Nebraska’s continuing struggle to resolve its property tax issues was a keystone moment for District 43 Legislative candidate Tanya Storer during the KCSR/KBPY Election Forum Tuesday. Storer is seeking to unseat incumbent Sen. Tom Brewer, who did not participate in the forum.
“It doesn’t matter where I’m at in this district. It is universal. It is drowning us,” Storer said of the property tax debate. Bringing property taxes under control is vital to economic development and providing jobs that will keep Nebraska’s children here, she added. The TEEOSA school aid formula is at the heart of the issue and is designed to be unfriendly to agricultural districts; that must be remedied, Storer continued.
She listed the matter as one of her most pressing goals if elected because it impacts so may other areas. True structural reform to the system is needed, with the goal of tax reform that grows the state economy in general to earn support of urban senators.
Her other top issue if elected is infrastructure, particularly the Heartland Expressway. She believes that the highway needs to be constructed as a four-lane from the South Dakota border to Alliance, rather than a Super 2 with passing lanes. The Heartland Expressway will provide the opportunity for the region to become a transportation hub and attract businesses that rely on that type of infrastructure.
A county commissioner in Cherry County, Storer said that board was faced with tough decisions on wind energy in recent years.
“Some believe I’m an advocate for wind energy. I’m not. What I am is an advocate for a lawful system that protects individual rights and encourages business.”
Cherry County has some of the strictest zoning regulations, but people were upset that they didn’t outright ban wind energy, Storer said, adding that the board could not take that step because it is illegal.
On another energy-related topic, Nebraska Public Power’s R-Line Project, Storer said issues surrounding the siting of the transmission line through the Sandhills need to be resolved, but said she has learned that without the line, the Gerald Gentleman plant in Sutherland will likely shut down. That course of action is unsustainable, as it will impact the stability of the grid for the region and the state as a whole, and some cities will not be able to grow their services, and therefore, their economies.
“These things are never an up or down issue,” Storer said.
When asked to weigh in on allowing casinos and medical marijuana in Nebraska, Storer said there are hidden costs to both, and the state needs to proceed cautiously. Casino measures will appear on Nebraska voters ballots this year, but a marijuana initiative was thrown out and will not appear on the ballot. Storer said casinos can create unanticipated costs and problems in society that the state needs to address, and added that at this time she cannot support medical marijuana. The challenge is in the crafting the regulations, and Nebraska needs to learn from other states’ experiences.
Several questions from the audience asked Storer to address actions by her opponent, Sen. Brewer. The first regarded Sen. Brewer’s priority bill last session, which Storer said was actually a bill in response to concerns in Omaha. The bill, which was passed, changed state law to read that if an individual is in possession of a stolen firearm and should have known or had cause to know that it was stolen the individual can be charged with a felony.
In contrast, she said if elected, her priority bill would be property tax is another senator wasn’t already carrying that bill forward, or broadband connectivity. The state needs to look at broadband as similar to electricity in the 1930s when the Rural Electric Association was created to bring power to less populated areas.
“(Broadband) is the great equalizer. … People can live remotely with good paying jobs without creating massive infrastructure, brick and mortar,” Storer said.
The question of Sen. Brewer’s residency was also raised. Storer said her opponent meets Nebraska’s minimum threshold of residency to run for the District 43 seat: he owns a residence, is registered to vote and has an intent to return. However, his tax statements are mailed to Murdoch and at a debate in Alliance, Sen. Brewer said he relocated there because there were no opportunities in District 43, Storer said.
“That’s troubling to me. We are already under-represented. We can’t afford to have a senator not live in the district. We need to be creating the opportunities.”
Storer has spent much of her adult life in public service, serving as a Class I school board member, a Nebraska Farm Bureau director, on the Blueprint Nebraska board of directors, on the Nebraska Department of Transportation long-range planning board and as county commissioner. She said her work ethic and passion to advocate for where you live has kept her involved.
“We cannot be forgotten out here, and one person can make a difference,” she said, adding that voters need to elect representatives who have the intent to make life in District 43 better.