Last week's report on the economic impact of the University of Nebraska in the state — $4.5 billion last year — is hard to ignore, although some elected officeholders and politicians undoubtedly will continue to choose to do so. 

"Some people in this body like to bash the university," Sen. John Stinner, the Legislature's Appropriations Committee chairman, said during debate shaping the 2019-2021 state budget last week. 

"Higher ed is a jewel for our state," Stinner said.

Several senators took shots at the university during that debate.

Where does that come from?

A quality university with campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney is going to cost money. The university's critics call it spending; the economic study suggests it might be more accurately described as investment.

There's a lot more elected officeholder support now for workforce development education and training that focuses on manufacturing and trades employment than there is for a university education. 

Both are needed.

One is more expensive and thus more politically vulnerable, but it helps define the state, provide a full range of intellectual, learning and aspirational opportunity, help limit the state's brain drain and frame its future.  

* * *

Let's take a look at last week's vote in the Legislature to amend the Appropriations Committee's state budget proposal by moving $51 million that the committee had allocated to nourish the state's depleted cash reserve fund into the state's property tax credit fund.

The motion carried on a 28-8 vote.

Twelve senators who were present decided not to cast a vote.

If you look at the 20 senators who either voted no or declined to vote, you will see that 18 of them hail from Lincoln or metropolitan Omaha.

The other two were Stinner, who defended his committee's budget proposal, and Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island.

But it's the bloc of 18 Lincoln-Omaha-Sarpy County senators that demonstrates the challenge ahead for the Revenue Committee's tax reform bill, which focuses on property tax relief funded by state sales tax increases and delivered through state aid to schools.

Thirty-three votes would be needed to crack a filibuster mounted by that proposal's opponents if Sen. Lou Ann Linehan can convince Speaker Jim Scheer to return the bill (LB289) to the legislative agenda for another round of debate.

Seventeen senators can block a bill in the 49-member Legislature.

Linehan and Sen. Mike Groene are negotiating now with metropolitan-area school superintendents to see if they can unlock some of the big-city opposition to the proposal by amending it.

The bill already includes a lure for Omaha Public Schools by offering a provision that would allow OPS to exceed its current mill levy limit to help pay down a massive pension shortfall.

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And Linehan appears ready to negotiate a proposed increase in the earned income tax credit to try to offset some urban concerns about the impact of the proposed increase in state sales taxes on lower-income people.

It's all uphill, but Linehan has marched uphill before.

* * *

Finishing up:

* What must that balcony full of fourth graders in the legislative chamber have thought when they heard that there's a proposal to tax candy and pop? 

* Last week's warning that more than one million species are in danger of extinction because of human activity is a reminder of the wonder of our world. Total estimated number of species: 8.7 million. 

* After the devastating floods and now the newest trade war that President Donald Trump may be opening up with China, you begin to wonder how many more hits Nebraska agriculture can take.

* Deserved recognition and honor earned: Frank LaMere was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree by Nebraska Wesleyan University.

* Now it's not just Husker football, but also Husker basketball, that's becoming a year-round news topic.

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

On Twitter @LJSDon.


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