Prosperity and potential were words Chuck Hassebrook used often Sunday while the Democratic candidate for Nebraska governor was in Neligh.
Hassebrook spoke to about two dozen people at the Neligh Senior Center over the noon hour. The Lyons resident and former executive director for the Center for Rural Affairs talked about helping small businesses in rural communities and answered questions from those in attendance about fair pay, immigration, minimum wage, housing in rural communities, Medicaid and the future of hospitals in rural communities.
"Every one of our neighbors needs to have the opportunity to achieve their full potential, whether they live across the street, across the tracks or across the state, whether they live in the biggest city or the smallest town," Hassebrook said. "In Nebraska, if we're going to achieve our full potential, then we need to start paying attention to making sure rural Nebraska and small towns can share in that prosperity."
Hassebrook said the state has failed with wind development, despite having the third-greatest capacity for generating electricity from wind. He cited a company that wanted to build a line from Northeast Nebraska to Chicago, but chose to start the line in Iowa due to Nebraska's policies.
"That failure cost us, not only thousands of good jobs, but cost us hundreds of millions of dollars in payments to land owners and hundreds of millions of dollars in local tax revenue," Hassebrook said.
With housing, Hassebrook said the best return on dollars for smaller communities is rehab rather than new housing. As for how to fund housing renovation, Hassebrook admitted it's a challenge that he doesn't have a solution for because it takes so much money. Hassebrook said he'd like to see more assisted living facilities for the elderly, which would open up more housing for young families.
A member of the audience pointed out that Tilden also has housing issues as a bedroom community to Norfolk, as well as because families are moving back to town.
"Tilden is growing and bucking the trend," she said. "Our assisted living center is a year old now and that freed up a lot of homes, but they get snapped up after 3-4 days on the market. That's great and is a good problem, but we could use more housing and rehab projects."
She also pointed out that the Tilden Community Hospital closed July 1, leaving Tilden with a clinic but not a hospital. Hassebrook said he's concerned about the future of healthcare in rural communities.
Also a hot topic for Hassebrook and Republican candidate Pete Ricketts is Initiative 425, which would raise minimum wage in Nebraska. Voters will decide that fate during the November election.
The proposed increase is from $7.25 an hour to $8 an hour in 2015 and $9 an hour in 2016. Hassebrook, who is in favor of raising the minimum wage, said he's heard complaints that raising the minimum wage means that those currently just above minimum wage will also have to be raised.
"People say it will be cost on to higher goods, and it will. Let's be honest - it will," Hassebrook said. "But if I have to pay five cents more for a hamburger so the person serving me can make a living wage, then if we really believe in hard work, we should pay."
Hassebrook said states that have raised minimum wage have a higher growth rate because those workers are spending their money.
"Those folks don't have much choice. They spend what they have," he said. "When you raise those wages, you get more money going through your economy, and it tends to create more jobs."
The Nebraska general election is Tuesday, Nov. 4. According to representatives from Ricketts' campaign, he may also be visiting Antelope County prior to the election.
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