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Ricketts Reign of Error: Are We On The Brink Of Going the Way of Kansas?

Since the session began, the Unicameral has been mired in a fight instigated by Ricketts’ twenty seven right wing allies that is aimed at gutting the filibuster rule and running roughshod over the rights of the 22 other senators. Unfortunately, last week, the right wing was able to push through a rule that would lower the threshold for ending a filibuster from 33 votes to 30 votes.

These right wingers continue to be thwarted since it is my understanding that any rule changes can be still be filibustered. A group of Democratic, independent and moderate Republicans led by Adam Morfeld are continuing the debate in an attempt to block the final implementation of these new rules. What that means is that we are 27 days into the session and we still don’t have a set of permanent rules.

The session so far has been marked by unprecedented rancor due to the efforts of Ricketts’ allies to dominate the session. This ill will began the first day of the session after the 27 right wing senators met in secret and conspired to elect most of the leaders and the committee chairs. This secret coup obliterated the long standing Unicameral norms of non-partisanship and civility and set a very negative tone for the rest of the session. Former state senators have expressed to me that they are very disturbed about how the institution of the legislature has been changed for the worse.

Ricketts and his right wing allies have blown up the legislature in an attempt to pass some high end tax cuts for the wealthy even though the state currently faces a $1.2 billion budget deficit due to declining prices in the agriculture sector of our economy. This push for income tax cuts originally began with broad based support for property tax relief for Nebraska’s farmers. However, Ricketts and his allies — acting at the behest of billionaire funded think tanks — are trying to hijack this sentiment to ram through an income tax cut for Nebraska’s wealthiest citizens.

As the Lincoln Journal Star recently pointed out, Ricketts’ income tax plan would provide little in the way of benefit for most Nebraskans. For example, a married couple earning $55,000.00 per year would receive nothing under Ricketts’ plan. In contrast, the top 1% of Nebraska income earners would receive an annual tax cut in the amount of nearly $6,000.00.

The non-partisan Open Sky Policy Institute issued the following statement about Ricketts’ plan: “Almost 90 percent of the tax cut would go to wealthiest Nebraskans. The bill also would reduce revenue needed to fund schools, public safety and other services that support our state’s businesses, such the Department of Economic Development. LB 337 also would reduce revenue that could help Nebraska lessen its reliance on property taxes, which is the top concern of Nebraskans when it comes to taxes. Income tax cuts have not grown Kansas’ economy and there’s no reason to believe that would be any different here in Nebraska.”

Ricketts’ budget not only favors the wealthy — it also puts the future of the University of Nebraska in jeopardy since it cuts UNL’s budget by $50 million over the next two years. Senator Adam Morfeld stated that: “Cuts are not the only option. The Legislature needs to find revenue to (help) balance the budget. Investment in the university is an investment in young Nebraskans, in Nebraska families and in the future of the state. The university is a key element in retaining, attracting and building an educated and trained workforce, spurring the economy and growing the state.”

The billionaire Governor’s budget doesn’t only endanger the future of UNL, it also poses a threat to Nebraska’s long time bi-partisan policy of fiscal prudence. Our state has been a model of fiscal responsibility over the last 10 years and we have built up a hard earned rainy day cash reserve in the amount of approximately $600 million.

Ricketts’ budget plan would trigger future tax cuts based upon mere revenue projections. Even if those projections proved to be wrong, the wealthy would still get their tax cuts. In Oklahoma, erroneous budget projections triggered tax cuts that caused big funding cuts to the schools that resulted in a four day week for the schools in that state.

Renee Fry, executive director of the Open Sky Policy Institute said it best: “When I present to groups, they are shocked that we are even talking about tax cuts when we have a $1.2 billion shortfall.” Ricketts’ and the radical rights’ budget is just pure folly. It must be — and will be — defeated. I predict that most Nebraskans would be appalled once they learned more about this risky scheme.

As activists, we must stay engaged. Our activism on the federal level is already making a difference. The GOP’s extreme plans to gut the Affordable Care Act and Medicare are in serious jeopardy. We must transfer that activism and energy to the state level because we face a similar threat from the radical right.

I would recommend that you call your state senator and tell them that you are opposed to Ricketts’ irresponsible and reckless tax scheme. We can stop it since a bi-partisan coalition of senators are determined to do everything they can to derail this runaway freight train. Thank you for your help. We can do this! Let’s get it done!

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

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