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As is common in the closing weeks of a legislative session, a number of contentious issues have been discussed during floor debate. Fiscal issues like tax reform, levy authorities, bond priorities, and state spending in the budget draw sharp distinctions between political philosophies and, more commonly, rural and urban differences. Topics of a social nature, including eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, felon voting, prioritizing funding for comprehensive women’s healthcare, and voter identification issues demonstrate the differences in perspective among senators.
With so many complex and often emotionally charged topics debated and voted on in such a compact period of time at the end, coalitions and votes on one bill unfortunately bleed over and influence others. This is an unfortunate reality of the political process.
Understanding the entire scope of an issue is critical to productive dialogue and good policy. In an era of social media and “action alert” email blasts, special interest groups can quickly distribute talking points and political spin to voters and the media. In my experience as a state senator, I have seen many issues intentionally obscured by misinformation spread to generate opposition. I encourage all voters to thoroughly explore and understand issues of interest to them, especially before just accepting and perpetuating interest group talking points.
Many of the topics that have generated the most debate this session are complex and have significant historical context. Changes to tax policy, whether it be who pays property taxes, how property is valued, exemptions and credits applied to income tax, or even sales tax rates impact every Nebraskan in a different way. Changes in funding to a state program will have different results in each community. Seemingly straightforward topics like internet sales tax collection and craft beer distribution are complicated by interaction between federal law, state statute, and agency regulation. Unfortunately, much of the discussion on these topics resembles a Sunday morning talk show, with whoever shouts the loudest and the longest ending up triumphant.
I am very disappointed that tax relief will not happen again this session. The voices of hard working Nebraskans were drowned out by special interests serving their own needs. Despite a myriad of proposals put forth and a comprehensive package advanced to the floor by the Revenue Committee, lobbyists crying “it is not enough” and protecting their vested special interests made sure Nebraska ag land owners, working families, and business owners received nothing.
The biennial budget passed and sent to Governor Ricketts depends on an accounting gimmick and an unsustainable use of one time dollars to balance the state budget. Advanced over the objections of several Appropriations Committee members and a significant number of senators in the Legislature, the budget as passed puts the state on fiscally shaky ground if ambitious projections for revenue growth are not met in the short term. Long term, the stability of the budget will likely require even deeper cuts or tax increases in the next biennium. If revenues continue to lag, it is likely a special session will be required to make the spending decisions the majority of senators failed to make now.
As the session moves into its last full week, the final issues with support of a two-thirds majority of senators to move beyond cloture will be discussed and voted upon. Chief among them will be addressing any line-item vetoes by the Governor to the state budget. A vote of 30 of the 49 senators will be required to override any spending reductions made by the Governor. Pay close attention, as the results of those final votes will determine the trajectory of the State of Nebraska for the years ahead.