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44th District legislative candidates quizzed on their views at forum PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 16 October 2014 00:00

Steve Stroup, left, and Dan Hughes, both of whom are seeking the 44th District legislative seat, participated in a forum in Imperial last week to discuss issues. (Imperial Republican Photos)


By Russ Pankonin

The Imperial Republican

Nearly 50 people attended a legislative forum in Imperial last week to hear 44th District candidates Dan Hughes of Venango and Steve Stroup of Benkelman address issues.

Imperial Mayor Dwight Coleman served as the moderator and presented the candidates with 17 different questions during the one-hour forum.

The two candidates held similar views on many of the issues presented. However they varied on how best to address property tax relief and funding infrastructure.

Property tax relief

The first divergence came on ways to reduce the property tax burden.

Hughes said there needs to be a tax shift in Nebraska to reduce reliance on property tax. While government needs to operate efficiently, “We can’t cut our way to prosperity,” he said.

He supports a Farm Bureau proposal to reduce taxing ag land from 75 percent of value to 65 percent. If that were to occur, it would reduce the amount of taxes available to schools and county government.

As a result, he said the sales tax base in Nebraska needs to be expanded. “And I believe we should put a sales tax on food,” he said.

He noted several states around Nebraska already have sales taxes on food. He added that sales taxes don’t represent the percentage of taxes that property taxes do.

Everyone would pay a sales tax on food, he said, and hopefully, it would encourage more people to become engaged in government and how their tax dollars are spent.

Like Hughes, Stroup said he favored a sales tax on food, because everyone pays it. But another way would be to implement a transaction tax.

“A real simple answer would be a transaction tax. So if a farmer got hailed out or had no commodities to sell, he wouldn’t have to pay the tax. Under the present system, that farmer must still pay his property taxes, regardless of loss of income,” he said.

Funding infrastructure

In the final question of the evening, the two candidates varied on how to pay for infrastructure needs.

Coleman noted increasing resources are needed for local and state roads and bridges. He asked how the candidates proposed paying for those needs.

Stroup said the state’s highways are vital for moving the products produced in the state.

He said current taxes being spent on infrastructure should continue and suggested an increase in the state’s fuel tax may be needed.

He said there hasn’t been an increase in the fuel tax for a long time and that may need to be explored. “I’ll look at both sides of the issue,” he said.

He said another way would be to grow the state’s economy.

Hughes contrasted Stroup’s position, saying, “the best way to increase funding for anything is to grow the economy.”

The state needs to pass laws to create opportunities for businesses to come and create more jobs, Hughes said. That creates more income tax and sales tax, he added.

He agreed the state’s roads, highways and interstate represent the lifeblood for the state and are especially critical to western Nebraska.

Other issues discussed

On the minimum wage issue in Nebraska, both opposed the  proposed changes to be voted on in November.

Both felt the Keystone XL pipeline should be built through Nebraska.

On teachers having handguns in school, both said that should be a school decision, not something imposed by the state.

Both believed the Rock Creek and Lincoln County augmentation projects were needed for compact compliance purposes with Kansas.

Both said they would work to build relationships with other senators to get them to understand the importance of irrigation to this region and the state, along with how no-till farming has been a factor in reduced stream flows, not just irrigation.

Both believe Nebraska has a problem with illegal immigration. However, if the immigrants obtain social security numbers and become employed, the state and U.S. can collect payroll taxes on their wages.

Both favor capital punishment and oppose unfunded mandates on education and local governments imposed by either the state or federal government.

Both approved of the reduction of sales taxes on farm parts, despite the reduction in city sales tax revenues. Neither favored the use of city sales tax funds for property tax reduction within the city.

Both opposed the expansion of Medicare in Nebraska as part of the Affordable Care Act. Neither believed the federal government could be trusted in terms of providing future funding to states.

Closing statements

Stroup told the crowd his farming, ranching and business experiences over the last 35 years have made him believe he can do the job as state senator. “I believe I can  make these decisions. I believe I can  understand. I believe I can hear,” he said.

He said he has the ability to be open and listen to both sides of an issue. He also believes a senator’s opinion shouldn’t be based solely on one’s political party platform.

He said it’s up to the new senator to persuade and educate in Lincoln and be open to ideas, thoughts and processes and stand up when something’s wrong.

His life experiences over the past 35 years indicate he’s undaunted by hard work and commitment, he said, and will be ready to put that to work for the 44th District.

In his closing, Hughes said the night showed that he and Stroup are not that different philosophically.

The difference, Hughes said, is his ability to go to Lincoln and make a difference.

“I have a track record over the last 40 years that I’ve spent on my farm and off my farm building coalitions and being part of county, state, local and

national organizations,” he said.

He said those experiences have taught him how to build coalitions, come to a consensus and provide leadership.

As the leader of a national organization that has allowed him to travel around the world, he said he’s been able to gain a wide perspective.

He said his proven history of building relationships and solving problems represents the type of leadership the 44th District needs in Lincoln.