Entering the Fourth Quarter
By Governor Pete Ricketts
April 29, 2019
Governor’s official photo here.
The Legislature is entering the last quarter of its 90-day Legislative session. In the final weeks, there are many opportunities for Senators to put some points on the board and make our state more competitive. There are also great risks, however, that Senators could raise taxes, spend too much, and threaten our state’s public safety. Here are a few of the top debates that will impact you as this legislative session starts to wind down.
Largest Tax Increase Ever: Last week, the Revenue Committee held a hearing on AM 1381 to LB 289, the largest tax hike in Nebraska history. It was met by overwhelming opposition. While only 4 people testified in favor of the tax increase at the public hearing, 49 people opposed it. Nebraskans testifying against AM 1381 represented agriculture, business, education, construction, grocers, retail, and local governments. Despite the public outcry against their plan, the Revenue Committee has only signaled they will add even more new taxes.
Another Tax Increase: Last week, I vetoed LB 472, which proposed to allow counties to raise the sales tax without a vote of the people. This bill is supposed to help Gage County pay off a hefty federal judgment they received. Traditionally, the Legislature has not authorized political subdivisions to impose new taxes on Nebraskans without a vote of the people. In Nebraska, we trust the people to make political decisions on a myriad of issues. These include referenda on the death penalty and Medicaid Expansion. Despite the claims by supporters of LB 472 to the contrary, I believe that you, the taxpayer, must have a voice in decisions about new taxes, and you will make the right decision for your community. Senators will consider my veto this week, and I urge them to sustain it.
Controlling Spending: It’s a 90-day session, which means the Legislature is working on the next two-year budget. In January, I proposed a budget which controlled spending, held the rate of growth to about 3 percent, and included $51 million of property tax relief. Last week, Senators voted to cut in half the amount of new property tax relief for you in the budget. This decision by the Appropriations Committee sends the message that the Legislature would rather keep taxpayer money for future spending than give taxpayers the relief they have been asking for. At a time when our farmers and homeowners need relief the most, it is wrong for Senators to withhold property tax credits. As the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee moves their budget package to the floor, I urge Senators to restore the full amount of property tax relief I recommended.
Public Safety: Over the last four years, Nebraska has made much-needed investments in our Corrections system to keep people safe. For instance, we recently signed a new contract to reward our high-performing and most experienced Corrections Officers. This new agreement will make it easier to attract and retain great teammates. As a part of the budget, Senators are now considering a request for 384 high-security prison beds. This will help Corrections better manage their highest-risk inmates and add capacity to our system. Over the years, some have suggested letting dangerous criminals out of prison early instead of building the capacity the system needs. This approach risks public safety and will not work.
Marijuana: Early in the session, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee held a hearing on LB 110, which will broadly legalize marijuana, ostensibly for medical use, by allowing people to grow marijuana in their own homes for any ailment. The truth about “medical" marijuana is that doctors cannot prescribe it and pharmacists cannot distribute it. That means both production and distribution are unregulated and left to multinational companies who have financial incentive to distribute high-potency, addictive marijuana. Nebraska has seen how marijuana legalization has wreaked havoc in other states. Just last November, Missouri legalized “medical” marijuana. By February, Missouri was flooded with marijuana candy that was packaged to market to kids. For example “Stoney Patch Kids” are packaged like Sour Patch Kids. Add to that the increase in traffic accidents and fatalities around the country due to stoned driving, and it is clear it’s a big risk to Nebraska’s families. While the bill has not advanced from committee yet, the committee may still bring it back. I will work with Senators to safeguard public health and stop LB 110 from becoming law.
As session starts to wind down, we are entering the most critical phase where Senators will decide whether to raise taxes or provide tax relief. Will they spend more of your money or lower your taxes? If you’d like to contact your Senator and let them know you want tax relief, not tax increases, you can find their information at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov. To contact me, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2244.