Nebraska senators are eagerly lining up with ideas on how to spend $1 billion in federal pandemic recovery assistance and an surprisingly healthy flow of state revenue. Suggestions include the creation of a giant reservoir between Lincoln and Omaha, high speed rail between the two cities, housing needs and criminal justice reform.
The process of choosing and approving projects that will take place early in the legislative session next year might, at times, be contentious. But being able to spend without raising taxes on new projects that will benefit local communities and the state -- and take credit for the development in an election year -- is the easiest and most enjoyable of legislative activities.
Meanwhile, Nebraska’s second house, the people, may very well be asked to act on a far tougher agenda in 2022 with petitions now circulating to place on the November ballot an increase in the minimum wage to $15, approval of medical marijuana and a requirement of voter identification.
That action on issues that are clearly of concern to the tens of thousands of Nebraskans who will have to sign the petitions in order to get the issues on the ballot doesn’t come out of a vacuum. Nor is it being triggered by “outside" forces who want to see the ballot issues approved for their financial gain.
Instead, it is the result of the Legislature’s failure to act on any of those matters.
Those issues are truly contentious and to result in legislation would require compromise and a sincere effort at governing, rather than partisan grandstanding or utilizing legislative tools like the filibuster to prevent action on issues that are important to constituents and the state as a whole.
In other words, it means that senators should do the job for which they are elected, representing the people of their districts and working to implement policies that will benefit the state rather than kicking them over to the voters by their failure to act.
That failure to act is, sadly, nothing new. Over the last decade, Nebraska voters have had to approve casino gambling and Medicaid expansion due to legislative inaction and outright opposition from the Ricketts administration.
It is getting close to too late to head off the 2022 initiatives. But while the Legislature goes on its spending-with-minimal-consequences spree over the first half of next year, it should also take up and find solutions to issues like raising the minimum wage and approving medical marijuana before Nebraskans do so at the polls.
Voters, in fact, should demand action on those and other contentious issues rather than allowing inaction to again make the people go through the cumbersome initiative process, then go to the polls to make decisions that the Legislature seemingly cannot.