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KAYLA WOLF, Journal Star 

Nebraska's new head football coach Scott Frost listens to a question Sunday at Memorial Stadium during a news conference.


ERIC GREGORY, Journal Star 

State employees pull a 24-foot spruce through the Great Hall Monday morning at the Capitol.


Nebraska
top story topical
Capitol's official Nebraska Christmas tree comes from Lincoln home

Vickie and Roger Lansman's 24-foot blue spruce arrived Monday morning to stand in state in the Nebraska Capitol Rotunda and serve as the official state Christmas tree.

It was hauled from the front yard of a house the Lansmans own at 34th and Dudley streets in Lincoln. The couple lives in Ord, but bought the house eight years ago for their children who attend college here.  

The Lansmans' yard is modest, and another spruce tree resides there, so when Vickie Lansman read last year in the Grand Island Independent that the Capitol Commission was seeking a Christmas tree, she called. 

State horticulturist Craig Kreiner accepted her offer, and the tree now awaits lights and decorations, which will be added Tuesday. 

Photos: 2017 Nebraska State Capitol Christmas tree

Many people passing through the Rotunda on Monday said the 20-year-old tree is one of the most fragrant in years. 

"This is just a pleasure to have it here," Vickie Lansman said. 

The governor's office and governor's mansion also have Christmas trees, already up and decorated. Those Canaan firs are from Windmill Pines Tree Farm in the Seward area, which is supplying trees for the fifth year in a row.


ERIC GREGORY, Journal Star 

State employees prepare to cut down the 24-foot spruce tree at 34th and Dudley streets Monday.


Business
AP
Enjoy GOP tax breaks while they last

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has touted his tax overhaul as a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Yet the plan Senate Republicans have embraced could force lawmakers to rewrite the tax code repeatedly for years to come.

The main reason is that some of its key planks are set to expire, thereby forcing tough choices on a future Congress about whether to renew them.

The tax cuts for individuals and families? They'd vanish after eight years.

The breaks for companies to fully expense new equipment? Gone by 2023.

Tax credits for employers that offer medical and family leave? Not after 2020.

A reduced excise tax for craft brewers and distillers? No more after 2020.

The whole setup means lawmakers will ultimately face pressure to renew these tax cuts. Letting them lapse could ignite a public backlash because people's taxes would shoot up. When Congress faced a similar predicament in 2013, economists warned that tax hikes might tip the economy into a recession. In the end, most of the tax cuts were preserved.

Yet extending the tax cuts could require slashing spending on popular programs, possibly including Medicare and Social Security. Or it could mean letting the deficit climb much faster than Trump and lawmakers have promised, which brings its own economic risks.

Republican lawmakers have tried to assure voters that tax cuts for the middle class will be protected. But the tax overhaul creates a perilous series of votes for lawmakers in coming years.

"'Governing from crisis to crisis is exactly the way to put it," says Steve Bell, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former staff director at the Senate Budget Committee.

This problem is a byproduct of the decision by the Trump administration and Republican leaders that the best way to revamp the tax code was to bypass Democrats. Under Senate rules, permanent tax cuts that raise the deficit need 60 votes. The slim 52-seat Republican majority agreed to pass tax cuts that would add no more than $1.5 trillion to budget deficits through 2027. Starting in 2028, the tax cuts can't add to the deficit.

Because of these restrictions, Republican senators made a decision: They would make the income tax cuts for individuals only temporary, in order to pay for making the tax cuts for corporations permanent.

The Senate bill will now have to be reconciled with the similar but separate bill the House passed before it can go to Trump for his signature. But for now, here are three big risks created by the expiring tax breaks:

MIDDLE CLASS TAX HIKES

The Senate bill would repeal the tax cuts for individuals and families after 2025. That return to the existing rates would set the stage for a sharp tax increase for many millions of households, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation. Personal income taxes would shoot up $430 billion between 2025 and 2027. The tax hikes would likely keep accelerating in the years afterward.

Who'd be hit? Mainly, those squarely in the middle class, with incomes between $54,700 and $93,200. Nearly two-thirds of this group would pay on average $140 more than they currently do, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Not only would their tax rates return to higher levels. They would also lose the increase to the standard deduction and the child tax credit that congressional Republicans have been touting as needed relief.

END OF BREAKS FOR EXPENSING EQUIPMENT

Trump administration officials have said a key goal of their tax overhaul is to encourage companies to invest more freely in equipment and workers. The bill aims to deliver on this goal by letting companies fully and immediately deduct depreciation on new investments.

The conservative Tax Foundation estimated in June that full expensing could do more to propel economic growth than a cut in corporate rates would. Republicans are so eager to capture this growth that the Senate bill would let companies retroactively expense gear they bought in September of this year.

But it wouldn't last long. This provision would expire in 2023, meaning that many companies might then pull back on their investment in equipment and workers. This could potentially weaken economic growth.

MORE GOVERNMENT DEBT

Suppose Congress were to vote to extend the tax cuts that are scheduled to expire. Doing so would also mean that lawmakers would either have to approve much higher deficits or possibly cut spending on major domestic programs. Previous attempts to shrink the deficit forced spending cuts in defense and other discretionary programs, including for scientific research and for children involved in the Head Start services.

If all the expired tax cuts were preserved and spending stayed constant, the deficit would increase by $1.9 trillion over 10 years and continue to rise in the next decade, according to estimates by the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Ever-rising budget deficits can ultimately depress economic growth. Additional government debt can crowd out private investment in companies that might otherwise help the economy expand. And the government would likely reduce its own spending on long-term investments because it would need to spend more to repay interest on the debt.

"Their intention here is to the hide costs," said Marc Goldwein, policy director at the Center. "But in the process, they're making the tax bill less pro-growth, more complex and more vulnerable to politics."


911
featured
Sydney Loofe's body found, family says

The family of missing Lincoln woman Sydney Loofe announced on Facebook Monday evening that her body has been found.

"It's with heavy hearts that we share this most recent update with you all," began a post on the Finding Sydney Loofe Facebook community. "Please continue to pray for Sydney and our entire family. May God grant eternal rest unto thee. We love you Sydney."

The post didn't say where or when Loofe's body was located, and law enforcement officials provided no additional details.

Loofe was reported missing Nov. 16 from Lincoln, and police have said she was last seen the night before in Wilber.

The FBI and local law enforcement have announced a press conference for 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Hall of Justice in Lincoln.

Two people named by law enforcement as persons of interest in her disappearance -- 51-year-old Aubrey Trail and 23-year-old Bailey Boswell -- remained in the Saline County jail on a hold for the U.S. Marshal's Service. The pair lived in Wilber but left the state after Loofe went missing.

As of late Monday, Trail and Boswell hadn't been publicly accused of any crimes related to her disappearance.

Law enforcement had spent much of the previous week scouring rural areas outside Wilber and nearby Clatonia. 

Loofe, 24, grew up in Neligh, where her father is the high school principal and her mother a resource teacher for the school district.

At Neligh-Oakdale, Loofe played basketball, volleyball and golf and participated in band. She also kept statistics for the basketball and volleyball teams and participated in the school's one-act play, according to a Q&A Loofe did with the Neligh News and Leader in 2011.

She graduated that year and moved to Lincoln a short time later as part of a transfer in her employment with Menards, her mother, Susie, said.

Her two siblings lived in Lincoln while they attended school but moved to other cities after they graduated.

Sydney Loofe communicated with her parents via phone call or text three or four times a week, which helped keep them in touch being a three hours drive apart, her mother said.

In Lincoln, Loofe worked as a cashier at the Menards at 27th Street and Cornhusker Highway, and was known by her friends and coworkers as polite, always caring and willing to do anything that was needed. 

"She's the kind of person the world needs more of," her friend Terra Gehrig said. "She has a very good heart." 

Loofe liked Lincoln but was looking to change jobs, her mother said.

In her free time, the outdoors lover enjoyed fishing.

Loofe loved animals and raised her cat Mimzy since she was a kitten, her mother said.

Mimzy was still at Loofe's home in Havelock on Nov. 16, the day she didn't report to work and her family reported her missing.

That struck her mother as odd.

"She wouldn’t leave her cat,” Susie Loofe said Nov. 20.

"She was planning on coming home that night. Everything left in her house, points that she was."


Govt-and-politics
editor's pick
Council annexes Hillcrest Heights but delays annexation for a year

Hillcrest Heights, an acreage development next to the Hillcrest Golf Course along O Street, will be annexed into the city limits, but the annexation will not take place until next December.

This decision -- annexing but with a year’s delay -- was the same decision the council made two weeks ago on the annexation of Sunrise Estates, an acreage development in northeast Lincoln.

In both cases, homeowners vigorously opposed the annexation in emails and in appearances before the Lincoln-Lancaster Planning Commission and City Council.

Also in both, the neighborhoods would move from the Waverly School District into the Lincoln Public Schools District and the year delay gives parents more time to make school-related decisions, council members said.

Monday's annex-but-delay decision also affects a single home that sits along O Street to the east of Hillcrest Heights.

Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm argued the city should not annex Hillcrest Heights until land to the south was brought into the city and the neighborhood was connected to A Street.

Her motion not to annex at all failed on a 3-4 vote.

Lamm said the city should respect the wishes of the homeowners. “It is very presumptuous of us to say we know better than the residents, who have lived there 10 to 17 years."

At her request, Council Chairman Roy Christensen asked Hillcrest homeowners in the audience Monday to raise their hand if they felt their concerns had been respected by the council.

No hand went up.

Christensen suggested the same arguments the planning department used not to annex the neighboring Hillcrest Golf Course could be applied to Hillcrest Heights. He agreed the city should wait to annex both areas until development to the south occurs and the area is connected to A Street.

But Counciwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird said the council was being consistent in treating Sunrise Estates and Hillcrest Heights alike. Both acreage developments had similar fire safety concerns, believing the rural volunteer fire department could better serve them. And both neighborhoods would move into the LPS district.

Councilman Carl Eskridge said Hillcrest Heights, like Sunrise Estates, will have better emergency, fire and police service from the city than they receive from rural volunteer services and the sheriff's office.

"A year's delay is OK (for getting city services). But the sooner the better," he said.

The 4-3 vote on the annex-but-delay motion divided down party lines, with Gaylor Baird, Eskridge, Bennie Shobe and Jane Raybould, all Democrats, voting for annexation and Jon Camp, Christensen and Lamm, all Republicans, voting against it.

The council also annexed about 68 acres near 84th Street and Yankee Hill Road during the Monday meeting, completing the involuntary annexation votes.

The planning department had recommended annexing eight areas on the edge of the city because they are surrounded on several sides by city property and have easy access to city water and sewer services.

The annexations provide equity for all taxpayers since people at the edge of the city use many city services, including streets, but don't pay any city property taxes on their homes or the city wheel tax on their vehicles.

According to city calculations, the areas would add more than $190,000 a year to city coffers in the form of property taxes and motor vehicle-related taxes.

Individual property owners would pay an additional $300 per $100,000 of valuation on average for city property taxes.

The planning department said the annexations promote orderly and efficient growth, and eliminate areas where county and city jurisdictions change back and forth over a few blocks.

These involuntary annexations are not typical. Normally land comes into the city voluntarily, at the request of a developer who wants to build or of homeowners in an existing development who need city water or sewer services. Property owners must be within the city limits to access city water and sewer.


Courtesy photo 

Sydney Loofe