Ricketts’ Stinging Defeat

Ricketts’ signature proposal for the legislative session was a bill (LB408) that would’ve imposed an arbitrary 3% annual limit on local property tax increases. The billionaire governor proposed to use these cuts to education to fund additional property tax cuts. These tax cuts would have been in addition to the $500 million in unfunded property tax cuts passed in the 2020 session.

The 24 largest school districts in Nebraska opposed Ricketts’ regressive plan. Stand for Schools — a non profit working to support public education in Nebraska — tweeted: “Public schools already work under levy limits and spending limits. Ricketts is making the case property taxes are too high because of school spending — which is totally false. They are high because of decades of underinvestment by the state. According to the state’s own funding formula, public schools have only been fully funded in 4 of the last 17 years. Nebraska schools don’t have a spending problem; the state has a funding problem. A tired excuse by Ricketts & friends to continue underfunding public education.”

Fortunately, Ricketts’ signature proposal was blocked by a filibuster last week and has now been eliminated from this year’s legislative agenda. The 29–8 roll call vote to stop the filibuster fell four votes short of the 33 required to advance the bill. Eleven senators decided not to cast a vote.

During the debate over LB 408, Senator Adam Morfeld argued: “Our constituents elected local leaders to make those decisions. This would take control away from local governments when you say you support local control.” Senator Anna Wishart added: “Decisions are best made at the local level. ”

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, Morfeld tweeted shortly after Ricketts’ bill was killed.

The most interesting aspect of the debate over the bill was a discussion about why young people are leaving Nebraska in droves. Every year, approximately 2,000 young people leave Nebraska. Our state rates a dismal 40th in youth out migration.

Conservative lawmakers aligned with Ricketts contended that it’s high property taxes that are causing young people to leave. That is simply absurd since most young people can’t afford to own property due to low wages and student loan debt.

Senator Megan Hunt gave a very compelling speech on the issue and tweeted this out shortly after she finished it:

“Lawmakers: We will never know why young people don’t want to live in Nebraska.

Young people: Raise the wage, fair housing, public transportation, lgbtq equity, death penalty, gun reform, cannabis legalization

Lawmakers: I guess we’ll just stay focused on lowering property taxes.”

Senator Hunt’s agenda for reform would be more effective in ending youth brain drain as opposed to another tax cut for their landlords. Other worthwhile ideas would be to abolish the right to work (for less) law, raise taxes on the super wealthy and end $200 to $300 billion in ineffectual corporate welfare payments.

The money saved from these unnecessary tax breaks for the super wealthy and corporations could be plowed into lower tuition for college students and student loan relief. This kind of reform would allow young people to start families and buy homes. That would give the state economy a big boost.

If we want to have these kinds of reforms, we need to win more elections. The 2022 election cycle will be here before you know it. This election will determine whether the right wing of the GOP will wreck the state with ruinous tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Ricketts will be termed out and we will be electing a new governor. In addition, several Democratic and moderate Republican state senators won’t be running for re-election due to term limits. We have our work cut for us in 2022. Let’s get it done! Let’s leave it all out on the field! We can do this!

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Dennis Crawford

Dennis Crawford

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I’m a trial lawyer, defender of democracy and a sports fan.