Ricketts’ Reign of Error Causing Nebraska Brain Drain

At the present time, the biggest problem that Nebraska faces is a shortage of workers. According to a recent Omaha World Herald article: “It’s a nationwide problem, as at least 42 states likewise have more available jobs than workers. But the disparity in Nebraska is the fifth highest among the states. Part of the problem is the long-standing “brain drain” of college-educated Nebraskans to other states. Over the past decade, Nebraska saw a net loss of 16,000 college graduates 25 years or older.”

Two leading Republicans in Norfolk are making a good faith effort to retain the coveted young professional demographic in Nebraska’s eighth most populous town. Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning and State Senate candidate Mike Flood are attempting to establish a riverfront entertainment district similar in concept to the Haymarket in Lincoln or the Old Market in Omaha. Moenning has correctly stated that you need to “have a community that people want to live in.”

Unfortunately, Pete Ricketts and his right wing allies in the unicameral are undermining the kind of investments that are being pursued in Norfolk. For the last twenty years, the GOP has owned the Governor’s mansion and the legislature lock, stock and barrel. The center piece of their failed economic development policies have been low taxes for the big corporations and the wealthy, as well as low wages for workers. It’s that failed strategy that has caused this brain drain of Nebraska’s best and brightest.

The recent announcement that Charles Schwab will acquire T.D. Ameritrade for $26 billion is yet more evidence that Nebraska’s low tax regime for big companies isn’t working. T.D. Ameritrade used tax-increment financing to build in an office park area in Omaha’s Old Mill neighborhood. Moreover, this Ricketts owned company grabbed $22 million in taxpayer funded corporate welfare payments.

The impending departure of T.D. Ameritrade puts 2,300 jobs in Omaha in jeopardy while two of the richest men in Nebraska stand to reap billions of dollars. According to a 2018 Nebraska GOP news release, the Ricketts family holds a 10% stake in the company. What that means is that the Governor and his family stand to vacuum up approximately $2.6 billion from this transaction.

The acquisition of T.D. Ameritrade follows on the heels of Conagra and Cabela’s leaving Nebraska. Nebraska’s taxpayers lost $160 million in subsidy payments with Conagra’s exit. Cablea’s, ConAgra, and now T.D. Ameritrade? Ricketts can’t keep major employers in Nebraska even when he has an in with the founder.

Nebraska’s political leaders were quick to blast Ricketts’ continuing reign of error. State Senator Megan Hunt contended: “What this brings to my mind is one of the top issues this next session: A huge new tax incentive program for businesses, which I voted against. I told supporters of the bill that my condition was a NE Employment Non-Discrimination Act which costs *nothing.*

They said no way.

Cabelas, Conagra, TD Ameritrade — we can count all the times that taxpayer-funded incentives didn’t keep jobs here... But we know the biggest incentive will always be shareholder profit, which we can’t ask taxpayers to subsidize.”

Jen Day, who is running for the legislature in Sarpy County based District 49 posted: “Nebraskans should be outraged that the Ricketts family is putting personal financial gain ahead of their livelihoods, especially after the estimated minimum of $22 million in taxpayer dollars that were given to TD Ameritrade via corporate tax incentives.”

In spite of his self dealing and myriad failures, Ricketts still claims he wants to “grow Nebraska.” Yet he has failed to grow wages for the middle class. A recent study from the Brookings Institute indicates that 44% of workers in Lincoln are in low wage jobs. (The median hourly wage is a meager $10.02.) Similarly, 39.2% of Omaha workers are in low wage occupations. People simply can’t afford to live in a community where wages are so low.

Despite this brain drain caused by Ricketts’ failed policies, it is evident that the billionaire Governor and his supporters in the Unicameral will be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic in next year’s session. Speaker Jim Scheer and other Republican senators are talking about passing a small, temporary property tax cut. There won’t be enough money to fix the state’s dysfunctional prison and child welfare systems. Moreover, there isn’t any money to increase Medicaid rates for Nebraska’s nursing homes. There have been several closures recently due to under funding.

If we are to cease slipping backwards as a state, we need major, structural changes. No half measures will do. As a starting point, we need new revenue streams to fund investments in our people and property tax relief for our farmers. Marijuana and gambling both must be legalized. In addition, we need to cut back substantially on the $200 to $300 million we spend every year on ineffectual corporate welfare payments to profitable companies that don’t need it.

Nebraska also needs to be a more welcoming place if we are to keep our young people. The legislature needs to pass LGBT non-discrimination protections, paid family leave, a higher minimum wage and a higher tax on millionaires. To raise Nebraska’s miserly wages, Nebraska’s right to work (for less) law must be repealed. Most people simply can’t live on $10 per hour.

Ricketts and his enablers in the legislature simply aren’t up to turning around this state. Their ossified refusal or inability to think outside of the box has perpetuated these long standing problems. It took a long time for Nebraska’s brain drain to develop and it will take a long time to solve it. The first step is to elect more Democrats to the legislature in 2020. I would recommend that you commit your time and/or money to good legislative candidates. Elections have consequences. Let’s chase the money changers out of the temple in 2020!

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