Halftime at the Unicameral
By Governor Pete Ricketts
March 23, 2021
Governor’s official photo here.
The Nebraska Legislature is halfway through its 2021 session. Senators are working on passing a budget that controls spending and delivers on Nebraskans’ top priority—property tax relief. The Unicameral is also working to achieve other important objectives like providing veterans tax relief, replacing the crumbling Nebraska State Penitentiary, and expanding our state’s broadband infrastructure.
At this halfway point in the legislative session, Senators are sorting the worthwhile bills from the unnecessary ones. It’s just as important for them to stop bad legislation as to enact good laws. There are a number of proposals that are pending about which I have concerns. In this column, I’ll share some information about three of the proposals that I am opposing in this session.
LB 147 (Bailouts for Omaha Public School Pensions). This legislation would entangle the State of Nebraska in the administration of the Omaha Public Schools (OPS) pension fund. The OPS pension fund is a mess. It faces an $848 million shortfall due to the mismanagement of the trustees appointed by the school district to oversee the Omaha School Employees Retirement System (OSERS).
The State of Nebraska has stepped in to set the investment strategy for the OPS pension system. This is wise so that the system doesn’t make bad investment decisions again. LB 147, however, would take the next step of making the state government responsible for managing the day-to-day affairs of the OPS pension, including disbursing pension funds. This would put the State on a slippery slope toward taking on the huge financial liability resulting from the pension fund’s poor investments.
Nebraskans value local control of basic government services. Our communities take pride in managing their own affairs. This control comes with responsibility. When local political subdivisions make bad decisions, it’s their duty to assume responsibility for the consequences and work to set things right. In the case of the OPS pension fund, bad investment decisions led to huge losses. The Omaha World-Herald reports that over 20% of the funds “remain locked into those poor investments by contract.”
A State takeover of administering the day-to-day affairs of the fund is a step towards exposing state taxpayers to liability for bad decisions made by the OSERS trustees. Senators should oppose passing a law that could eventually lead the State to inherit the financial problem. After OPS finishes shoring up their pension fund, we can revisit whether the State should play a role in managing it for them.
LB 298 (Benefits for Illegal Immigrants). This bill would grant unemployment benefits to certain categories of illegal immigrants living in Nebraska. This would weaken existing state law that forbids spending taxpayer money to give unemployment benefits to people illegally residing in our state. The current crisis at our nation’s border with Mexico shows the consequences of watering down immigration laws. Nebraska shouldn’t follow suit.
Nebraska was built by pioneers in search of opportunities. We have welcoming communities, and we’re creating great jobs for families looking to make a new start. Our respect for law and order is one of the things that makes the Good Life the best place in the world to live, work, and raise a family. I oppose any attempt by the Nebraska Legislature to sidestep our nation’s immigration laws.
LB 561 (Expanded Gambling). This proposal is being presented as a bill that would implement voters’ 2020 decision to legalize casino gambling in Nebraska. However, it’s actually an attempt to expand gambling beyond the scope approved by voters last fall. Among other things, LB 561 would authorize electronic keno in addition to what voters approved just last year. This portion of the bill was not introduced transparently. It was added as an amendment through a committee executive session without being previously discussed in a legislative hearing. Just a few years ago, in 2017, Senators fully debated a bill to authorize electronic keno and rejected it by a solid majority.
Nebraskans voted to allow for casino-style gambling at racetracks in Nebraska. The focus right now should be on implementing this ballot petition. The people of Nebraska did not vote to authorize electronic keno. I will oppose attempts to authorize forms of gambling beyond what the voters approved.
As the Legislature moves forward, I encourage Nebraskans to be vigilant about the bills being debated. Consider contacting your State Senator to give them a “halftime” briefing on the issues that matter to you. Their contact information is available at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov. By voicing your opinion, you can help ensure the Legislature puts the priorities of the people above special interests. If you have questions about my legislative priorities, email email@example.com or call 402-471-2244.