Heavy lifting looms for lawmakers

Lawmakers failed (again) to deliver promised property tax relief.
Some blame the Governor for meddling and mucking up the water with income tax relief. Others say it was senators who were betting that a ballot issue would be the answer.
The ballot issue folded and lawmakers were left to drag the issue to next year’s session, much like the unwieldy creature it has become.
But hey, it’s an election year and taking stands on things like taxes can translate into losses. It is safe to say that Governor Pete Ricketts would have liked to use the success of “his” tax bill as a plum. But “his” bill – carried, no make that pushed – by Senator Jim Smith of Papillion didn’t get advanced and died at the end of the session with better proposals from several other senators.
So, what’s next?
There will be a lot of talk. Talk is cheap. It is what politicians do when they face reelection. It’s what they do when they don’t have any good ideas or are afraid that the ideas they do have might offend someone or cost them votes.
This group of 49 has talked about a lot of things:  corrections; expanded health care coverage; property tax relief. The list goes on. Prisons are still overcrowded; the neediest Nebraskans can’t afford health insurance; property taxes are still too high.   
The statewide petition drive to place a billion-dollar property tax relief initiative on Nebraska’s general election ballot this November was suddenly abandoned.
The proposal mirrored a bill sponsored by Senator Steve Erdman of Bayard. The Erdman bill and proposals from Senator Tom Briese of Albion and Curt Friesen of Henderson all fell by the wayside as Smith pushed the Governor’s bill.
When the petition abandonment was announced, Erdman said he felt like he had been stabbed in the back (again). Not that anybody is keeping track, but the first wound was when Ricketts gave money to the campaign of Erdman’s opponent two years ago. The second came during the recently completed legislative session when his bill didn’t get top priority.
Perhaps the initiative petition was ill fated from the start. Organizers were gathering signatures to get the matter on the November ballot when spokesman Trent Fellers of Lincoln announced they should have sought a proposed constitutional amendment as a more secure way to guarantee property tax relief.
The proposal promised property tax relief equal to 50 percent of local school property tax needs. The measure would leave it to the Legislature and the governor to determine how to increase state revenue and/or reduce funding for state programs and services to pay for the relief which carried an estimated $1 billion price tag.
However, because the proposal was framed in terms of an initiated law rather than written into the state constitution, Fellers said there had been growing concern among initiative sponsors that the Legislature could take it away.
Well duh! Did somebody think of that before the signature drive started? The Legislature is empowered to amend, modify or repeal any initiative that is enacted by the electorate with a two-thirds vote, or at least 33 of the 49 senators. Erdman said he can’t believe that Fellers and others involved didn’t know that.
He prefers a theory that somebody put pressure on somebody else “to end this.” He said it looks like Nebraskans are going to get the same kind of property tax relief they’ve gotten for the last 40 years, “and that’s nothing.”
There is speculation that it could have been Governor Deep Pockets threatening to finance a campaign to undo the initiative. It wouldn’t be out of character for Ricketts who threw at least $300,000 at a petition drive to overturn the Legislature’s repeal of the death penalty. Ricketts also gave financial support to several challengers to defeat senators who overrode his veto of the death penalty.
As I’ve said before, he can do whatever he wants to with his own—or the family’s—money. It’s a free country.
But, am I the only person who finds it distasteful – yea even disgusting—that he uses personal wealth to get his own way?
Let’s get that topic on the table and discuss it for a change.

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