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LPS looking at up to $31M more in revenue; some want tax rate lowered

Lincoln Public Schools officials could have about $31 million more revenue at their disposal for the upcoming budget — an even bigger jump than last year.

That’s a preliminary number based on what LPS officials believe will be about a 5 percent increase in property valuations, along with nearly $20 million more in state aid. And it assumes the tax rate remains at the state-imposed lid of $1.05 per $100 of valuation.

That’s what happened last year, when LPS got an $18.9 million bump in property tax revenue and kept the tax rate at $1.05 to help fund its $420.8 million budget, despite calls from citizens and organizations such as the Lincoln Independent Business Association to return a portion of the windfall to taxpayers.

There are indications the board is considering lowering the tax rate in the 2018-19 budget.

School board member Connie Duncan, who chairs the finance committee, has asked staff to estimate the impact of lowering the tax rate.

“We’re just curious what it would look like,” she said. “It’s just something we’ve got to take into consideration. We’ve got to do something for our taxpayers, plain and simple.”

She said finance committees have made similar requests in the past and it hasn’t been feasible because of other factors, including enrollment growth and forecasts of future budgets.

The district uses a three-year forecasting model to try to anticipate fluctuations in state aid and property tax revenue.

Another uncertainty this year is a proposed joint public agency between the city and LPS to pay for several security measures.

The quasi-governmental agency could levy up to a penny per $100 of valuation. The school board and city council have pledged to try to reduce their levies by a half-cent so the JPA would remain revenue neutral for at least the first year.

By the time the school board votes on the JPA proposal, staff will have had to complete the preliminary budget, which will include a recommended tax rate and specifics about what will and won’t be funded in the coming year.

At a meeting this week, the finance committee saw budget increase requests totaling about $30 million from the various district departments.

Liz Standish, LPS associate superintendent of business affairs, said not all those requests will end up in the budget because of forecasting considerations. The district doesn’t want to be in a position of adding staff or new programs if it would be impossible to sustain them in coming years, Standish said.

The requests include everything from $10 million more to pay for teacher salaries, a factor that’s always the biggest expenditure in the budget, to various requests for additional staff, to $9,500 for a new all-city mariachi ensemble. 

If the board would choose to keep the tax rate unchanged for 2018-19, it would mean about $11 million more in property-tax revenue. That, coupled with a nearly $20 million increase in state aid, means the overall revenue available to the district from those two sources would increase by 8.9 percent, or about $31 million.

But there are still many unknowns in addition to the tax rate.

For instance, the district may decide to use a portion of its cash reserve to fund a portion of its budget, or it could decide to put money into the reserve to have available in the coming years.

There also are smaller funding sources that add to the budget revenue picture.

The $18.9 million in property-tax revenue last year came from a a countywide reassessment of property. State aid, however, remained nearly unchanged from the previous year.

This year, the estimated 5.2 percent increase in property valuation includes a countywide reassessment of commercial property.

The increase in state aid comes from enrollment growth and a change in the way the state-aid formula determines how much districts should get to help educate children in poverty.

Lincoln's public schools

Breaking down Lincoln's public schools: Enrollment, test scores and more

National
AP
Bolton used to criticize 'hostage diplomacy'

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday hailed the release of three U.S. detainees in North Korea, but in negotiating with Kim Jong Un, the Trump administration may have played into Pyongyang's history of "hostage diplomacy," harshly criticized by national security adviser John Bolton when Barack Obama was president.

Bolton has been one of the strongest critics of North Korea's long history of detaining and imprisoning foreign visitors and then using them as leverage for talks with U.S. leaders.

Bolton admonished Obama in 2009 for engaging in "political ransom" with North Korea after Obama dispatched another former president, Bill Clinton, to negotiate the release of two American journalists. Bolton argued it put humanitarian aid workers, academics and other Americans at risk. It also gave the north "political legitimacy" and emboldened Iran and other autocracies to take similar steps to gain leverage on the United States.

"Despite decades of bipartisan U.S. rhetoric about not negotiating with terrorists for the release of hostages, it seems that the Obama administration not only chose to negotiate, but to send a former president to do so," Bolton, who worked as ambassador to the United Nations for President George W. Bush, wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post that year.

"The reporters' arrest, show trial and subsequent imprisonment (12 years hard labor) was hostage taking, essentially an act of state terrorism," Bolton added. "So the Clinton trip is a significant propaganda victory for North Korea, whether or not he carried an official message from President Obama."

This week, as Trump's national security adviser, Bolton called the release of the three Americans a demonstration of the North Korea's sincerity.

"It raises questions in terms of his consistency," said Abraham Denmark, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia in the Obama administration. "If a former president going to North Korea to rescue American citizens is problematic for the national security adviser then, how is it not problematic for a sitting secretary of state to go now and how is it not problematic for a sitting president to go in a few weeks' time."

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was unaware of any issues Bolton may have raised about the current negotiations, but she said retrieving the Americans was not the focus of the trip.

"To be clear, the purpose of Secretary Pompeo's trip was to negotiate and discuss the upcoming meeting between President Trump and the leader of North Korea," Sanders said.

Denmark and others were quick to note that the administration's ability to secure the release of the three men — Kim Hak-Song, also known as Jin Xue Song; Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang-Duk; and Kim Dong-Chul — was an important diplomatic breakthrough.

The United States has a long-standing policy not to pay ransom or offer "quid pro quos" to obtain the release of hostages or unjustly detained U.S. citizens. But it does have a history of seeking "good will gestures," such as the release of detained Americans, as a condition of pursuing deeper discussions.

Ned Price, a special assistant to Obama on national security, said that Bolton might be able to defend his 2009 criticism because it was "one-off emissary's visit, outside the context of a broader diplomatic opening." But Price noted that Bolton also lambasted Obama for negotiating the release of U.S. detainees in Iran as part of a broader negotiation on that country's nuclear program.

Bolton "has been fairly consistent on North Korea on this point," said Price, "but wildly inconsistent and incoherent" on the Iranian negotiations.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang this week, and North Korea on Wednesday released the three Korean-Americans. All were seized between 2015 and 2017 while teaching and doing other work and were accused of various offenses, including espionage.

Richardson, a former diplomat who has negotiated with North Korea several times, called the prisoner release "a diplomatic victory" and an important prelude for talks between Kim and Trump. But he warned that the North Koreans are using Americans as political pawns, arresting them on trumped-up charges and releasing them as part of an elaborate PR strategy to make them look like humanitarians.

"Right now, the North Korean leader is a looking like a diplomat, a statesman, meeting with the Chinese, meeting with the South Koreans, releasing the hostages. But in negotiating with them, I learned they always have something up their sleeve," Richardson said.


Susan Walsh 

Bolton


Dixon


Federal-politics
editor's pick
Suit filed by Nebraska, 6 other states could speed DACA's path to Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — Three judges have ordered the Trump administration to continue a program that has shielded hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation. Now, a lawsuit filed last week in Texas seeks to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and may create a legal clash that could speed the issue's path to the Supreme Court.

President Donald Trump's decision in September to phase out the Obama-era program, called DACA, resulted in protests and a failed congressional effort to salvage it. Experts say it's a matter of when, not if, the Supreme Court will rule on the program. It could be the second opportunity for the high court to weigh in on a high-profile decision of the president's, with a ruling on Trump's travel ban expected before the end of June.

Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, said the Texas lawsuit filed May 1 tees up "a fast pass to the Supreme Court."

If Texas and six other states persuade a judge to issue a nationwide order barring the government from continuing DACA, that decision could conflict with existing judges' orders telling the government it must partially continue the program. That's the kind of conflict the Supreme Court generally steps in to address.

The high court has already finished hearing arguments ahead of its summer break at the end of June, and it's rare for the court to hear arguments again before October. But if judges issue conflicting orders on what the government must do with DACA, the court might be asked to make an interim, procedural decision, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, who teaches immigration law at Cornell University's law school. The Texas lawsuit "creates even more uncertainty in what is going to happen," he said.

DACA, created in 2012, has provided protection from deportation and work permits for about 800,000 young people who came to the United States as children and stayed illegally. A person enrolled in the program gets protection from deportation that lasts two years and can be renewed.

Judges in California and New York have ruled that the Trump administration must allow current DACA participants to renew their enrollments, but the government doesn't have to process new applications. A ruling by a judge in the District of Columbia would require the government to also process new applications, but it has been put on hold until late July.

While these lawsuits challenged Trump's decision to wind down DACA, the lawsuit filed by Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia aims to end it. The states argue the creation of the program was unlawful, an overreach by President Barack Obama, a conclusion the Trump administration agrees with.

And the states filed the case in a way to put it before a potentially sympathetic judge, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, Texas.

Hanen criticized the Obama administration for lax enforcement of immigration laws. And in 2015 he ruled against an expansion of DACA by Obama as well as a program that would have protected the parents of children who are in the country legally. His ruling blocking the programs was upheld by an appeals court. The Supreme Court, short a member after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, was divided 4-4 on the case in 2016, leaving the lower court's ruling in place.

University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck said the Texas case "increases the likelihood of conflicting orders to the government and conflicting substantive conclusions about DACA's legality."

If Hanen sides with the states, he could order the government to immediately stop processing new DACA applications or renewing old ones, which would contradict the existing orders. That would create a "pretty chaotic" situation that the Supreme Court would likely want to resolve, Vladeck said.

Beyond what happens in Texas, two courts of appeal are readying to weigh in on DACA, too. Arguments before the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit are scheduled for Tuesday. And arguments before the New York City-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit are expected this summer.

There is also the possibility that the Trump administration could issue a new memo, replacing one from September, with a fuller explanation of why it chose to wind down DACA, a move that would lead to another flurry of legal filings. The fact the administration hasn't yet done that, though, suggests it may be reluctant to do so.


Amr Nabil 

Pompeo