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It is showtime.

A sweeping, already politically contentious tax reform proposal and a two-year state budget plan that will help shape the state's future are leaving their off-Broadway committee rooms and headed to the big stage this week.

On Tuesday, the Legislature will begin to debate a broad and ambitious tax reform package that is under intense fire from Gov. Pete Ricketts; on Wednesday, it will be the 2019-2021 state budget's turn.

It all begins on the 71st day of a 90-day legislative session that will exit the stage in early June.

The forecast for the multi-faceted tax package that's designed to deliver substantial property tax relief through the vehicle of increased state aid to schools is cloudy and stormy. Lots of thunder and lightning already; gale winds ahead. 

Ricketts has mounted an all-out assault on the proposal, branding it as "the largest tax increase in state history," a plan that he says would be fueling spending growth.

"It is not," Revenue Committee Chairwoman Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn responded in a late-night email message last week.  

"The governor is wrong," she said. 

That's two credentialed Republicans on a collision course.

Linehan was former Sen. Chuck Hagel's chief-of-staff and held a number of posts in the George W. Bush administration, including a State Department assignment in Iraq. 

Before all of that, she managed Hagel's successful, long-shot 1996 Senate campaign, upsetting Attorney General Don Stenberg in the Republican primary election and Democratic Gov. Ben Nelson in the general election.

This will be even more of a long-shot challenge for her. 

The legislative numbers are weighted on the governor's side.

Linehan has to round up support from 33 of the 49 senators to crash through a filibuster barrier that can be erected by opponents of the tax plan. That's the biggest legislative hurdle.

If the plan somehow cleared that barrier, it then would need to gain 30 votes to jump a gubernatorial veto. At that point, Ricketts would be even more heavily engaged and senators seeking re-election in 2020 would be clearly placed on notice. It would not be subtle.  

Doggedly and patiently, Linehan shepherded the tax plan through a committee equally divided between rural senators and metropolitan Omaha lawmakers, listening to concerns, inviting and pushing each member of the committee to express his or her views, holding evening meetings, accepting changes, altering the plan, delaying votes that would divide the committee until the time came to move the bill.

It was a 6-0 vote to send the proposal to the floor, but two committee members — one a farmer from rural Nebraska, one who hails from Omaha — decided to withhold their votes.

That was an early signal of the struggle that lies ahead.

That 33-vote filibuster figure is not the only number that immediately stands in the way. 

Opponents will be crowding the Rotunda outside the legislative chamber this week; that's where lobbyists gather and every segment of the economy impacted by a proposed sales tax increase or loss of a tax break or exemption or alert to potential floor amendments will be represented.   

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You'll also find the governor's people out there, usually off to the side.

There will be urgent huddles with senators moving in and out of the legislative chamber. It's crunch time. 

OK, let's do it, Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., curtain time.

* * *

Finishing up:

* There are a lot more legislative proposals that would reduce state revenue than those that would fund a healthy revenue stream for investments in state programs and services.

* After describing Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un as "murderous tyrants," Sen. Ben Sasse made this pointed, if not directed, statement: "Americans must remain clear-eyed about who our friends really are and realistic about empty promises from adversaries." 

* What to think of William Barr?  

* So, the Huskers are showing up in Top 25 pre-season football polls once again. 

* And Fred Hoiberg is searching America; Scott Frost could be the guide; Johnny Cash could provide the music with "I've Been Everywhere."

* And the Yankees are hanging close with a parade of no-names while continuing to lead the league in medical care.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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