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Don Walton: Online sales tax, Medicaid legislative decisions loom

December 3, 2018

A couple of really big policy implementation decisions lie ahead as the 2019 legislative session approaches just over the hill.

The 2019 Legislature will be called upon to finally implement the delayed collection of the state sales taxes already owed for online purchases, and that means there’s going to be a very consequential decision to be made about where that new revenue goes.

If it’s pumped into the general fund along with other sales and income tax collections, that will provide additional revenue to help fund and support state programs and services while helping replenish the state budget reserve.

If it’s diverted to property tax relief or to some other designated purpose, there goes what may be the most dynamic source of potential new state revenue.

Retail sales are increasingly moving online and that growing revenue source represents an opportunity to help meet the future needs of state programs like corrections and social services and the University of Nebraska without requiring any increases in tax rates.

A big, consequential, long-range decision lies ahead.

The Legislature will also be called upon to implement the expansion of Medicaid coverage mandated by Nebraska voters in November.

Legislative opponents of Medicaid expansion, and there are many, presumably could attempt to slow-walk, hamper or underfund the expansion of coverage to 90,000 Nebraskans largely identified as the working poor.

If they could acquire at least 33 votes, they even could short-circuit the people’s decision, but that’s not likely to occur.

Property tax relief, state school aid and the next two-year budget sit atop a long list of challenges for the 2019 Legislature, but those critical policy decisions dealing with online sales tax revenue and Medicaid expansion implementation and funding will share the spotlight.

With room for a lot more.

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With formal signing of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement as a replacement for NAFTA completed, Rep. Adrian Smith says it’s time now to “address steel and aluminum tariffs levied against Canada and Mexico that have resulted in retaliation against our agricultural producers and other industries.”

The new USMCA trade deal “should be seen as an important first step toward restoring and expanding market opportunities for our agricultural producers around the world,” he said.

Smith said he plans to play an active role in in reviewing the new trade agreement as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The 3rd District congressman said he traveled to Montreal and Mexico City during the trade negotiations to “ensure the needs of Nebraska’s agricultural industry were being properly communicated.”

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Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens writes in a new book that the worst decisions made by the court during his tenure included the Heller ruling that broadly expanded the 2nd Amendment and the Citizens United ruling that opened the door to unlimited, and often dark, money dominating U.S. elections.

Stevens also included Bush v. Gore, the decision that ended the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida, essentially handing the presidency to George W. Bush.

All were “grave errors,” Stevens says.

Stevens describes the 2008 Heller decision that threw the door wide open to gun proliferation and, you might argue, to what has followed as a consequence as perhaps the worst ruling of all.

That ruling essentially dismissed the language written by the Founders in the 2nd Amendment’s opening and guiding clause.

All were 5-4 decisions and that reminds us just how important a nomination to the Supreme Court really is.

No Justice Merrick Garland sitting on the court today; instead, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

And now joined by Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

If you’re thinking really big and long-term, Stevens has reminded us once again that this is the branch of government where enduring power has come to reside.

You have power if you have the last word.

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Finishing up:

* Always, unceasingly, relentlessly, endlessly trying to cook the books: Efforts to change the conduct of the 2020 federal census would have fully intended consequences in terms of congressional and legislative redistricting decisions as well as allocation of federal funding. These guys never stop.

* Selection of Governor Ricketts as chairman of the national Republican Governors Association continues to raise the governor’s profile.

* If there ever was a must win for Husker basketball, Nebraska-Creighton at the arena on Saturday would be it for lots of reasons. It’s gonna be rowdy at PBA.

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