Chamber of Commerce questionnaire
Chamber of Commerce questionnaire, 2012
1) As Omaha’s Mayor:
- Will you attempt to reduce city outlays? If so, what are the top five items or areas you would target?
- If you would increase spending, in what areas would you prioritize?
Yes, I believe city government can operate more efficiently. However, for the city to operate more efficiently it will require leadership and a collaborative process in order for such efficiencies to be identified, accepted, and implemented. To reach such an outcome it will require trust, inclusion, and the absence of conflict. As a senator and former executive director of the Omaha Housing Authority I have a history of bringing people together to work collaboratively through budget issues. As the executive director we partnered with the private sector to develop 300 units of affordable housing with very tight budget restrictions. As a senator, I supported the largest tax cut in the state’s history in 2007; in 2009 I supported the largest spending reduction in the state’s history, cutting over $1 billion from the state’s budget. The spending reductions were difficult to accept and implement, but through collaboration and transparency we were able to achieve the spending reductions. As mayor, I will engage similar collaborative processes to examine opportunities for operating efficiencies and spending reductions.
As Omaha’s next mayor, a top priority will be to address duplication of services with Douglas County; I will work vigorously to accomplish this goal. With two local governments operating within Douglas County there is redundancy of services. For example, services within the city and county crime labs and prosecutorial offices are analogous. Merging the city and county crime labs and the city and county prosecutorial offices will save money, resulting in greater efficiencies and will enhance public safety. As mayor, spending taxpayers’ dollars efficiently is imperative, and as a result, when it comes to replication of services, as long as the quality remains the same, I can support a service being paid for and managed by the county.
- If you would increase spending, in what areas would you prioritize?
While the actual spending might be neutral to the city’s effective spending, the city needs to actively create and/or participate in public-private partnerships. As a founding member of the MECA Board we structured our operations around a robust city, state and private sector partnership. Omaha is fortunate to have a business community that is willing to devote time and money for the betterment of this community. As mayor, I am willing to allocate the city’s spending in partnership with the private and philanthropic sectors. There is tremendous leadership and significant capital sources available to sustain and improve Omaha’s future prosperity—the City of Omaha and the mayor must be more involved with these kinds of partnerships.
I support legislation to establish land banks. As with MECA and the airport authority, I will push for an independent board to manage the land bank process to ensure redevelopment of our vacant lots and dilapidated housing. Also, I support placing the Convention and Visitors Bureau under an independent board. A public-private partnership is key to my proposal to train youth for high-paying, manufacturing and IT jobs.
There are many missed opportunities for cooperative collaboration with the county government and other public entities—it’s time to take advantage of these opportunities and I will vigorously pursue them.
2) How would you address the issue of a pension system that has a long-term $500 million to $600 million imbalance?
- Would you support or oppose standards such as the minimum number of firemen responding to a call?
- Would you support exploring the privatization of our EMS system?
Immediately upon taking office I will convene the Bates Commission on Pension Reform. The leadership of the Chamber was critical to this process as it was to the Commission of Industrial Relations Reform in 2010. Once convened, we must revisit two critical questions:
First, What is the proper assumption in calculating the rate of return for each plan? Based on the former answer: By how much are the plans underfunded today? Each year we ask these questions at the state level. Once those factors are determined the Commission lays out a series of solutions to fix the underfunding. This underfunding is a math problem that has become a political and financial albatross hanging over Omaha.
Undoubtedly, the solutions will be tough. For example, most state employees have defined contribution plans; all Nebraska cities except Omaha and Lincoln adopted defined contribution plans in the mid-80′s, as have the vast majority of Nebraska businesses. As mayor, I will propose to employees an affordable, sustainable retirement plan. Citizens will know exactly where we are. By working with the City Council and the Bates Commission we will begin immediately to find a workable solution. As is the case with most Nebraska cities and the state, moving to a defined contribution plan for all city employees must be on the table.
On the second part of this question: the city pensions are in need of reform. Future investment by our city will be significantly reduced if we do not find long-term solutions now. If the city and the unions cannot reach agreement on pension reform then downsizing and privatization options are likely for all city employees. However, I am very confident that we can build the trust necessary to reach collaborative agreements with our employees. On the issues of minimum staffing and EMS privatization I will sit down with all the interested parties—no one will be excluded. We cannot find the solution until we engage in collaborative discussions, which is the essence of who I am.
3) How would you work to streamline processes and remove some of the regulations in the City’s Planning Department to jump start development in Omaha?
- Which processes or regulations?
The Planning Department is critical to our city’s future. Working on the development of the Old Market in the 80′s, the Qwest Center in the 90′s and as Executive Director of The Omaha Housing Authority brought me into a close working relationship with the Planning Department. I have heard much about this area of city government from citizens. The consistent feedback I get on the Planning Department is the need for moving projects forward in a timely and streamlined manner. Under my leadership I will put the people first. Our city grows when we work together as a team. I will conduct a thorough review of the rules and regulations now in place to identify unreasonable, obsolete, and unnecessary obstacles to growth. I will include businesses and citizens in this effort. I will remove unnecessary and unreasonable obstacles to an efficient permitting, inspection, and planning process. I will seek the most qualified team to meet the needs of our citizens and the business community.
4) Would you raise the City’s Property Tax levy higher than 49.9 cents?
Our goal should be to lower property taxes—not increase them It has always been my goal in the Unicameral to keep taxes down by making government work more efficiently. In 2007, with the support of the business community we passed the largest tax cut in our state’s history. Four years ago we initiated a painstaking process to reduce state spending. As a result, we were able last session to reduce taxes again. This process has been time consuming and difficult, but our state’s economic vitality is a testament to these efforts and the innovative spirit of our businesses.
It is my deep conviction that we can adopt similar policies locally. I will build a team that will streamline government by working collaboratively to break down archaic obstacles to real change in how we do business. Taxes go up in Omaha primarily because we have failed to learn lessons from the private sector on how to operate. We overpromise and underperform because we are afraid of the kind of structural reform that makes business successful. It’s time to change this, and I will move Omaha forward through innovative, measurable, forward-thinking strategies.
5) Do you believe it is good policy to create new occupation taxes for special city projects?
- If so, for what purpose would you support such a tax?
It is not good policy to pass an occupation tax for general operations and I would not support such a tax. Also, I voted for the changes in occupation tax law that requires a vote of the people for a tax that raises six million dollars or more. However, I could support an occupation tax for investment in our community provided its purposes are clearly defined and limited to a particular purpose. The restaurant tax, in my view, did not meet this criteria. I voted for a $50 million investment by the state in the UNMC Cancer Center. I would have supported TIF for this project as mayor and may have considered additional city participation had I been convinced that additional state support would not be forthcoming, and there was absolutely no other source of funds for the project. As mayor, I would have informed the Unicameral and governor that the project would require additional local tax dollars.
6) Would you support or oppose an effort to increase the city sales tax rate by half of a percent?
- If you support, for what purpose would you raise the rate?
I introduced legislation to allow the city to increase sales tax by one-half percent with the vote of the people and a cooperative agreement with the county. I would consider supporting a local option sales tax today only if the city received a clearly defined return on its investment and other taxes are reduced.
7) Would you shift existing city resources to boost road maintenance and new road construction?
I supported LB 84 that earmarked a quarter percent of the existing state sales tax to roads. As Mayor I would continue this priority in my budget. I support the benefit of connecting our historic neighborhoods to each other. Good streets are critical to the viability of these neighborhoods and creative strategies in this area will be encouraged. Much more regional cooperation is necessary on this.
Omaha must receive its fair and proportionate share of roads and infrastructure funding. A primary responsibility of the Mayor is to build bridges with the Unicameral on this issue. As a 14 year veteran of the legislature I am uniquely qualified to perform this task.
8) The Greater Omaha Chamber currently serves more than 3,200 businesses.
- Why should Chamber members support your bid to become Omaha’s Mayor?
My political heroes have always worked together. Good ideas come from all sides. I have spent my career listening to others and working for the city. We have a great city, but there is much to be done. I have the hands-on experience to bring people together without regard for partisan politics.
Fifteen years in the legislature combined with my business and legal background have given me the opportunity to tackle the complex challenges facing our city. In 1987 when businesses contemplated leaving our state, I responded to their needs and the needs of taxpayers by cosponsoring LB 775. I will listen to companies who have chosen, and are considering Omaha as a place to do business.
Our prosperity as a city depends on finding collaborative solutions to the problems of poverty, public safety, growth, education and an effective relationship with state government. I am not afraid to make tough decisions and do the heavy lifting…in the end our city will be stronger for it.