Omaha World-Herald. Dec. 2, 2012.

The gridlock needs to end

Gridlock isn't just a problem in Washington. Closer to home, it so far has stymied the eminently sensible idea of merging the crime labs operated by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and the Omaha Police Department.

As World-Herald staff writer John Ferak explained in a recent news article, intermittent discussions between the city and county have dragged on for two years. But things remain up in the air. The complications, as described by Ferak, include "long-standing law enforcement turf issues and the issue of management and control."

County officials say talks with the city may resume in January, but what's needed is a serious commitment by both sides to reach an agreement that would reduce costs and maximize the efficiency for local prosecutors.

So far, there has been little sign of real determination to get things moving.

There are thorny issues for the two sides to navigate. That's no reason for deadlock. Omaha and Douglas County have successfully ironed out the details for consolidating other law enforcement functions before, including the 911 center and the jail.

City and county officials need to give the crime lab merger a good push. Voters elect these officials to provide leadership, not offer excuses or defend turf.

Contrast the hemming and hawing by Omaha and Douglas County with the impressive merger-related discussions and actions elsewhere.

In Lancaster County, the Lincoln City Council and County Board of Commissioners recently held a joint meeting — yes, you read that right — where merger options were a front-burner issue. The two sides agreed to form a task force to study opportunities to combine and streamline departments. The task force will look at all departments but in particular at the City and County Clerk's offices as well as the City Public Works and County Engineer departments.

Such efforts have a commendable history in Lancaster County. In 1996, a task force did a cost analysis of every Lancaster County and Lincoln city department to search for efficiencies. One result was the merger of county register of deeds and assessor's offices.

Iowa leaders, too, deserve credit for directing attention to the benefits of consolidating services. Here's what The Associated Press recently reported taking place in the Des Moines area: "Leaders from 15 cities and three counties are part of a pilot program to share the cost of workers, equipment and facilities whenever possible."

Fourteen cities as well as the Polk County government, the AP reported, have "passed a resolution directing each government's administrator to actively identify opportunities for collaboration, include them in annual goals and 'review, evaluate and make an explicit decision' on collaboration proposals from other governments, among other measures."

What a contrast to the finger-pointing and time-wasting between Omaha and Douglas County officials. How they can ignore the practical advantage of merging crime labs is hard to justify.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said the creation of a single, unified crime lab would be much more efficient for his office's prosecutors.

Operating two labs separately — with all the expenses in facilities, processing and staff — doesn't square with the need for government to operate in an efficient, cost-conscious manner.

It doesn't square, either, with the message sent by Douglas County voters on Nov. 6 when they overwhelmingly approved merging the county assessor and register of deeds offices. The "yes" vote was striking: 74 percent. Taxpayers want streamlined government.

One way or another, the same message needs to be sent about consolidating the crime labs.

With little sign of progress in sight, County Board Member Mike Boyle said he has asked state Sen. Brad Ashford to sponsor legislation to direct the county and city to merge crime labs. Ashford said he is drafting a bill. Boyle predicted that if the merger question were put on the ballot, "voters would overwhelmingly approve."

His is a good prediction. But why should it require a kick in the pants from voters to make government more efficient?

Taxpayers will be watching in the new year to see if Omaha and Douglas County officials can finally resolve this issue. It's time to get this done.

___

McCook Daily Gazette. Nov. 30, 2012.

Have a great idea for our state? Let this group know

Would you like to see things be better for yourself and your neighbors? Would you rather pitch in for improvement than sit back and complain?

How about New Year's resolutions — do you make one every year, whether or not you're completely successful in following them?

If any of these descriptions apply to you, you may want to join former Husker football standouts Adi Kunalic and Blake Lawrence in the Forging Nebraska's Future effort for the "NExt Generation."

Described as an "independent, long-term planning initiative organized by the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry, with support of organizations and individuals from the state," it is staffed by a member of the Nebraska Chamber team and is governed by an advisory committee with diverse interests and backgrounds from all parts of Nebraska, a majority of its members age 35 years or younger.

You've got a couple of more weeks to submit your ideas for improving Nebraska at www.NebraskaIdeas.com or www.ForgingNebraska.com.

After a quick and easy sign-up, participants can submit ideas, support other ideas and collaborate on different aspects of each suggestion.

Categories include Foundational Issues, Workforce, Development & Technology, K-12 Education, Higher Education, Quality of Life, Utilities & Infrastructure, Agriculture and Natural Resources.

A sampling of some of the ideas under discussion include "small wind turbines on a grand scale," "'rehab' for small towns," an agricultural theme park, encouraging young farmers and efforts like encouraging pedestrian and bicycle travel.

"As a former Husker and current Nebraska business owner, I am excited about the future of our great state," Adi Kunalic said. "We need to find better ways to attract and retain young workers, leaders and entrepreneurs. Every Nebraskan should take a few minutes to submit their ideas for improving Nebraska."

Blake Lawrence said he "came to Nebraska to attend the University of Nebraska and to play football. I've stayed in Nebraska because of the enormous amount of support from the business community throughout the state. our business has had many opportunities to uproot and leave Nebraska, but we've remained right here because we are dedicated to growing our company with Midwest values provided by Nebraskans and serving as a model for young entrepreneurs who are emerging across the state. Great programs are helping keep top talent in Nebraska and helping our youth forge a new future for Nebraska. This website, www.NebraskaIdeas.com, is one of the best we've come across so far."

The submitted ideas — about 400 have been submitted so far — will be narrowed to the "100 Best," and ultimately down to three to five "Big Ideas."

The advisory committee will then take the "Big Ideas" into partnership with elected officials, state and local leaders and other partners to develop and execute action plans to implement them.

Visit www.NebraskaIdeas.com, check out the ideas already under discussion, sound off about the ones you like or don't like, and submit your own. But do it before Dec. 15.

___

Scottsbluff Star Herald. Nov. 30, 2012.

Fiscal cliff

Watch closely: Congress is about to do something

As the next few weeks unfold, those who pay attention to what really happens in politics, not the narratives of the propaganda networks, should savor what happens. The so-called "fiscal cliff" should bring politicians to their senses.

Unless the House and Senate work a miracle of cooperation after decades of dogged intransigence, the Bush tax cuts will expire and $1.2 trillion in federal government spending cuts will kick in. The elimination of a variety of tax breaks alone would make a $500 billion difference in the deficit by 2021. But that's a bad thing, supposedly, because higher taxes (even when revenues are anemic) and less government spending would slow business growth and put some people out of work.

How did it happen? Congress approved "sequestration" designed to scare partisan mad dogs into approving a deficit-reduction deal that both sides ignored. Republicans don't want to raise taxes, while Democrats want to spare entitlement programs, although trillion-dollar annual deficits are unsustainable and our national debt is nearly $17 trillion. The total cuts for the first year alone would be $109 billion, evenly split between defense spending and discretionary domestic spending, with spending on wars and Social Security and Medicaid mostly exempt.

You'd think, after all the fretting about the deficit, that reversal of 12 years of fiscal irresponsibility — unsustainable tax cuts, unfunded wars, an orgy of borrowing — would be welcome. But this is America, where we're proud of our troops who wage war on two fronts, but won't tolerate a dime of new taxes to pay for it, and enduring any inconvenience in the name of fiscal responsibility is unacceptable.

The fiscal cliff would be inconvenient, especially for tycoons. The exemption from taxation of an inheritance would drop to $1 million from $5 million. The top tax rate would rise to 39.6 percent from 35 percent. Most capital gains taxes would rise to 20 percent from 15 percent. The tax rate on dividends, now at 15 percent, would jump to ordinary income rates — since most dividend taxes are paid by the wealthy, their rate would be 39.6 percent.

But almost everyone who pays taxes would see a hit to take-home pay when a Social Security tax break expires. The lowest income tax rate would rise to 15 percent from 10 percent. Middle-income tax brackets would rise 3 percentage points.

Economists say the pain would last a few years and then actually boost the economy, as business executives responded to responsible and stable fiscal policy. One of the reasons it's unlikely to happen is that Democrats got political momentum in the recent election and resist welfare cuts in an era when middle incomes continue to fall, jobs grow more scarce and billions in corporate cash sits uninvested.

Republicans are nervous about cuts in military spending, because defense contractors would have to shed jobs. That will hurt more middle- and low-income voters than rich campaign donors sniveling about their tax cuts expiring on schedule (never mind that the U.S. accounts for 41 percent of all the military spending in the world, more than the next 14 nations combined — and most of them are our allies). They're so nervous, in fact, that some of them are telling a notorious unelected policy gnome to take his no-tax pledge and shove it.

Despite a dismal track record, Congress might actually do the right thing. Given the harsh alternative, lawmakers could agree to tax increases for Americans who can afford them and milder cuts in federal spending. So far the president has dwelt far more on the former than the latter. It's time for him to bring serious spending cuts to the table, such as means testing and higher age eligibility for Medicare and Social Security and fiscal sobriety for the Pentagon.

The political upside is huge. A deal makes Congress look statesmanlike, even if the peace is only temporary. Any Republican or Democrat who casts a tough vote to avoid recession will be forgiven by supporters. Big business will offer cover for Republicans who violate the tax pledge.

The fiscal cliff prods Republicans and Democrats toward working together to make tough decisions the way they're supposed to be made. Maybe they'll learn from it.

___

The Grand Island Independent. Nov. 30, 2012.

Secession is a coward's way out of a problem

Perhaps the most demonstrable sign of the nation's urgent need to swallow a large "chill pill" is the movement among the far-right wackos to have their state secede from the United States. For most Americans, the notion of secession is good for a chuckle and then it's on to selecting the right jelly for the breakfast toast. But for some Americans, it is an idea that merits a serious amount of their not-too-plentiful brain power.

Mere hours after the re-election of President Barack Obama earlier this month, the White House internet server was bombarded with petitions from citizens seeking to have their states secede from the United States. The White House had launched a web site that allowed citizens to post petitions regarding issues important to them. If a petition eventually garnered 25,000 electronic signatures, the White House promised to issue a response regarding the issue.

Perhaps not surprisingly, signatures on the Texas secession petition soon soared over 100,000 names. The reaction of several office wags was to launch a petition endorsing the Texas effort. "Who would miss them?" they asked. The citizens of Austin, the capital city of Texas, reacted by starting a local petition seeking that city's removal from Texas. Seriously, Austinites have filed a legal petition to withdraw Austin from the state of Texas.

Nebraska has a secession petition on the White House web site and there are thousands of signatures. It should be noted that the petition was launched by somebody from South Dakota. Again, we can't make this stuff up.

While the subject of secession is good for a few innocuous laughs, enough attention is being paid to the petitions that an adult needs to step in and remind the kids that it's time to be quiet and behave. Fortunately Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman did just that recently. He wants no part of such a frivolous exercise. In so many words he acknowledged the frustration with federal government, Obamacare, and taxes, but then firmly told Nebraskans to put on their adult pants and find something else to do. Nebraska will not attempt to secede from the nation and neither should any other state.

After the jokes subside, we need to be reminded that secession is serious business. Frustration and angst toward Washington is nothing new. But the instant gratification syndrome found in many Americans is troubling. It's like the little kid who leaves the Sunday afternoon football game because he thinks he should be quarterback and takes his football home with him. What America is watching is a big case of political pouting. When things don't go our way, we'll take our ball and go home.

Democracy is a messy process and things don't always go the way many citizens hope they should — just ask Mitt Romney. There has been bitter resentment toward Congress in the last decade as shown by plummeting public approval rates of that body. Despite that bitter resentment toward the nation's governing chambers, more than 90 percent of the Congressional incumbents have been sent back to their jobs by the voters. If the people wearing the aluminum foil hats are seeking to get what they want out of Washington, they should focus on electing those who actually work on solving problems.

We echo the sentiments of a recent letter from reader Tom Terrill who wrote, "The mere mention of secession is an insult to the men and women who have fought and died for this country."