Nebraska Legislative Preview — The Definition of Insanity

Dennis Crawford
4 min readJan 2, 2024
Young people are repelled by the GOP’s culture wars.

Jim Pillen and his Republican allies in the legislature are out to prove that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. During the most recent legislative session, the Nebraska Republicans cut taxes by a whopping $3.1 billion over the next five years. In addition, most of the tax cuts were grabbed by the rich and corporations.

The legislature’s tax cutting spree has done nothing to alleviate the serious labor shortage in Nebraska. State senators, corporate CEOs and various other interested parties have cited developing ways to recruit and retain more workers as one of their highest priorities for the 2024 session. Last summer, Pillen established a task force to come up with legislative solutions.

The labor shortage in Nebraska has been caused by the retirement of the baby boomer generation and the continuing out migration or brain drain from Nebraska by the younger generation. This trend has been exacerbated by the pandemic since many people are out of the work force with long COVID.

“Nebraska’s “brain drain” — the net loss of college-educated people through migration to other states — has more than quadrupled in the last decade. That’s a blow to the state’s potential economic growth and future prospects….Worse yet, Nebraska’s brain drain is among the worst in the country. World-Herald calculations show that among the states, only North Dakota and New York by percentage are posting higher losses.” Omaha World Herald, December 31, 2023.

Now the data indicates that “individuals 25 years and older with other (lesser) levels of educational attainment also are leaving the state,” says Josie Schafer of the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. In 2022, approximately 1,000 adults aged twenty five and older with an education of high school diploma or less left Nebraska. Schafer said that the drop marks a shift from several previous years when Nebraska was attracting individuals in that education group.

Erin Porterfield, executive director of nonprofit Heartland Workforce Solutions investigated why blue collar workers are now leaving Nebraska. Among reasons cited are that negative experiences with racism “contribute to feeling unsafe” and to reduced employment and social opportunities. “Feeling like Nebraska isn’t for everyone,” was another refrain, along with increased limits “on rights for people of diverse identities, including transgender care.”

How are the Nebraska Republicans responding to this crisis? If you guessed more tax cuts for the rich, you would be right! Surprise! Surprise! They are consistent.

Pillen has pledged to cut property taxes “significantly” in the next legislative session. The Nebraska Governor promised to reduce property taxes by $2 billion or 40%. Pillen would fund these massive tax cuts by cutting state spending by 6% and placing draconian spending caps on county and local governments. That would most likely include cuts to public school funding. (So much for local control.)

Senator Lou Ann Linehan doubled down on this failed strategy when she said that the state could help by doling out more tax breaks to corporations that offer child care benefits to their employees. In other words, Linehan wants to cut taxes (again) for corporations and hope that it trickles down.

Pillen and the Nebraska Republicans plan to pay for these new tax breaks for the rich and corporations by increasing sales taxes. The Nebraska governor wants to increase the sales tax rate by one or two cents and by eliminating some sales tax exemptions. Sales tax increases are a tax increase on the poor and the middle class since they pay a higher percentage of their incomes on necessities than the wealthy.

Two Nebraska state senators (one current and one former) recently responded to the Nebraska drain brain crisis on Twitter.

Megan Hunt:

“Another brain drain news story, another day of watching state leaders ruminate about how we will keep young people here, as they block healthcare access, LGBTQ+ workforce protections, food assistance to qualified recipients, min wage, public transportation development…etc.”

Adam Morfeld:

“If we were more focused on things young Nebraskans cared about and less focused on going after LGBTQ people, gutting public education, making reproductive healthcare impossible to obtain, and giving tax breaks to wealthy folks, then maybe we wouldn’t lose so many young people.

If lawmakers want a guide to keeping young people in the state, here you go:

1. Stay out of our bedrooms

2. Invest in public transportation, culture, and entertainment

3. Affordable housing

4. Invest in childcare and healthcare

5. Legalize marijuana

Whew that was tough.”

I would add to the list the repeal of Nebraska’s so-called right to work (for less) law. Corporate “right to work” laws drive down wages. Nebraska is a low wage state and won’t be able to retain workers in the absence of pay increases.

Nebraska voters can begin to bring about the change we need in the 2024 election cycle. It is anticipated that ballot initiatives on medical marijuana, paid family medical leave and abortion rights will be voted on in November 2024. Progressive ballot initiatives have a history of success in Nebraska. Voters have approved the Medicaid expansion and an increase in the minimum wage.

Already, numerous good Democrats have announced runs for the legislature around the state. I would urge you to invest your time and money in some of the legislative races. The composition of the legislature makes a big difference. Many voters don’t realize how powerful and important the state senators are. A successful election cycle can put a check and balance on the ambitions of the extreme Nebraska GOP.

“Don’t agonize; organize. No whining; just winning.” Nancy Pelosi. Now let’s get it done!



Dennis Crawford

I’m an aspiring historian, defender of democracy and a sports fan.