The word “agenda” is often treated as if it’s a bad thing. Instead, the Journal Star editorial board views it as a roadmap.
That’s why we lay out priority topics shortly after New Year's Day. We identify a handful of subjects that merit discussion throughout the year because of their impact on our readers.
Two of this year’s topics, climate change and reforming Nebraska’s prison system, carry over from our 2018 list. Progress on these matters has been insufficient to address the problems at hand. Two others – civility and civic-mindedness in politics and tax reform to adequately fund public education – have been expanded to reflect the prime opportunity for change in 2019.
A longtime staple of this list, opposition to the death penalty, has fallen off. Though Nebraska last year performed its first execution in more than two decades, the state has no means at present to end the life of another man on death row. That fight, though paused, is far from over.
Accordingly, it has been replaced by an item of critical importance to Nebraska, one that received plenty of ink on our editorial page in 2018 -- protecting Nebraska’s farm economy.
In alphabetical order, here are the five items on the Journal Star’s 2019 editorial board agenda:
* Civility, civic-mindedness and nonpartisanship in government: With a new Legislature being sworn in and a major overhaul coming to Lincoln’s government this May, we want our elected officials to put their constituents ahead of their own political ambitions and party affiliations, to paraphrase a Lincoln reader's suggestion. Both the Capitol and City Hall are officially nonpartisan – and we encourage our officeholders in both places to remember that moving forward. Furthermore, we want to see public discourse improve rather than devolve into the coarse attacks that too often define political discussion in this day and age.
* Climate change: Our climate is getting warmer, and we need to do our part to reduce and reverse the instability that comes with these changes. Droughts, floods, storms, higher temperatures have resulted, and they're already having an effect on Nebraska. If left unchecked, the impacts of these trends will stress the health and economy of our state, as University of Nebraska-Lincoln professors have warned and a recent federal report underscored. Dozens of readers weighed in, urging us to keep this as a priority. Our state and federal officials must craft legislation that adapts and responds to these changes in a timely manner, as time isn't on our side.
* Corrections reform: With the overcrowding emergency deadline looming in 2020, time is running out for lawmakers to enact meaningful reform that will reduce Nebraska’s prison population and prepare inmates for re-entry into society before more than 1,000 people are released, en masse, from the state’s Corrections system. Inaction got our state into this mess; it certainly won’t solve the problem of prisons at nearly 160 percent of capacity. While Nebraska is currently unable to carry out the death penalty, the state’s procedures for capital punishment also greatly need transparency and reform.
* Protecting the farm economy: Agriculture is Nebraska’s top industry, supporting one in four jobs, but it’s currently being weakened by bad federal policies and market forces. When farmers and ranchers thrive, all of Nebraska does. Removing tariffs from trade policy and investing in biofuels would greatly benefit those who work the land for a living, especially at a time of low commodity prices and high property taxes. This also includes protecting the resources – soil, water, etc. – needed for farms and ranches to thrive.
* Tax reform that adequately funds public education: School funding and taxes in Nebraska can’t be addressed individually. Both need major revisions. Fairer evaluations of ag land; shifting the tax burden from property taxes to state aid; rebalancing the three-legged stool of sales, income and property taxes; and reducing waste by all taxing units will provide the needed money for schools while more fairly distributing the burden of funding them. This is vital to the nearly 80 percent of Nebraska school districts that receive no state equalization aid and rely almost exclusively on property taxes.