The Elks Club in Cozad was the site for this year’s Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s legislative forum for Dawson County last Wednesday. Over 40 people attended the forum hosted this year by the Cozad Chamber of Commerce. 
Speakers included Joseph Young, State Chamber Executive Vice President of Vision Nebraska, Jamie Karl, State Chamber Vice President of Public Affairs & Policy and State Senator Matt Williams from Gothenburg. State Senator John Lowe from Kearney was also in attendance 
Young was the first speaker to address the audience. Young pointed out that the state chamber has nearly 2,000 members representing around 275,000 individuals in more than 150 Nebraska communities. The primary issues that the state chamber focuses on are taxes, regulation, work force and job creation. 
Young noted that more than 670 bills and constitutional amendments were introduced the first session of the 105th Nebraska Legislature earlier this year. The Nebraska Chamber had positions on and/or monitored more than 250 measures due to their potential impact on the business community.
The 2017 session brought some notable achievements including State Chamber-supported bills including the following:
• LB161: Extends the Nebraska Advantage Act credit carryover time for businesses making significant capital investments and creating many high-paying jobs.
• LB203: Lessens abuse of the Unemployment Insurance program by tightening benefit restrictions for those who leave a job without good cause, saving an estimated $3.7 million in 2018 and nearly $5 million in 2019. This significantly cuts down on fraud.
• LB271: Reduces red tape for state    transportation infrastructure projects, thereby expediting timelines and saving as much as $19 million annually.
• LB518: Establishes new funding sources to help address Nebraska’s workforce housing shortages. State Senator Matt Williams sponsored this bill.
• LB641: Establishes a matching grant program to attract early-state bioscience startups in Nebraska.
      The Nebraska Chamber also worked diligently to defeat or amend harmful proposals to the Nebraska business community. Among this year’s most ‘menacing’ bills that went down in defeat included:
• LB52: Would have imposed a 5.5 per cent state tax on loan interest, costing individuals and businesses several hundred million dollars annually and crippled the state’s economy.
• LB126, LB467 & LB572: Would have halted important business incentives including the Nebraska Advantage Act.
• LB312 & LB563: Would have eliminated several sales tax exemptions that are important to business activity.
• LB313: Would have repealed the Build Nebraska Act (LB84), while terminating many pro-business tax reforms.
• LB468: Would have amended and/or eliminated recent improvements made to the state’s tax code, including the indexing of income tax brackets for inflation.
     Budget issues, workforce, housing, economic growth incentives and tax reform and relief will be key issues concerning the Nebraska Legislature in 2018.
     Nebraska’s reliance on income taxes keeps growing, providing nearly 60 per cent of the state’s general fund revenue.
     Jamie Karl, Vice President of Public Affairs & Policy for the Nebraska Chamber addressed attendees concerning Nebraska’s Competitiveness Rankings referred to as ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Like Young, Karl is a registered lobbyist in the Nebraska legislature.
     Strengths include being cited by CNBC in their July 2017 report as the nation’s 13th top state for business. CNBC also recognized Nebraska in their Top 10 for Education (5th), Business Friendliness (6th) and Quality of Life (10th).
     In their November 2016 report, Forbes ranked Nebraska as the 3rd Best State for Business. Nebraska has been in Forbes’ Top 10 for nine consecutive years. 
     Nebraska ranked #1 in Forbes’ Top 10 Regulatory Climate, #7 in Quality of Life and #9 in Business Costs. Quality of life includes K-12 schools, weather, colleges, culture and recreation, environment and health care. Business Costs include labor, energy and taxes. The Cornhusker State also ranked #1 in Regulatory Climate, which includes labor regulations, insurance coverage mandates, occupational licensing, tort system, right-to-work and tax incentives.
     Karl pointed out that areas of mediocrity included a #20 ranking in Workforce, a ranking of 27th in Current Economy, a ranking of #26 in Growth Prospects and came in at #33 in Tech and Innovation according to CNBC’s July report.
     ‘The Ugly’ or Nebraska’s areas of weakness involve taxation, especially high income, corporate and property taxes. According to Karl, the state’s income tax rate of 6.84 percent kicks in at earnings of $29,000 per year. The income tax rate is deeply tied to businesses since 90 percent of Nebraska businesses pay at personal rates If Nebraska’s individual income tax was average for our region, the top marginal rate would be 4.03 percent---not 6.84 percent
     Corporate income tax is currently 7.81 percent with the average for our region being 4.98 percent.
    Those in attendance concurred that high property taxes remain an area of concern for Nebraskans. At a rate of 5.40 percent share of personal income, Nebraska has the 11th highest property tax in the U.S.
     Karl and Senator Williams explained that tax shifts have been tried and have failed. According to the Nebraska Tax Research Council, the passage of LB1059 in 1990 increased state sales and income tax rates to offset property tax support for K-12 education. In the following years there were abnormally high property tax increases.
     About 1/3 of the state budget ($1.4 billion) goes to local governments. State government receives monies from the state sales tax and state income taxes.
     Local governments receive revenue from real property taxes and personal property taxes. 60 percent of local government taxes support K-12 school districts.
    Senator Williams, who is seeking re-election in 2018 to the state legislature, has a 100 percent voting record with the State Chamber. Williams serves on the banking, commerce and insurance and health and human services committees in the legislature.
    Williams explained that only one of the 13 school districts in Legislative District 36, which includes Dawson County, receives substantial equalization funding from the $1 billion provided by the state, Lexington.
   “We need to protect education while perhaps making better use of state funding for it,” Williams concluded. “This includes fairly distributing the $1 billion,” he added.
Give BIG Lexington (GBL) is set for Thursday, November 16th. The 24-hour day of giving is hosted by the Lexington Community Foundation (LCF) and is an event that makes giving easy for donors and fundraising simple for nonprofits. GBL benefits nonprofits of all sizes in our area.
The Foundation’s Give BIG Lexington initiative began in 2011 and was the first giving day hosted in Nebraska. It remains one of the biggest giving days in the area. November 16th will be the seventh Give BIG Lexington event.
It’s easy to get lost in the numbers, yet the numbers are a means by which the phenomenal impact the giving day has had in supporting the services that are important to our community can best be illustrated. In its first six events, GBL has distributed $2.6M, to 101 organizations. We have had an average of 1900 donors participate each year and 102 have participated in each of the six giving day events. Last year, GBL had 355 new donors give. Support for Give BIG Lexington has been widespread and has generated donations from 32 different states and one foreign country. This single-day drive has become an enormous focus for charitable fundraising in the Lexington area.
Expect greater things this year.
One of the appealing aspects of Give BIG Lexington to both donors and nonprofits is that donations made during Give BIG Lexington have the potential to grow through proportional share match dollars and random “Golden Ticket” prize drawings. A total of $55,000 in match and prizes will be added to the amount raised through donations.
Another is that 100 percent of donations made through Give BIG Lexington ‘17 will go to the participating organization. All platform and processing fees will be covered by the Lexington Community Foundation again this year. This is a benefit for participating organizations, and donors will appreciate knowing that LCF is committed to making sure every dollar counts.
Give BIG Lexington is powered by Razoo, a year-round online giving website, which will feature more than 75 local and Lexington area nonprofits. The site for Give BIG Lexington launched on September 15th and can be accessed by going to: giveBIGlexington.razoo.com. The site contains complete giving day information and rules, including a listing of the participating organizations and their causes. On Thursday, November 16th, the front page of the site will be live with leaderboards and media posts.
GBL ’17 is made possible because of the support and trust of generous people who work with the Foundation to achieve goals. 2017 Foundation Premiere Event Sponsors: Central Valley Irrigation, KRVN AM/FM, Lexington Family Dentistry and Lexington Regional Health Center.
We are truly fortunate to live in a region where so many people care. Imagine how much more impact can be realized with even greater participation in Give BIG Lexington this year. Envision what the next great achievement in Lexington will be.
Give BIG Lexington will be held for 24 hours - from 12:00 a.m. until midnight on Thursday, November 16th and is presented by the Lexington Community Foundation.
Dawson County Farm Bureau celebrated the local farm organization’s centennial on Sunday at Kirk’s Restaurant at Lexington.
It was 100 years ago in the winter of 1917 when a group of farmers met at the Dawson County courthouse to form the organization. Dawson County was one of the first in Nebraska to organize for the purpose of sponsoring a County Extension agent who would help share the latest in crop and livestock research from the University of Nebraska research farm (now East Campus) with the county’s farmers and ranchers.
Over the years, as the Farm Bureau became more involved in policy development and lobbied on agriculture issues in the Legislature, it gained a reputation as the “Voice of Reason,” for the state’s farmers and ranchers.
However, Extension and Farm Bureau eventually parted ways after World War II, as the education mission of Extension became even stronger and they were to refrain from political activity.
Guest speaker Barb Bierman Batie discussed both the county history and the role it has played within the state organization, which is also celebrating its centennial in 2017. Batie helped write and edit the Nebraska Farm Bureau centennial history book.
Batie, a Nebraska Sesquicentennial Commissioner, also discussed highlights of the state’s 150th anniversary of statehood, along with the Farm Bureau history. 
Batie has been a member of Dawson County Farm Bureau since 1985 and has served in nearly every office on the county level, including being the county’s first woman president in 1996. She has served on various state committees, most recently on the Centennial planning committee.