.

The Secretary of Agriculture declared the eight counties disaster areas based on the U.S. Drought Monitor drought intensity value, which registers the area as in extreme drought.

Producers in 10 counties contiguous to the eight in the declaration are eligible for certain disaster assistance.

Producers can contact the local FSA Service Center for more information on what assistance might be available.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]


Higher farmland valuations come on heels of disappointing legislative session

Assessment of agricultural land continues to rise, adding to the disappointment farm groups are expressing about the legislative session.

The Nebraska Department of Revenue’s Property Assessment Division reports the valuation of farmland for tax purposes rose nearly 30% between 2013 and 2014.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson says the assessment report comes on the heels of a legislative session that talked a lot about reducing property taxes for farmers, but did little.

“We really thought this was going to be the year, because we had had the Tax Modernization Committee meetings throughout the state,” Nelson tells Brownfield Ag News. “They had heard the message loud and clear that property taxes are too high and, not only are they too high, but the balance between property tax, income tax, and sales tax was out of line.”

Legislators did add $25 million to the $115 million Property Tax Credit Fund. There were not enough votes to add another $20 million to the fund when an amendment to the state budget was proposed during floor debate.

A proposal to drop the assessed valuation of farmland in Nebraska from the current 75% of its market value to 65% of its market value failed to gain any traction in the legislative session.

Nelson says too much of the tax burden falls on the shoulders of Nebraska farm families.

“Three percent of Nebraskans, farmers and ranchers, pay 25% of the property tax in the state. So, there’s not a balance there and we need to address that issue. We believe that there was support to do that, a lot of talk about that, good support from the governor,” according to Nelson. “Part of the disappointment is that it seemed like things had lined up that we could get something done.”

Nelson says that with the latest increase, the assessed valuation of farmland in Nebraska has doubled since 2009. The Nebraska Farm Bureau estimates statewide property taxes paid by farm families will near $1 billion next year, which would rank third highest in the United States.

The Nebraska Department of Revenue, Property Assessment Division reports that, overall, the assessed valuation of agricultural land statewide rose 29.12%. The increase varies significantly from county to county. The assessed valuation of farmland in Chase County, located along the Colorado border, grew 58.48%. In Clay County, farmland values jumped 49.95%; in Kearney County, farmland values rose 49.91%. Clay County is located toward the southeastern part of the state. Kearney County is located in south-central Nebraska, not far from the Kansas border.

Ken Anderson, Brownfield Ag News, contributed to this story.

Two Husker football games set for prime time coverage

NU logo

NU logo

The Big Ten Conference and ESPN/ABC announced Tuesday that Nebraska’s 2014 games against Miami and Michigan State will be televised in prime time on the ESPN networks.

Nebraska will play host to Miami on Sept. 20, at Memorial Stadium with kickoff set for 7 p.m. CT. Two weeks later on Oct. 4 the Huskers will travel to East Lansing, Mich., to take on the defending Big Ten champions, also a 7 p.m. CT (8 p.m. local in East Lansing). Both games will be televised on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2 with a determination on the network to be made at a later date.

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Gov. Heineman reviewing prison reform measure (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman says he hasn’t had time to thoroughly consider the prison reform bill sent to him by the legislature, but says Nebraska needs to do whatever it can to avoid building a new prison.

Heineman says he’s still reviewing, LB 907, a $14.5 million prison reform measure. He hopes it fits with a long-term strategy.

“And, what can we do to avoid building a new prison? That’s very, very costly. I think most of us don’t want to do that. That’s $120-150 million expense that, frankly, I’d rather see us invest in education,” Heineman tells reporters during a news conference.

Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, told colleagues during legislative flood debate the intent of LB 907 is two-fold, to keep non-violent offenders out of prison and to keep inmates from returning once released from prison.

The bill proposes increasing the use of supervised release from prison as well as job training and educational programs to reduce the number of inmates returning to prison after their release. Alcohol and substance abuse programs will be offered as well as mental health services.

Nebraska houses about 4,600 prisoners, well above the designed capacity of 3,175 inmates.

Even as the legislature acted on the problem, the state moves forward with an agreement with the Council of State Governments to develop a long-term strategy to ease overcrowding; except that the governor will not call it overcrowding.

Heineman suggests the prison population issue needs to be evaluated not just on the overall population, but how each institution handles its inmates.

“I have talked repeatedly to the directors of the department of corrections,” Heineman says. “They’re comfortable they can manage the current system and I rely on their advice in that regard.”

The legislature failed to deal with the state “good time” law that automatically credits inmates with a reduction in their sentence. Heineman called for a revision in light of the Nikko Jenkins case. Jenkins has been accused of killing four people in Omaha after being released from prison.

Heineman proposed changing the law to make inmates earn reductions in their prison sentences, rather than receiving credit for “good time” served automatically.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]

Four Republicans face off in final GOP US Senate debate (AUDIO)

Ben Sasse holds his son while talking to a voter after the debate

Ben Sasse holds his son while talking to a voter after the debate

Four Republicans vying for the United States Senate squared off in a debate for the last time before the primary election.

Candidates answers questions on a wide range of topics from campaign finance reform to the war on terror and, of course, the federal health insurance law during an approximately hour-long debate at the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln.

On immigration, Omaha lawyer Bart McLeay said those in the country illegally must respect American laws.

“I would, however, agree with a pathway to residency, meaning background checks and also having employment and other such things,” McLeay stated.

Midland University President Ben Sasse asserted a pathway to residency wouldn’t work now.

“I appreciate the impulse behind the question, but fundamentally I reject the premise that you can have a comprehensive solution with this president,” Sasse stated. “He selectively non-enforces laws.”

Omaha banker Sid Dinsdale said that until the border is secured all immigration talk is nonsense.

“But until you do that, it’s just too leaky. It’s just a sieve with people coming into our country,” Dinsdale said.

Shane Osborn talks with voters afterward

Shane Osborn talks with voters afterward

Former State Treasurer Shane Osborn rejected any consideration of a pathway to residency.

“I am completely against amnesty and a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants,” Osborn stated. “I’m completely against it. I’m the only one who has consistently said that; not dodging, ducking. I’m telling you right now.”

The four are running to get the Republican nod to replace Sen. Mike Johanns who is retiring after this year.

Democrat Dave Domina, a lawyer from Omaha, also is a candidate in the race.

Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN sponsored the debate. Click here to hear audio of the entire debate.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:55]

Sid Dinsdale mingles after the debate

Sid Dinsdale mingles after the debate

Bart McLeay shares a laugh with one of the panelist, Gordon Winters

Bart McLeay shares a laugh with one of the panelist, Gordon Winters