There is no doubt many Nebraskans are struggling amid rising COVID-19 case counts and unprecedented economic uncertainty. Nebraska legislators have an opportunity this legislative session to make the right decisions to protect Nebraska children and families.
When the pandemic forced the session into emergency adjournment, state lawmakers had time to press the reset button and reprioritize the legislative agenda to address the immediate needs of Nebraska families suffering in a time of health and economic crisis.
Unfortunately, senators returned committed to reducing state revenues by pursuing generous tax incentives for big corporations and a property tax plan with no guarantee to fully fund schools, one that binds future legislative bodies while great uncertainties exist for what lies ahead.
According to OpenSky Policy Institute, had the new property tax reform been passed in 2000, the state would have seen a 16% smaller General Fund budget in 2021, $788 million fewer than was actualized.
Passing LB 1107 into law would add further shortfalls to the state budget in the following biennium by $400 million dollars.
These staggering numbers force lawmakers to govern with fewer resources and the inability to be nimble in responding to Nebraskans’ policy priorities. When surveyed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, an overwhelming majority of Nebraskans (74%) “oppose tax breaks to stimulate the economy if it will impact the budget for education, roads, and other services.”
If Nebraska’s legislators concede support to LB 1107 without commitment to addressing policy that protects children and families, the state will plunge into an economic emergency, overwhelming our state programs and services. While property tax relief is important to Nebraskans (57% approve), such cuts rank behind their support for affordable and accessible healthcare (69%); creating high-quality jobs (61%); fully funding K-12 public education (59%); and ensuring a living wage (58%).
At a time where Nebraskans with the fewest resources are most in danger, providing corporate tax breaks is a check we can’t cash. Lawmakers should pause to reconsider these priorities and support the reinstatement of eviction moratoriums for renters and owners impacted by COVID-19, emergency child care subsidies advocated by Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, expansion of eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and immediate reprioritization of LB 311, an act to implement paid family and paid medical leave for working Nebraskans.
This is the bare minimum to better protect Nebraskans.
The real question still waiting to be answered: Why would our state senators give more than $700 million in state revenue to benefit large businesses and corporations, instead of ensuring every Nebraska child and family impacted by the current health and economic crisis has food on the table and a roof over their heads?
Hadley Richters is CEO of the Holland Children’s Movement, which is based in Omaha.