Today the Journal Star presents our yearly agenda.
Our intent is to be clear and direct with our readers on our priorities.
We hope our editorials provoke thought and contribute to discussion. We encourage others to join us with letters to the editor, Local View columns and online comments.
Every year our list changes. Some goals are achieved. New problems arise.
For example, gone from last year's list is our No. 1 priority, thanks to voter approval of the Haymarket arena.
Also disappearing for the first time from our Top Five list is service for developmentally disabled Nebraskans. Problems in this area no longer rise to the level of crisis. Progress has been made. Concern remains high, however. Improvement in service is fragile, and could easily be erased. We intend to be vigilant.
1. Reform of the Commission of Industrial Relations is imperative if elected officials are to control spiraling costs. The CIR was set up as an alternative to public employees going on strike. However, the cumulative weight of prior decisions and the directives in state law skew the system against the legitimate interests of taxpayers. Emblematic of the problem was the CIR decision this week ordering the City of Omaha to give firefighters raises for 2009. The union had turned to the CIR after concluding there were not enough votes on the City Council to approve a contract. The city already is facing a budget crisis. The ruling adds annual costs of $1 million to $2 million, bringing the city's shortfall to $7 million. Just weeks ago, the Lincoln City Council gave Lincoln firefighters a 3 percent raise retroactive to mid-August and another 3 percent raise effective in February. The action came at a time when workers in the private sector are facing flat wages and inflation is virtually nonexistent.
2. The effort to reform the child welfare system turned into chaos last year when three of the five original lead private providers pulled out. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, chair of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, announced that senators will investigate the attempt to privatize the system. There is concern that the new system is failing to meet the needs of abused and neglected children, and that too many children still are being placed in the system in the first place. We intend to keep the pressure on to fix the problems.
3. Still pending is a decision from the U.S. State Department on the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada's tar sands through the Nebraska Sandhills to points farther south. The editorial board thinks TransCanada should follow the route of its existing pipeline in the less fragile and less porous clay soils in eastern Nebraska.
4. A perennial issue on the editorial board's list of priorities is the need to provide more sufficient funding for road, highways and city streets. This was the year that state senators said they would focus on the issue. But the proposed solution -- earmarking a half-cent of the state sales tax for roads -- left us underwhelmed. The need is still urgent.
5. The 2011 legislative session will be consumed by budget cutting. Senators and Gov. Dave Heineman say everything will be on the table as budgets are slashed in the face of a projected $986 million shortfall in the two-year budget cycle. The editorial board believes that the state cannot for reasons of conscience ignore the needs of its most vulnerable residents, such as the developmentally disabled and children who are wards of the state. Also crucial for the future success of the state is the need to maintain adequate funding for schools and higher education. Of the two, higher education is more vulnerable. Schools can fall back on local property taxes.