Letter to the Editor

Calm action

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dear Editor,

The Middle and Upper Republican NRDs ask the public to remain calm and not panic regarding the water proposals made by the state. They assure everyone that no decision has been made and that all will be well, assuming there is funding to do something else. The Upper is confident that funding is secure and that the Courts will support the occupation tax. The NRDs say that even if the shut down clauses are put in place, there is no immediate worry because there is plenty of water in the reservoirs for 2010.

My question is, why say everything is ok when it clearly is not? Is it just so the NRDs can avoid the many phone calls? While panic is not productive, staying calm isn't either. There is a very serious threat to the economy of the Basin. Asking questions, demanding answers, and knowing what water policy makers are doing (and why) are all very appropriate.

There are serious problems. First, the occupation tax is in big trouble. Its sister property tax has already been ruled unconstitutional. The occupation tax is based on the same sections of the law that have already been voided by the court. Secondly, the occupation tax, as it is written, is clearly a tax on the quantity of a certain type of property. Property taxes cannot be used for State purposes, and the Nebraska Supreme Court has ruled that this is a state problem rather than an NRD problem.

The second major problem is the governor's position that he will veto any new tax or any use of state funds for the Republican River Basin. If the governor's position holds and the courts nix the occupation tax two years from now, then there is no funding mechanism in place.

Without funding, shutdowns and reductions in irrigation are almost certain.

The governor is insisting that the NRDs put the shutdown clauses into the rules and regulations this winter. They are told that if they do not put this "red box clause" in, the state will attempt to take control from the NRDs. Welcome to hard ball politics.

I agree with the NRDs that a funding mechanism is extremely important. I encourage the NRDs to support alternatives to the occupation tax. Putting all hope on a tax that has serious legal problems is dangerous. The NRDs are correct in that the big rains of 2007 and 2008 filled the reservoirs and relieved the immediate threat; but, now is the time to put in a legal way to fund alternatives to shutdowns. It does not seem prudent to agree to the red box clause until a legal funding mechanism is in place.

A second track should be simultaneously followed. There are major flaws in the formulas and data that are used in the model. These should be corrected. The Attorney General's office should cause these corrections. However, it appears that the AG's office is going to need a lot of encouragement. Calmly asking the Attorney General to do his job might be a very productive use of your time.

Steve Smith,



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