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Pete Ricketts: How Good A Governor?

Pete Ricketts ran for governor in 2014 claiming that his alleged business prowess qualified him for the post even though he had no previous political or governmental experience. The Omaha billionaire promised that he would use that experience to “Grow Nebraska.” Unfortunately for the state, Ricketts has visibly struggled in the job and Nebraska has experienced some serious setbacks since he took office over two years ago.

The rookie Governor’s first legislative session in 2015–16 was a fiasco where he experienced a series of humiliating setbacks. During that session, a series of high profile vetoes by Ricketts were over ridden on a bi-partisan basis. The Unicameral reversed Ricketts’ vetoes on a gas tax increase to finance infrastructure investments, drivers licenses for DREAMERs, professional licenses for DREAMERS and the repeal of the death penalty. Prominent Republicans speaking on background to the Omaha World Herald in May 2015 described it as an “embarrassing start” for Ricketts.

Ricketts compounded his stinging setback on the death penalty by foolishly advancing $54,000.00 to a shady businessman in India to purchase illegal execution drugs. The state never received the drugs and the taxpayers never received a refund. This blunder certainly called into question Ricketts’ alleged business acumen and savvy.

Ricketts’ reign of error has also been marked by other setbacks that have hurt Nebraska’s citizens. Despite years of tax breaks and generous subsidies, Conagra and Cabelas have left the state. In addition to that, Gordman’s recently declared bankruptcy and laid off 600 employees.

The loss of these jobs isn’t the only thing that has been detrimental to Nebraska since Ricketts took office. There have also been two bloody prison riots at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in 2015 and 2017. The 2015 riot resulted in two inmate deaths and over $2 million in damage to that facility. The second riot in 2017 caused two more deaths.

The unrest at the prison in Tecumseh was caused by the long time neglect of the Department of Corrections by Dave Heineman and that neglect has been perpetuated by the Ricketts Administration. The state simply hasn’t hired enough staff and nor has it adequately compensated them. This has resulted in excessive employee turnover at Tecumseh and the incidence of mandatory overtime work for an already overworked staff.

Perhaps the only tangible “achievement” by Ricketts was the successful ballot initiative to bring back the death penalty in 2016. Ricketts put over $300,000.00 of his own money into a campaign to overturn a law that was supported by many Republican state senators when the death penalty was repealed in 2015. These massive contributions put our state’s democracy at risk and brought back a failed and expensive government program. This was a political “win” for the Governor but a loss for the state as a whole.

Ricketts is currently trying to notch another “achievement” by jamming through an income and property tax cut bill during the current session. These aren’t genuine tax cuts — instead they are tax shifts. The property tax cut bill would use some complicated scheme to cut taxes on farmland property. If it is passed, this would shift the property tax burden from farmers to homeowners.

The income tax cut bill would largely benefit the wealthy. A single taxpayer making $30,000.00 or less would get nothing. Similarly, a married couple filing jointly earning $65,000.00 or less would get nothing. At the same time, a married couple making $250,000.00 or more would collect $1,510.00. Renee Fry, the executive director of the Open Sky Institute pointed out that 74% of the tax cuts would go to the 20% of taxpayers with the highest incomes, while 26% of the cuts would be shared by the remaining 80%. Fry correctly asserted that it would be “irresponsible” to cut taxes when the state is facing a $1 billion budget shortfall.

Most Nebraska citizens would pay a high price for Ricketts’ tax cuts for the rich in the way of cuts in funding for schools, roads, the university system and programs that benefit the most vulnerable Nebraskans. UNL President Hank Bounds warned: “I worry about our fiscal health long-term. Our cash position is problematic. The only university system that has less is Kansas.” The passage of Ricketts’ tax cut scheme would prevent UNL from ever restoring the current painful budget cuts and would do permanent damage to our university system.

Nebraska’s Democratic state senators have pledged to filibuster Ricketts’ reckless tax cuts. I would urge everybody here to call your state senator and urge them to stand up to Ricketts. It is beyond reckless to cut taxes for the wealthy when Nebraska faces its deepest budget crisis since the recession of 2008–09. We must urge our senators to act as a check and balance on Ricketts. I know we can do it! Let’s get it done! Thank you for all that you do!

I’m a trial lawyer, a Democratic activist and a sports fan.

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