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Don Walton: Medicaid expansion could impact voter turnout

July 8, 2018

Gov. Pete Ricketts’ cautious reaction to what appears to be a successful petition drive to place a Medicaid expansion initiative on the November ballot may be an early sign that the issue could be a factor in this year’s election.

While the governor, through his campaign spokesman, pointed to concerns about the proposal’s impact on funding for current Medicaid recipients, a pool largely composed of children and the elderly, Democratic challenger Bob Krist quickly announced his support for the expansion of assistance to about 90,000 low-income, working Nebraskans who are uninsured now.

Supporters of the initiative say more than 133,000 Nebraskans signed their petitions.

Those are two big figures that conceivably could translate into voters in November.

It’s interesting to note that when a petition drive to increase the state’s minimum wage gained access to the 2014 general election ballot, it not only won overwhelming voter approval, but the voter turnout in the metropolitan Omaha congressional district contributed to Democratic congressional nominee Brad Ashford’s upset of veteran Republican Rep. Lee Terry.

But, whoa, there were other factors at play in the Terry-Ashford contest that were working against the Republican congressman. Terry already was politically vulnerable, so it would be a mistake to suggest that the initiative voter turnout was an overriding factor.

And yet, no doubt it motivated some of the voter turnout.

The 2014 statewide vote on the minimum wage increase: 311,000 for; 212,000 against.

* * *

A reader provides a reminder that the final segment of Interstate 80 in Nebraska was financed with state highway bonds.

Let’s take a quick look back at that history.

In 1968, Nebraska voters approved the limited use of highway bond financing — a proposal championed by former Gov. Norbert Tiemann — by a 52-48 percent margin.

The Legislature authorized issuance of $20 million of highway bonds in 1969.

Sixteen years later, in an interview with George Koster at the Department of Roads, former State Roads Director Jerry Strobel talked about the wisdom of financing completion of I-80 with borrowed money.

“It was a good thing because in later years, when inflation went up in a straight line, the work we did would have cost three or four times more,” Strobel said.

“It gave us a highway across the state and allowed us to be the first state to complete its main-line interstate.”

There are times when borrowing might make more sense.

Strobel, who was roads director under former Govs. Kay Orr and Ben Nelson, is the father of U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, who has continued to be a road warrior.

When she was a member of the Legislature, Fischer authored the bill that assigned a portion of the state’s sales tax revenue to highway construction.

And now she is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s surface transportation subcommittee in Washington.

* * *

An online survey about property tax reform now being conducted by Jim Vokal and the Platte Institute asks most of the right questions, including:

* Are you willing to pay other taxes in exchange for paying less property tax?

* Which taxes would you rather pay more of in exchange for paying less property tax?

* If you are willing to pay more sales tax, which of the following purchases would you be willing to pay sales taxes on in exchange for a lower property tax? (nine options are listed)

* If you wouldn’t mind paying more sales tax for property tax reform: Given the choice, would you rather pay a higher sales tax rate or pay sales tax on purchases you do not pay on currently?

That’s an instructive survey, but missing from the list of alternative revenue options: a full range of tax incentives, tax deductions, tax exemptions.

* * *

Finishing up:

* And so Scott Pruitt finally did something to protect the environment.

* Rodger Roose of Scottsbluff has announced his candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Okay, but not quite as eye-popping as the 1968 presidential candidacy of a retired Valentine cowboy named Americus Liberator.

* It’s amazing how many people walk across the street without even looking, some intently working their cellphones. Yep, you’ve got the right of way. But you’re still dead.

* Vandalism at Republican state headquarters in Lincoln: criminal, wrong, dumb and counterproductive politically.

* So, here comes the trade war with Nebraska agriculture destined to be one of its major casualties. President Trump won 91 of Nebraska’s 93 counties, all but Douglas and Lancaster, in 2016. In rural Nebraska, he won by huge margins.

* The two featured speakers at last week’s celebration of the apparent success of the Medicaid expansion petition drive: Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln and former Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln. A Democrat and a Republican.

* Drum roll: Supreme Court nominee followed by NATO in Brussels, pomp and demonstrations in London, Putin in Helsinki, a little drama dead ahead.

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