The head of the largest state employees’ union says Gov. Ricketts should devote more money to stopping massive turnover instead of pushing for tax cuts. A senator who represents the Sandhills is calling for a moratorium on wind projects there. And guerilla warfare continues on the legislative floor reflecting a power struggle.
The attack on Gov. Pete Ricketts’ budget proposals comes from Mike Marvin, executive director of the NAPE/AFSCME state employees union. In a statement addressed to the Appropriations Committee, Marvin calls Ricketts proposals “long on cuts and short on vision.”
Marvin said 18 different job classifications have more than a 20 percent annual turnover rate. And the worst turnover is among staff care technicians, who provide care at the state’s four veterans’ homes, and have a turnover of more than 90 percent a year. “The turnover is terrible. They can’t keep help,” Marvin said. “They’re paying tons of overtime at the veterans’ home. They can’t even get enough people in there. They’re having to hire staffing agencies at high dollars to come in and do the job, because they just can’t keep people.”
As a result, Marvin said, veterans don’t know who will be taking care of them from day to day, staff are exhausted, and there is risk of people being given the wrong medications. Marvin complained this all comes at a time when the governor is proposing to cut taxes on the upper income bracket. “I’m going to see a little bit of tax cut under the governor’s proposal – not much. But people like the governor, (Warren) Buffett – those guys are going to see ungodly tax breaks. And we don’t need ‘em at this time,” Marvin said. “We need to keep that money here hiring more people. Even if we can’t pay ‘em more money, let’s put money into hiring people, let’s put money into creative things to retain people. Let’s do the things there. We can’t afford the budget cuts. We can’t afford the tax cut.”
Asked for response, Ricketts spokesman Taylor Gage said Mike Marvin should read the Governor’s budget and tax plans before attacking them. Gage said the Governor’s budget contains initiatives to provide better services to veterans and others, adding “The Governor’s tax plans have no fiscal impact on the budget proposals before the Legislature.”
Wednesday was the tenth day of the legislative session – the last day when new bills could be introduced. Among the bills proposed was one to put a two-year moratorium on wind farm development in the Sandhills. It was introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, who said he got the idea from constituents when he was campaigning from town to town in the district. “You would ask them what they wanted to talk about. And there were two subjects: property tax, which was a gimme, but the other was all wind energy,” Brewer said. “I think what they felt was that the Sandhills as they know ‘em were going to change forever with these wind towers. And for those that had been to Europe, seen what they have in Germany and places like that, the thing that hit home was that once those wind towers outlive their life, they’re a permanent fixture that stays there and becomes an eyesore for generation after generation to live with.”
At a hearing last year in Valentine on a contentious proposal for a wind farm near Kilgore, supporters of the project argued the scrap value of the wind towers would make it worthwhile to remove them after they reached the end of their useful life. The Cherry County board turned down the proposal, but that may not be the final word on that project or others in the Sandhills.
Asked about arguments by people concerned with climate change that wind is a logical alternative to fossil fuels, Brewer said it sounds good, but wind would not be viable without tax subsidies. And he said his objections apply doubly to his own district. He described himself as “still not a friend of wind energy,” adding “in the Sandhills, I’m a huge anti-wind guy.”
Brewer’s bill calls for a study to make recommendations on the siting of wind power projects in the Sandhills. The study would be carried out by a 13-member task force appointed by the director of Natural Resources.
And in legislative debate Wednesday, Senator Ernie Chambers lost more battles over which committees should consider certain bills. Among them was one to punish seed dealers who falsely advertise certain seeds as hybrid corn.
In an update to the statute, the bill would make it possible to go after dealers not only if they sold falsely labeled corn, but also let the Department of Agriculture get an injunction to stop someone who was threatening to do that. Chambers argued that creates a new offense, and should be handled by the Judiciary Committee. “You cannot get enforcement under the current law against somebody threatening to violate the law. In the new language, the enforcement is allowed against any person violating or threatening to violate. That is a new offense which is not currently in the law,” Chambers said.
Sen. Lydia Brasch, chair of the Agriculture Committee where the bill has been assigned, argued that it belongs there, saying that a lawyer for the Department of Agriculture said that was an appropriate placement.
Chambers lost on a vote of 20-15, but said he would continue trying to convince senators to change their minds about what he says is the arbitrary way they’re operating so far this year.
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