In his closing address to the Unicameral last week, Governor Pete Ricketts did the best he could to spin the session as some kind of victory for himself. Ricketts touted over $1.7 billion in tax cuts over the next two years but he didn’t mention that most of these unaffordable tax cuts were passed in 2020. What’s more, most of the tax cuts that passed during the 2021 session were low hanging fruit and sailed through with near unanimous support. The tax cuts on Social Security and Veterans benefits were long over due and would’ve passed in the absence of Ricketts’ active involvement.
Ricketts also ignored the fact that during this session, tax breaks for corporations and the special interests were funded with cuts in programs for disabled children. That black day in the history of the Unicameral reflects Ricketts and his supporters’ belief that rich people don’t have enough money and that the poor and the middle class have it too easy.
What Ricketts also tried to bury was that his signature legislative proposal (LB 408) to pay for more property tax breaks with cuts to education was soundly rejected earlier in the session. LB 408 was never about property tax relief and would not have achieved it — it was about advancing Ricketts’ goal to destroy local governments ability to serve Nebraskans because he can’t control them, Senator Adam Morfeld tweeted shortly after Ricketts’ bill was killed. This stinging defeat was the first sign that Ricketts’ influence over the body has diminished and that he is a lame duck.
The dramatic conclusion of the legislative session further cemented Ricketts’ lame duck status. The billionaire governor issued three vetoes in the 2021 legislative session - on the state taking over the management of the troubled Omaha teachers’ fund, and on bills expanding eligibility for SNAP and heating assistance. On the last day of the session, all three of Ricketts’ vetoes were overridden with overwhelming bi-partisan support.
The debate over Senator John McCollister’s bill to expand eligibility for food assistance put into sharp relief the differences in the philosophy between Ricketts and his opponents. Right wing extremist Senator Mike Groene falsely claimed that food stamp recipients are a bunch of lazy bums: “It’s hard to break that habit, to start getting up early in the morning, show up for work and show up every day. It’s very easy to be complacent and stay at home. That’s human nature. I’m not judging anybody on welfare. It could easily be me. That’s why I don’t think I’ll ever retire. I might end up on that couch, and not want to get back up.”
Senator Adam Morfeld fired back with a stinging reply: “As a person who grew up in a family that was on food stamps, I can tell you that people work, and can still be on food stamps. I get really sick and tired of hearing all this nonsense about how folks who are on these programs are somehow lazy, can’t get off their mother’s couch, can’t do their job. What a bunch of nonsense!”
Kevin O’Hanlon of the Nebraska Democratic Party did a great job in describing the former T.D. Ameritrade executive’s political and economic beliefs: “Ricketts, who was born with a gold spoon in his mouth, showed again that he has no empathy or compassion for those Nebraskans in need by vetoing a pair of measures meant to help them.”
We won some important victories in this session but the fight is far from over. Already, Senator Lou Ann Linehan has said that she and Ricketts want to pass significant “tax reform” next year. We know what that means — another undeserved tax cut for the rich and corporations.
Lurking in the background is a radical tax scheme hatched by a corporate front group which calls themselves Blueprint Nebraska. This right wing group wants to double down on Nebraska’s failed trickle down policies by funding what they call a “significant reduction or the elimination of individual and corporate income taxes” with a huge increase in sales taxes. As I’ve discussed here before, Nebraska’s super wealthy are already lightly taxed and Nebraska corporations already grab $200 to $300 million per year in corporate welfare.
The non-partisan Open Sky think tank blasted this proposal. Open Sky executive director Renee Fry contended that “most of the financial benefits of any income tax cuts would flow to high earners, leaving most Nebraskans with a net tax increase. This is a tax cut for wealthy families that low- and middle- income families would pay for,” she said.
Engraved over the entrance to Nebraska’s state capitol are the words: “The salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen.” Those words have never been more relevant. I would urge all of you to contact your state senators and let your views be known. In addition to that, we have crucial elections in the 2022 election cycle. The future of free elections and the rule of law will be on the ballot. The stakes couldn’t be any higher. Now let’s leave it all out on the field!