Sen. Williams discusses upcoming Legislative session

Mona Weatherly
Managing Editor

Property tax reform will be a priority when the Nebraska Legislature resumes in January, 2020. “Why can’t something get done?” Nebraska State Senator Matt Williams, District 36, said is a question he is often asked when visiting constituents. Sen. Williams spoke Sept. 18, 2019 at a meeting of the Broken Bow Rotary.

Getting a majority on any issue can be difficult in the Legislature. “The reality is a majority takes 33 votes out of 49,” Williams said. “It takes only 17 to block a vote.”

The challenge, Williams said, is how to effectively lower property taxes without having another revenue source. “The Executive Branch has consistently said ‘no tax increase, no tax shift.’ I would argue over the last 20 years there has been an incredible tax shift to property tax,” he added.

There may be light at the end of the tunnel. According to Williams, members of the Revenue Committee are close to agreeing on a proposal.

“I think it will have the support of the Executive Branch and quite a few senators,” he said. He cautioned that it’s not perfect but an improvement.

In addition to property tax challenges, Williams said the largest problem in the state is the lack of workforce, saying, “We simply don’t have the people. We don’t have the housing.” He drew together education and workforce when talking about all levels of educations, including the University of Nebraska.

“Training people in skills is critical to our state’s long-term survival,” he said. When recruiting new people and new businesses, he added, people will not move to a community if the community cannot meet medical and educational needs. “It’s vital we keep educational institutions viable and healthy.”

The senator also addressed the challenges of the nursing home industry in the state.

“There is a huge discrepancy in our state on how nursing homes are reimbursed. One receives $155 a day and another with the same level of care receives $225 a day,” he said.

While some people may argue that there is a higher cost of living in the more populated areas of the state, Williams challenges that idea. Competition created by the number of grocery stores or apartments in a metropolitan area, for example, can help keep down prices.

The larger issue with nursing homes, however, Williams emphasizes is that a current proposal would remove Legislative oversight of the industry. It would all be handled by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“That’s not where it should be,” he said. “If you take oversight away, you provide the ability to run amuck on the state’s most vulnerable citizens.”

There are seven nursing homes in Williams’ District which encompasses Custer and Dawson Counties and the northern half of Buffalo County. Williams said Jeremy Brunssen, a deputy director with DHHS’s Division of Medicaid and Long Term Care has visited nursing homes in the 36th District. “He has a sincere desire to do what is right,” Williams said.

Citizens in rural areas need to be aware of what’s happening. “We are losing population in rural areas,” William said. “Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy Counties have over half the population. It will grow to two-thirds in the next twenty years. The population in rural areas continue to age and need services.”

In line with his support of education and background in finances, Williams is preparing to introduce programs on financial literacy which could educate young people about checking accounts, savings, paying rent, managing personal finances and other money basics. Now into his second term, he said, “It’s time for me to do something about it. It’s vitally important. Those who are not financial literate become a burden on everyone else.”

He hopes financial literacy can be introduced at different levels of education. “It’s an opportunity for all ages,” he said.

The senator also addressed the weather-related damages Nebraska has seen in 2019. “We still have homes underwater. People are still pumping water out of basements. The problem is not over,” he said. He cautioned that recovery, as well as getting money for recovery, is a long-term project. “There is a lot of work ahead,” he added.

The senator was asked by two people what can the average citizen do to help move forward their concerns, be it the nursing home issue or education. “You have the ear of your senator,” he said. “Be vocal about your support. Write an editorial to the newspaper. Be on the radio station. Do not be afraid to be an advocate.”

This article on Sen. Matt Williams speaking at the Broken Bow Rotary was first published in the Sept. 26, 2019 issue of the Custer County Chief.