Three major issues on table for session

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

According to Nebraska Sen. Tom Baker, three major issues will face the Nebraska Legislature when it gets under way with its regular session Wednesday, Jan. 8.

They include a possible $680 million deficit in the state budget, casino gambling and the method to be used to carry out the state's death penalty.

"We can't tax our way out of this," Baker said. It will be necessary to look at a combination of taxes and spending cuts.

If the state were to freeze state spending at its current level, Baker said, the state's budget deficit would fall to $170 million, and $100 million of that, he said, could be made up in a tax on food.

Baker said the remainder could be made up through cuts on state spending.

"Everything is on the table," Baker said, including but not limited to state aid to schools and municipalities.

"Everyone's going to have to tighten their belts. We just don't have the money to continue our former level of support."

Baker also said that while he doesn't support casino gambling in the state, he recognizes the fact that the issue must be looked at.

Casino gambling "targets the people who can least afford it," Baker explained.

But, he said, "It's here and if we don't address it there will be another petition to place it on the ballot. I'd rather see that done on the legislative level."

Baker said the only way he will support the move to bring casino gambling to the state is if it is allowed in the entire state.

Another move in the Legislature this year will be to change the mode of delivering the state's death penalty from electrocution to lethal injection.

In a special session called in November, the Legislature changed the state law which allowed judges to impose a death sentence, making it necessary for a jury to make the pronouncement.

A move to change the delivery of the death penalty was defeated during the special session. Baker hopes that issue will be looked at during the regular 2003 session. In a survey conducted by the Associated Press, Baker was among 25 state senators who said they would support an effort to overturn term limits on state senators imposed by voters in 2000.

During the next election, 22 of 49 Nebraska Senators will be forced to step down, due to term limits. "It will be devastating to lose all that knowledge. If the term limits remain, lobbyists and staff will be running the government," the senator explained.

"Nebraska is unique in its Unicameral legislature. Unlike other states with a two-house legislature where government leaders can move back and forth, Nebraska Senators have no other house to move to," Baker said.

Baker said he wasn't sure what the answer to the problem is, "If we try to change it, it could be considered self-serving," he said.

Baker also said he has drafted a bill to increase the corn check-off from one-half cent to one cent to allow the state to fulfill the contracts it currently holds with six ethanol plants.

Baker said a proposed plant in Trenton has received all its permits and plans to begin development will now move forward.

Baker will be conducting his weekly teleconference calls at the McCook Chamber of Commerce on Thursdays, beginning in late January or early February.

More information on the calls will be published as it becomes available.

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