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Groene at the Legislature: Holding NRDs responsibleTell North Platte what you think
Photo by Nebraska Unicameral
Mike Groene

North Platte (NRD) Manager Berge’s recent guest opinion in newspapers (Bulletin' website, Aug. 14), portrays well why it is necessary for state legislators to balance a need for local control and the “must-do” of protecting local taxpayers from a few tax-and-spend bureaucrats, who are mixed in with the vast majority of good public servants.

To understand where Berge’s opinion originates, you must first know that he spent most of the first 20 years of his career in politics as an aide to U.S. Sens. Exon, Kerrey and Nelson. He spent time employed by the Obama presidential campaign and afterwards was employed by the USDA for 4 years. He has a federal government mindset, where dictating policy to local citizens is the norm.

It is obvious his view on local control and mine differ.

Local control starts with individual responsibility. The enactment of LB 962 in 2004 was a reaction to Nebraska’s involvement in interstate river-flow agreements and federal endangered species mandates. Back in 2003, in anticipation of a moratorium on new irrigation wells, local NRDs allowed a massive increase in well drilling permits. Those local decisions greatly compounded the problem.

Anytime legislation resurrects a sunset on a tax, it is a tax increase. The 3-cent NRD levy was enacted prior to passage of LB 701 in 2007, which created authority for NRDs in over and fully appropriated areas to levy an occupation tax on irrigated farmland, up to a maximum of $10 per acre, to fund river-flow enhancement bonds, to pay for the very compliance programs Berge’s employer had created to return water to the North Platte River’s flow.

Since the occupation tax creates an alternative funding source for compliance, the levy is no longer needed. The occupation tax puts personal responsibility in the forefront as a funding solution. If you installed the well and you profit from the related over-appropriation of ground water, you should pay a larger portion of the fix.

We may disagree on the NCORPE project, but my district’s NRDs (Twin Platte and Middle Republican) have done the right thing on taxation policy. In both districts, the irrigators have stepped up and paid the $10 occupation tax and thus the NRD has been able to maintain a lower tax rate. Many of those irrigators are now working with me to lower the burden of the occupation tax by seeking legislative and legal actions to eliminate the costs associated with NCORPE.

Why does Berge’s NPNRD need to increase their tax levy?

Over the past 10 years, their valuations have increased from $2.7 to $5.1 billion (86%). The general fund revenue, generated from the (state authorized) levy of 5.5 cents, increased from $1.5 to $2.79 million. 

Berge has made it clear that he believes ranchers, dry-land farmers, home owners — including young families and retirees — along with small businesses in his NRD should pay high property taxes to address a problem they neither created nor directly profited from.

Berge is confused on how the interaction between local and state government works.

NRDs themselves exist by mandate of the will of the people through their state government. So does the NRD’s authority to tax property. The temporary 3-cent levy, which he covets an extension on, was granted to NRDs by the legislature. In fact, Berge’s job exists because of a state mandate. 

The Legislature’s duty is to balance protection of a local individual’s freedoms including property rights  from the majority, while at the same time allowing a local majority to direct their schools, city’s, NRD’s or county’s policies that affect all citizens.

Tax rate and spending lids placed on local governments protect individual taxpayers from Berge’s false view that increased government spending equates to good government.

No, Mr. Berge I am not anti-tax; I am for fiscally sound government. Local control to me is defined by individual personal responsibility. In truth, not burdening your neighbor with your bad choices is the best form of government.

For a few NRD managers, intervention is needed. We need to stop enabling their addiction to tax dollars, and allowing the 3-cent levy to expire is a good start. I do need to apologize to all the good public servants at our NRDs, and to drunks, for not clarifying my original general comparison.

Please do not hesitate to contact our office, mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729, with any comments, questions, or concerns.


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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 8/16/2017
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