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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Nebraska communities need federal and state advocates

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Everyone is aware the budget picture in Washington requires less spending. That means Congress has to prioritize which investments it believes are most important. Cities are seeing the impacts of reduced support from both the federal and state governments and we have to be thoughtful about the impact these decisions make on the people who live in these cities.

I have always advocated on behalf of Nebraska and worked closely with community leaders statewide to provide assistance for a variety of needed projects they wouldn't be able to afford without assistance, from roads to hospitals to water and wastewater projects.

Sewer Separation and Other Public Works Projects

For instance, from 2002 to 2010 I was able to secure $6.4 million in federally directed funds, better known as earmarks, to a costly sewer separation project in Omaha. I always have worked with local communities to set priorities for federal spending rather than have these decisions made by Washington bureaucrats who may have never visited their community.

The sewer separation project was one of many earmarks that went to local communities statewide. That was before earmarks became a four letter word and were all but eliminated. I seriously doubt that Omaha's sewer ratepayers thought it was wasteful spending. Nevertheless, earmarks are a thing of the past leaving local ratepayers to foot the entire bill.

Then, along came the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus bill, designed to put people to work and avoid an economic depression, which it did. The economy would have been much worse had it not been for the stimulus, even though it continues to be criticized, mainly for political reasons.

Stimulus Funds Helped

Included in the stimulus plan was $40 million for drinking and wastewater treatment projects in Nebraska. The funds were directed by the governor and other state officials to water infrastructure projects statewide, of which, they sent $7 million to Omaha's sewer separation project. A complete list of all stimulus funded projects may be found on my website, www.bennelson.senate.gov.

This is just one of many local projects across Nebraska that have appropriately received both state and federal funding. A federal-state partnership would be appropriate for dozens of other projects in the state where there is a clear broad public interest.

Federal and State Help is Needed

I believe one of Congress's priorities within its limited budget should be investment in water infrastructure like Omaha's sewer separation project -- and the dozens of others being pursued across the state.

The state of Nebraska also needs to look at ways to help communities deal with public works projects such as wastewater treatment facilities. A bill that would have turned back sales tax revenue that was paid to utilities as a portion of the entire sales tax; in other words, a tax on a tax, died in the legislature this year.

Providing clean drinking water and the safe removal of waste water is a basic function of government and Congress; the Unicameral and the Governor should put forward the necessary resources to guarantee these services to Nebraskans throughout the state.


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