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Ricketts Reign Of Error — The Unicameral’s Shaky Start

Nebraska is in a slow and inexorable decline due to the ongoing incompetence of Ricketts and the Republicans who have owned the state government lock, stock and barrel since 1999. We are experiencing an ongoing out migration of young people and face a worker shortage. This is what the GOP has to show for after over twenty years of one party rule.

During this period of Republican dominance, Nebraska’s farmers have been devastated by soaring property taxes. A report from the Department of Agriculture indicated that property taxes for Nebraska’s 43,000 farmers have increased a whopping 206% since 1997! An AP story that covered this issue profiled a farmer who owns farmland in both Colorado and Nebraska. Third generation wheat farmer Doug Schmale said: “The last time I ran the numbers, I was paying somewhere close to five or six times as much in Nebraska than I was paying in eastern Colorado. And the better land, and the better school system, is in eastern Colorado.”

The biggest obstacle to progress on property taxes is Ricketts’ my way or the highway attitude on taxes. Ricketts and his supporters in the legislature adhere to the GOP’s so-called no new taxes theology. They consider any scaling back of special interest sales tax exemptions or corporate welfare as a tax increase. Moreover, they oppose new revenue streams from legalizing gambling and marijuana.

The so-called solution offered up by Ricketts and his “crickets” in the unicameral is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Senator Lou Linehan and the Revenue Committee are pushing out a bill that would fund a 15% property tax cut with big cuts in school aide. A broad coalition of urban, suburban and small city schools have come out in opposition to the bill. It is doubtful it will get past a filibuster.

This ongoing failure by Ricketts and the Republicans in the legislature has led to a petition drive aimed at placing on the ballot a measure — if passed — that would grant property owners a 35% rebate and cut the Nebraska state budget by $1.5 billion or a whopping 33%. Don’t believe this can’t pass. Back in 1966, Nebraska voters passed a property tax ballot initiative that essentially wiped out its property tax system. When Norbert Tiemann took office as governor in 1967, the state government had virtually no sources of revenue.

In the unlikely event the legislature can come to a consensus on property taxes, that won’t do anything to convince young people to stay in Nebraska. Unfortunately, the state has a reputation as an unwelcoming destination for those outside of the GOP coalition of older, white voters. A coalition of so-called Christian conservatives led by Ricketts and his “crickets” have yanked the welcome mat for anybody who isn’t like them.

This hostility to people outside of the GOP/right wing coalition was exemplified by a recent editorial in the Norfolk Daily News. This bizarre op/ed took the position that there are valid reasons for firing people for simply being LGBT. Oddly enough, this piece didn’t give the reader of the piece a so-called “valid reason.”Unfortunately, Ricketts added insult to injury when he posted this negative opinion piece in his twitter feed to show his support for it.

Similarly, Ricketts sent another signal that Nebraska isn’t for everyone. After the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce endorsed Senator Patty Pansing Brooks’ bill to protect LGBTQ+ citizens from employment discrimination, Ricketts’ spokesperson blasted his erstwhile corporate allies. He was joined in opposition to the bill by the Nebraska Catholic Church and the Nebraska Family Alliance. (The latter group is a coalition of Christians who label themselves as conservatives.) This was yet another lost opportunity for Nebraska.

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.

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