Governor, lawmakers come together on issue of rural developement

Monday, June 2, 2003

On the last day of the budget-dominated 2003 session of the Nebraska Legislature, the state's lawmakers took action to assure the continuance of the Nebraska Rural Development Commission.

The decision was a long time coming, in large part because Gov. Mike Johanns and members of the Nebraska Legislature had different ideas about how rural development matters should be handled.

Gov. Johanns argued that rural development should be a function of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development or the University of Nebraska, while rural members of the legislature and others involved with rural projects felt the development needs of small towns, farms and ranches could best be addressed by a separate agency.

At the governor's urging, the state went so far as to pull funding for the agency. Despite this, the director of Nebraska's Rural Development office, Craig Schroeder, kept the program alive with a skeleton staff, using private donations and grants to maintain several rural development programs at a minimum level.

Finally, this year, the issue came to a head. The deciding factor was federal funding, with the governor and the rural development office both bidding to be the recipients of the appropriation from the Rural Development Partnership.

When the national partnership refused to be pulled into the fray, the governor and the legislature decided, at long last, to cooperate.

As a compromise, the legislature changed LB48 to allow the governor to appoint the 13 commission members. "It's a fresh start," said Johanns' spokesman, Chris Peterson. With those words, Peterson was signifying that the governor would not veto the plan and will allow it to pass into law.

That's welcome news. As many sections of the state, including the southwest corner, have found in the past dozen years, the Nebraska Rural Development Commission can be a valuable partner in pursuing rural programs.

As outstate senators point out, the rural development work has been particularly helpful with affordable housing and value-added agriculture.

In these challenging economic times, we need all members of the development team working together, applying every possible resource to reviving rural America.

The governor's and legislature's agreement on the rural development issue was a long time coming, making it all the more appreciated now that the differences have been worked out.

Can more be done? Surely. But, following Friday's vote, things will be a lot better than they have been during the futile feuding of the past few years.

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