Don Walton: Big decisions loom for 2019 Legislature
Unlike this year’s legislative session, next year’s 90-day gathering is gonna be a biggie.
Next year, there are some really consequential decisions to be made.
Among them: Does the approaching flow of revenue from state sales taxes collected on ever-growing online purchases move into the state’s general fund to help fund state programs and services that have been constricted by tight budgeting due to lagging state revenue?
Or does that dynamic new revenue source get diverted into long-awaited property tax relief, denied to state government essentially forever?
On the other hand, is there a funding source that could provide substantial property tax relief already available in the current, and lengthy, array of state tax exemptions, deductions and incentives?
But there’s even more to be decided next year.
If expansion of Medicaid services to a new category of adult Nebraskans largely defined as the working poor is approved by voters in November, how will the state’s portion of those costs be funded?
With current or additional revenue?
With program cuts or reductions in services?
Wrapped up in all of that is future funding for investment in the University of Nebraska, services for Nebraskans who are not as fortunate as most of us, programs that assist children and the elderly, prison reform, you name it.
The 2013 law that diverted revenue raised by one-quarter cent of the state sales tax from the state’s general fund and into road construction was a boon to speeding up highway improvements, but it cut off part of the flow of revenue into the state’s general fund.
The resulting budget consequences have been especially apparent during the last couple of years.
Diverting what is bound to be a growing source of revenue from online state sales tax collections would have an additional, even more consequential — and lasting — impact.
Once that revenue source is gone, you don’t get it back.
It looks like the 2019 Legislature will have some big decisions to make.
And so the legislative election contests that lie ahead in November will have real consequences.
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And so will the new Legislature’s decisions in filling what’s likely to be two openings on the Appropriations Committee and in essentially reconstructing the Revenue Committee.
Sen. John Kuehn is not a candidate for re-election and he’ll be gone from Appropriations; Sen. Dan Watermeier is likely to be elected to a seat on the Public Service Commission and that would open up a second seat on a committee that essentially determines the state budget.
Meanwhile, the Revenue Committee will be up for grabs.
That’s where tax policy recommendations are made, although tax legislation becomes a free-for-all once floor debate begins, with agreement on any major changes likely to require the consent of at least 33 of the 49 senators to clear a filibuster waged by opponents.
Five of the Revenue Committee’s eight members will be gone next year; three senators appear to be potential candidates to succeed former Sen. Jim Smith as its chairman.
Committee assignments and leadership decisions will be formalized on the first day of the 2019 legislative session, but they will begin to be determined in earnest after the Nov. 6 general election tells us who all the players will be.
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An earlier story about a proposal to build a regional airport halfway between Omaha and Lincoln 50 years ago prompted some interesting e-mails.
Scuttling the idea was “a tragic decision,” one reader wrote.
Here’s the most interesting e-mail response:
“I don’t remember how many times Gov. (Norbert) Tiemann and I would be going to Omaha or back and he would say ‘Here’s where the airport should be.’
“We would stop at the pull-off and look at the valley and he would point out where the runway would be and the terminal.
“It would have been the greatest thing to happen to the two cities.
“He and Clayton (Yeutter) both told me that the powers in Omaha were vehement that they did not want the airport changed from the far side of Omaha.
“In some regards, his (Tiemann’s) wanting the airport between the cities fueled the Omaha money to not support him for his second term.”
Tiemann lost his 1970 bid for re-election to Jim Exon after winning a bruising Republican primary battle with Sen. Clifton Batchelder of Omaha.
Powerful voices in Omaha, including its corporate leadership and the Omaha World-Herald, already had joined hands in opposing Tiemann’s insistence that a state income tax needed to be enacted along with a state sales tax after voters forced creation of a new state tax system by repealing the state property tax.
Nine of the 11 senators who ultimately voted against that new sales-income tax system hailed from Omaha.
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* And so hard-ball politics enters a new stage in Lincoln akin to throwing at your head.
* Note to Donald Trump: “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening” would have been a lot more helpful during last year’s Husker football season, especially in the second half of the Iowa game.
* Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bob Krist points to Gov. Pete Ricketts’ declining numbers in Morning Consult’s newest polling figures. While the governor emerged with 50-34 percent approval/disapproval, Krist says it was 59-28 in a Morning Consult survey a year ago, leading him to argue that Ricketts is on the edge of “losing the majority of voters.”
* Gonna miss Jordy.