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Ricketts And Republicans In The Unicameral Are Badly Out Of Touch

University of Nebraska officials and prominent business leaders have sounded the alarm — they believe Nebraska has a workforce crisis. Apparently, companies in Nebraska are having a hard time finding qualified employees. UNL President Hank Bounds said: “We have a workforce crisis in this state.” According to Bryan Slone, the president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce: “This is now the most pressing economic issue in the state.”

This crisis has developed while the Nebraska state government has been owned lock, stock and barrel by the GOP for the last twenty years. The GOP’s economic strategy has been a total reliance on supply side economics. The keystone of the GOP’s economic development policies has been the Nebraska Advantage Act.

The Nebraska Advantage Act is a program which annually doles out $300 million in corporate subsidies. The Nebraska Department of Revenue reported in 2012 that the jobs that were supposedly created as a result of these tax breaks would have probably been created in the absence of these payments. If you give this program the benefit of the doubt and buy into the assumption that it creates new jobs, the cost of jobs created was estimated to range between $5,159 and $208,559 per full-time employee.

Ricketts and the Republicans in the current legislative session are doubling down on this failed strategy. The focus of the current legislative session are property tax cuts. The billionaire governor proposed a plan which consists of $275 million in property tax relief and a proposed constitutional amendment that would cap property tax increases at 3 percent a year. Ricketts’ proposal has already been rejected by the Revenue Committee.

At the same time, the Revenue Committee has come up with their own plan which would hike the state sales tax rate by 1/2 of a cent, raise the state cigarette tax and end some sales tax exemptions to help finance $500 million in additional annual property tax cuts delivered through more state aid to public schools. Ricketts has already come out in opposition to this bill and has falsely claimed it is a tax increase. (The bill is revenue neutral — it is a tax shift.)

Opposition to the Revenue Committee bill is also coming from the left. Democratic Senator Sue Crawford said that before she would support the bill: “The earned income tax credit needs to be increased for low-income Nebraskans — to offset the sales tax increase.” The AFL-CIO tweeted: “ We oppose any proposal that disproportionately increases taxes on low-income families. LB289 would increase the state sales taxes by 3/4 cent and the effects would fall heaviest on low-income families. Tell your senator to oppose LB289.”

The problem with the Nebraska Republicans’ agenda is that it isn’t what the people of the state want and need. A recent poll by the Holland Institute indicates that Ricketts and most Republicans in the Unicameral are badly out of touch. In this poll, the voters by a margin of 55% to 42% indicated that they favored an increased emphasis on expanding middle-class opportunities, over cutting taxes for businesses and families. Only 27% were of the belief that the state government was doing a good job on college affordability and 70% regarded it to be fair or poor. “ A clear majority of Nebraskans would rather state government focus on expanding middle-class opportunities, over cutting taxes for families and businesses,” said Hadley Richters, the CEO of the Holland Institute.

What Nebraska voters really want and need are higher wages, an affordable education and access to decent and affordable health care. Instead, the GOP majority in the Unicameral is doing the exact opposite in this session. Recently, the conservative Republicans beholden to Ricketts blocked the following initiatives aimed at the middle class and working families:

  • A ban on LGBT job discrimination.
  • A bill calling for limited and highly regulated medical marijuana.
  • Paid family and medical leave.
  • Higher taxes on millionaires.
  • A higher minimum wage for tipped workers.

In addition to those middle class friendly reforms, the Ricketts Administration is slow walking the voter approved Medicaid expansion and delaying its implementation until 2020. Moreover, younger Nebraskans and their parents are paying higher tuition rates at UNL and other state colleges due to years of budget cuts made to pay for $800 million in tax cuts approved by the legislature between 2005 and 2015.

If the Chamber of Commerce and Nebraska businesses want to keep young Nebraskans in this state, they will have to end their obsession with tax cuts and low wages. This has been a losing strategy for twenty years. They need to tell their lobbyists to stand down and support these middle class family reforms. Otherwise, young people will continue to leave Nebraska and seek opportunities in other states.

At the same time, progressives need to continue to fight for change in Nebraska. I know its hard due to the large Republican voter registration in Nebraska. But we can’t give up. We need to take our state back from the modern money changers in the temple!

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

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