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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

Looking for revenue.

Or not.

Current tax exemptions, credits and incentives are all on the table in the Legislature in the form of bills and amendments either introduced or pending.

And those are the alternatives that are available to ease another round of budget cuts for state programs and activities, offering the opportunity to acquire some additional revenue without raising any tax rates.

But that's not likely to happen unless there's a fundamental change in the current mindset in the Legislature.

Tax reduction is in the air in both Washington and Lincoln.

But there are fundamental differences between the two cities.

Spending is also in the air in Washington, but not in Lincoln.

And while a big tax reform package cleared the Congress, it's not likely that a major tax reduction bill will gain the 33-vote supermajority that will be required in the Legislature to clear a filibuster. 

In Washington, the president and the Congress institute huge tax cuts while also approving large spending increases, creating additional budget deficits that balloon the national debt.

In Lincoln, the Legislature is required to produce a balanced budget.

While the spotlight is on an array of property and income tax reduction proposals, with property taxes occupying the center ring, the more immediate challenge for state senators is balancing the state budget in response to sagging revenue and pessimistic revenue estimates.

And that means choosing between another round of budget cuts or an infusion of some additional revenue to limit the damage to state programs and activities, most notably the University of Nebraska.

In one town, you spend heavily right on the heels of major tax cuts.

In the other, you continue to shrink the state budget without, at least so far, giving serious consideration to the possibility of some targeted revenue increases.

Different towns, Lincoln and Washington.

Different folks, different strokes. 

Different priorities and outcomes.

Different damage.

* * *

Juliet Sorensen, the daughter of Ted Sorensen, visited with UNL law students last week about the Sorensen family's deep ties to Lincoln, the university and its law college.

It's a family that has played a rich role in the state's history.

Her grandfather, C. A. Sorensen, was Nebraska attorney general.  

Her uncle, Phil Sorensen, was Nebraska lieutenant governor.

And her father was President John F. Kennedy's closest adviser and speechwriter.

Both Ted and Phil were graduates of the UNL law college.

"As long as the Sorensens have been in America, they have been in Lincoln," Juliet Sorensen said.

Her father, Ted, was particularly inspired by three Nebraskans, she said: Roscoe Pound, George Norris and his father.

Juliet centered on her grandfather's rich tale during a presentation to the law students.

As attorney general, he represented the women's suffrage movement, opposed the death penalty, fought racial discrimination.

And he confronted and destroyed organized crime in Omaha in the early-1930s, closing illegal gambling houses and attacking the liquor bootlegging syndicate, fighting public corruption and ultimately ending the reign of crime boss Tom Dennison.

Her grandfather "kept a pistol in his office," Juliet said, after receiving death threats.

A fascinating tale.

Juliet Sorensen is an associate professor of law at Northwestern University.

Finishing up

* A reminder from the secretary of state that the primary election filing deadline for incumbent officeholders is Thursday.

* A sales tax increase is the favorite target for supporters who want to fund major property tax reduction. It's not only a big source of revenue, but it's also the tax that is much more invisible than the income tax or the property tax.

* Sen. Burke Harr has shone the spotlight on the growing influence of legislative "fiscal notes" that attempt to estimate the cost of proposed legislation, often resulting in stalling or essentially killing bills. That's "death by fiscal note," Harr says.

* Nebraska Appleseed's Darcy Tromanhauser: "Each day that Congress fails to act, more hard-working young Nebraska Dreamers, who are succeeding in school and contributing to industries from finance and health care to agriculture and our military, are losing their DACA protections."

* Without regard to today's political officeholders, it's worth reflecting on how we could have gotten to a point where prison funding is our protected priority that is carefully guarded in budget decisions while education is not.

* Gov. Pete Ricketts is hosting a campaign fundraising event in Arizona in conjunction with the March 18 spring training game between the Chicago Cubs and the Kansas City Royals at the Cubs training site in Mesa. Tickets begin at $500; a $5,000 contribution will get you four tickets and a VIP on-field experience.

* The governor's monthly call-in radio program last week fielded a litany of the same familiar concerns expressed by people who choose to participate: high property taxes and local school costs.

* This Tim Miles team looks like a team, and it is deep, talented and focused. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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