You are the owner of this article.
Don Walton: Tax reform, flood response could shape future
editor's pick topical

Don Walton: Tax reform, flood response could shape future


It's beginning to get interesting now.

The second half of a legislative session is when all the scoring occurs.

Committees wrap up their public hearings, the Legislature moves into all-day sessions, the big stuff begins to pop up on the agenda, the tough decisions need to be made and now, suddenly, we've got a ballgame.

Lots of big decisions lie ahead in coming weeks, including a daring effort by the Revenue Committee to drive significant property tax relief with a plan for major tax reform.  

And everything — appropriations, revenue, education funding, the pace of correctional reform, the aspirations and quality of the University of Nebraska, funding to implement the Medicaid expansion directed by Nebraska voters — is impacted now by the natural disaster that swept ruthlessly across the state this past week.

Senators and Gov. Pete Ricketts face the real challenge of repairing the damage and healing the wounds as quickly as possible without sacrificing the future.

The storms and flooding and all the accumulated suffering, loss and damage will — and certainly should — receive priority attention. But whether that disaster will be allowed to limit or cripple Nebraska's future will largely be up to elected leadership who may need to be both brave and bold now.

That adds a sense of challenge and drama to the legislative days that lie ahead before senators head home in early June. 

* * *

Let's take a quick look at this session's Revenue Committee.

Four rural senators and four urban senators, all from metropolitan Omaha.

Eight veteran senators, no freshmen, five committee newcomers, a single Democrat. 

They are led by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, an experienced, accomplished and savvy negotiator and wagon-master who was former Sen. Chuck Hagel's chief of staff in Washington and a veteran of high-profile assignments at the State Department.

Linehan has actively engaged each member of the committee in executive session discussions leading toward group formation of a tax reform proposal targeted at property tax relief.

Everyone has been involved in the early committee negotiations and, so far, there are no visible holdouts, although Linehan has made sure that there has not been a single committee vote on the elements that are being considered for inclusion in a tax reform package.

No votes means no divisions formed or set in stone yet.

The emerging tax reform structure is currently — and tentatively — built around a one-half cent increase in the state sales tax rate and it is laser-focused on providing local property tax relief.

The daunting challenge ultimately facing the committee is the legislative requirement to attract at least 33 votes to overcome a filibuster by senators opposed to the bill once a proposal reaches the floor.

And a sales tax rate hike presumably might be a philosophical and/or political (as distinguished from partisan) hurdle for most, if not all, of the 18 members of the non-partisan, 49-senator Legislature who are registered as Democrats, as well as for Sen. Ernie Chambers, who is a registered non-partisan.

Some of those senators from what is largely urban Nebraska may prefer more reliance on an income tax component or repeal of multiple sales tax exemptions rather than an increase in the sales tax rate. 

Major tax reform will not be easy to accomplish. Do the math.

There are plenty of challenges ahead for any big tax reform bill; the Capitol Rotunda is full of them every day the Legislature is in session.

And a tentative committee blueprint that also would eliminate a series of sales tax exemptions while increasing the state cigarette tax should assure a full house gathering outside the doors to the legislative chamber.

We've got a little drama ahead. 

* * *

Finishing up:

* Three enormous billion-dollar hits to Nebraska agriculture are simultaneously battering Nebraska's basic industry: Devastating flooding, tariff-driven trade losses and rising property taxes during a time of declining income.

* "The happiest people I meet have left Congress and have become mayors and governors," New York Times columnist David Brooks told a McCook luncheon audience last week.

* It also works in reverse: Former Nebraska governors who have gone to the Senate will tell you they preferred the old job.

* Al Nissen, former University of Nebraska basketball player, was inducted into the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame over the weekend with some Lincoln buddies on hand. Nissen played in high school for the Miller Rustlers.

* Baseball returns this week on the same day the Sweet Sixteen begins; a welcome embarrassment of riches.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or

On Twitter @LJSDon.


Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News

Husker News