Governor speaks on future of Nebraska
Gov. Dave Heineman spoke to a crowd of around 30 people at the keynote speech of a three-day student leadership conference, hosted at Chadron State College. The audience consisted of about 14 student leaders from Wayne, Peru, and Chadron State Colleges, and 16 other students and people from the Chadron community.
The governor gave a short address based on two questions the conference organizers had previously provided him. The questions asked how Nebraska youth might affect the future of the state, and how students can get their voices out and heard and make an impact.
The governor emphasized participation as the biggest way that youth can affect the future of Nebraska. He said education and jobs are his top two priorities. By providing the youth in Nebraska colleges and universities the opportunity to get the best education that they can, the state strives to have the jobs to keep graduates here when they are settling into a career.
As far as having their voices heard, the governor said students should have conversations with elected officials and business leaders locally, volunteering, and getting a good education.
Heineman said “With a good education, if you work hard as an adult you can go do and be whatever you want. And you’d be surprised what an impact you can have on the community and state, and can affect the nation too.”
The governor also gave an overview of the state’s status regarding the economy and jobs.
“I am very proud of our state and our citizens because we’re in better financial shape than almost any other state in America right now. What’s different about Nebraska? We’ve got a lot more common sense than they do in New York City or Los Angeles,” Heineman said.
He continued, “The most important reason that we’re in better financial shape than the rest of the country is a very fundamental financial principle that they’ve forgotten sometimes. In Nebraska, we don’t spend money we don’t have. We are able to balance our budget by controlling spending, not by raising taxes.”
The governor’s keynote address.
Following his address, Heineman took questions from the crowd off-microphone.
The following is a summary of the audience’s questions and the governor’s responses:
Robert Jordan, of Harrison, was the one of the first to stand. Jordan said “We do have more common sense” here in Nebraska and asked Heineman how he feels about the Occupy movement.
Heineman said he’s still trying to grapple with what the movement is about. He sees a lot of frustration with Wall Street bankers who got bailed out, while community banks shut down, and the high unemployment rate.
He suggested that the movement needs to quit Wall Street and occupy outside the White House. The governor cited that no change will come from Wall Street internally, and only the adoption of policies that focus on jobs will help people get back to work.
Chance Soester, 20, sophomore of Crawford, introduced himself as a life-long rancher. He asked the governor, “Why, if we don’t spend money that we don’t have, do taxes keep skyrocketing?”
Heineman said within 48 hours of taking the governorship, he was inundated with complaints that taxes were too high. At that time, the state was 45th out of 50, with some of the highest taxes. According to Heineman, Nebraska is now 29th.
Heineman also said it’s important to remember that property taxes are locally assessed, collected, and spent. He said that part of the issue is the success of agriculture in this state has continued to drive up property values.
Soester then asked why the state doesn’t have some measure to regulate the levying of local taxes. He estimated that he pays 50 percent of profit per acre, while a friend in the eastern part of the state pays only 3 percent.
Heineman said the state has to be careful about trying to regulate local legislation, and that Soester could have a voice in those decisions by attending city counsel meetings.
Later, CSC student David Sprague, 31, sophomore of Chadron, asked “How does President Obama’s healthcare bill affect Nebraska?”
Heineman said “I think the bill focused on the wrong issue. It should have focused on controlling cost rather than providing access.” The governor cited that the state must meet a medicaid provision mandated by the bill, that it cannot afford. He also said that Nebraska is one of the 26 states suing in hopes that the bill is declared unconstitutional.
Sanjeev Khanal, 19, freshman of Kathmandu, Nepal, said as an international student, he loves Nebraska and especially the warmhearted people of Chadron. However, tuition is difficult to afford, and especially looking toward graduate school in Lincoln or Omaha, it is very difficult to get more affordable in-state tuition.
Heineman said, “I appreciate where you’re coming from. I’ve suggested some of these institutions go back and take one of their own courses. It’s called Finance 101. How do you sell more product? By lowering the price. Universities need new ways to attract students.”
Aaron Gonzalez, opinion editor for The Eagle, asked the governor if he’d support an injunction against the pipeline, supposing the State Department approves its proposed route.
The governor said, “I don’t answer hypotheticals, that’s where I get myself in trouble,” to laughter from the crowd. Heineman added, “I appreciate the additional safety measures they have agreed to, but I think the best alternative is to go with the current Keystone pipeline. TransCanada should bring the route of the XL to the current one, because I don’t want to risk our water.”
Heineman also said he sent a letter to President Barack Obama, asking that the pipeline be denied so the route can be renegotiated, or approved with a requirement to move its route out of Nebraska’s sandhills region.
Lastly, Don Hlava, 20, junior of Gordon, asked the governor which candidate for the 2012 presidential election he thought would most benefit the people of Nebraska.
The governor replied that he is backing Republican Mitt Romney. Heineman cited Romney’s business experience, and the fact that while he was a Republican governor in a Democratic state, “He did a pretty effective job.”
Heineman added, “We’ve got to turn this place around. If America had Nebraska’s unemployment rate, we’d be in a lot better place than we are right now.”