What is identified in the corporate world as investment is often identified politically as spending when it occurs in the public sector.

The two worlds came together last week at a hearing on workforce development legislation.

At issue was a bold proposal with some high-profile clout behind it, a challenge to go big and not be trapped by self-imposed political restraints that might limit options and opportunities.

That was an impressive lineup that went to bat at a public hearing in the Legislature's Education Committee on behalf of a robust plan for Nebraska that costs money.

The proposal would address the state's workforce challenge by moving beyond largely limited tuition-based assistance and make a major state investment in scholarships at public colleges and universities in Nebraska targeted at preparing students for high-skill, high-demand, high-wage jobs in the state.

Current examples would include nursing, engineering, software development and accounting.

Students would need to be Nebraska residents and be required to complete an internship with a Nebraska business prior to graduation. 

The state's price tag would be $10 million in 2019-2020 and $20 million in the next fiscal year and then $30 million annually thereafter. That's real money; that is commitment. 

The careers scholarship bill (LB639) was introduced by two heavy-hitters, Sen. John Stinner, chair of the Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, chair of the Revenue Committee.

It was supported at the committee hearing by the CEO of Mutual of Omaha and the executive chairman of Nelnet and the president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the president of the University of Nebraska.

Add those voices together and you have firepower.

"We need to make strategic investments now," Nebraska Chamber President Bryan Slone said.

"We are not competitive in terms of financial aid," University President Hank Bounds told the committee. "Our competition is absolutely beating us."

Gov. Pete Ricketts has proposed a much smaller version of increased scholarship assistance aimed at students in math, engineering, health care and computer information systems.   

Spending or investment?

Go small or go big?

* * *

A lengthy story in The Hill speculated about the possibility of "a significant primary challenge" confronting Sen. Ben Sasse in Nebraska next year.

You can make a case for that, but it's not likely to occur.

A primary challenge certainly is possible, perhaps even probable; but it's unlikely to be significant.

Nope, not gonna happen, period, the most savvy Republican political figure in the state told me in a recent phone call.   

And there's been solid substantiation of that assessment since then.

Who would count as significant challengers?

Gov. Pete Ricketts, former Gov. Dave Heineman, mega-wealthy Republican businessman and one-time gubernatorial aspirant Charles Herbster come quickly to mind.  

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None of them is in.

Asked directly a few weeks ago what he would say if President Donald Trump called him and said "Pete, I want you to run for the Senate" in 2020, Ricketts promptly said his answer would be no. 

* * *

Finishing up:

* President Trump and infrastructure is Lucy and the football.

* The ornate box turtle is a reptile? Perhaps I should have paid more attention in biology class. And majored in something other than multiple choice.

* Rick Perry was the designated survivor during the State of the Union gathering; that must rank up there not far below the Cuban missile crisis.

* Sasse tweeted last week that he has been receiving "some anonymous fortune cookies from an angry American," including a recent one that "expressed a hope for me 'to be trapped in an elevator' with folks who are really angry at me."

* Rep. Adrian Smith, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over the IRS, says he would oppose disclosure of President Trump's income tax returns by Congress or any of its members.

* The collapse of this year's Husker men's basketball team and the sudden end of PBA magic has made this cold winter gloomier.

* Baseball to the rescue, gathering this week in Florida and Arizona, preparing to fly north for opening day on March 28 and turn this long winter into spring.

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

On Twitter @LJSDon.


Political reporter

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

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