2017 Legislative session — “successful” or “moral disaster” — ends


May 24th, 2017

Gov. Pete Ricketts address Nebraska Legislature Tuesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

The Nebraska Legislature ended its 2017 session Tuesday with lawmakers offering different perspectives on what they accomplished and what remains to be done.

Lincoln, NE – At the close of a contentious session marked by struggles over the budget, taxes, and the rules the Legislature uses, Gov. Pete Ricketts spoke to lawmakers and thanked them for their work.

“As we look back on this session, we have been successful. Working together as two different branches, we have accomplished many of those things to be able to help us grow our state,” Ricketts said.

The governor ticked off a list of bills passed, including grants for workforce housing in nonmetropolitan counties, the authorization of “Choose Life” license plates, hiring preferences for military spouses, and tightened eligibility for unemployment insurance. But he said perhaps the biggest accomplishment was the budget that was passed.

“We demonstrated Nebraska grit by coming together to prioritize the funding for K-12 schools, Corrections reform, and making the tough decisions so we could maintain that 3 percent balance, get a budget together on time – and not every state can say they do that – and do that all without raising taxes,” he said.

Not everyone shared Ricketts’ satisfaction. Sen. Ernie Chambers spoke before the governor arrived. He criticized his fellow senators for upholding Ricketts veto of funds for providers of services for the developmentally disabled and others. That was one of the cuts that enabled the state to maintain its three percent budget reserve. Chambers, first elected to the Legislature in 1970, expressed his displeasure with the session in verse, intoning:

“More than four decades ago was my first

Far and away, this session was worst

Gov. Ricketts, the session’s master

Orchestrated a moral disaster”

Ricketts himself expressed disappointment that his proposed income tax reductions and caps on ag land property taxes had not passed. They were stopped by a filibuster. But the governor vowed to keep working on those issues.

“My commitment is to work with Sen. Smith, Sen. Brasch, Sen. Lindstrom and other senators on this tax bill over the course of the summer to make modifications to bring that back next year and to overcome the filibuster to provide tax relief for our hardworking families,” he declared.

Some critics of Ricketts’ tax plan said it was too heavily weighted toward income tax cuts and did not provide enough property tax relief. Immediately following the session, 10 mostly rural senators held a press conference in the Capitol Rotunda to propose a different approach. Sen. Steve Erdman, who organized the group, said “We’ve been talking about property tax for 40 years. It is my opinion today that we’ve talked long enough, and it’s time to do something.”

The senators said they would introduce a state constitutional amendment next year to limit property taxes, and if they can’t get it onto the ballot through the Legislature, they will undertake an initiative petition drive to do so.

Reflecting on the at-times divisive session, Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer thanked senators for working together, and offered optimism about the future.

“The body is very different this year than my first. Two-thirds of those who were here four years ago have been replaced. We’ve changed ideologically on both sides. But I believe we’re also in a better position to tackle those big issues in front of us,” Scheer said.

Unless there is a special session, senators’ next crack at those big issues will come in January.

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