Civic Engagement Legislature Nebraska Politics

Is it Time to Defund Everything But Lincoln & Omaha?

Last week I watched in horror as rural senators led the charge to stop kids from getting lawyers assigned when the government thinks they’ve committed a crime. To be clear, kids in Omaha, Sarpy, and Lincoln get lawyers but the rest of you get to trust the judge and prosecutor to be fair and even-handed as they accuse and penalize your children for things your kids may or may not have done. The reasons cited for not giving rural children parity with city kids were: 

  • Judges are always fair
  • Parents fully understand the juvenile justice system
  • Lawyers are expensive and kids aren’t worth the cost

All of the reasons are easily debunked but that last one really got to me. Why is it usually rural senators leading the way for the destruction of people in rural areas? This is just the starting point in the legislature this year. If I were a betting woman, I’d bet money that these same senators fighting against rural youth will also work to block property tax relief. In fact, we’ve already seen the signs that a few rural senators aren’t planning on taking the process seriously, in this open letter from Erdman, Halloran, Brewer, and Murman. These guys aren’t planning on doing the hard work to govern and want to pass it off on us, the people that elected a legislature to govern on our behalf.

Due to the urgency created by the NEGOP by making property tax relief their top election talking point year after year, coupled with the fact that the Republican party is the majority across the state, people expect property tax relief. If the legislature is unable to pass property tax relief, it has a chance of getting on the ballot. If a major tax cut happens by ballot instead of a thoughtful budgeting process, that’ll hurt all of us as the state will be forced to quickly cut services, but it will especially hurt the people these senators have a duty to fight for, everyone outside of Lincoln and the Omaha metro.

Here’s how Nebraska spends money. With only tax cuts and no tax increases, you end up with an uneducated population dying from lack of healthcare.
*from Open Sky Policy

Who likes to give their hard earned money to Uncle Sam? Not me for sure! So, I get it sounds great to elect someone who wants to cut taxes and cut government spending. But, for those living outside of the big cities, YOU’RE the one getting the most essential services cut, not folks in Lincoln or the Omaha metro. There are too many people and too many rich folks to let those places get the big cuts. Cities will face long waits, over crowding, and burnt out staff, but will never have their services cut entirely.

Cities are always going to have things like hospitals, neighborhood schools, post offices, and nursing homes. When babies are born, cities will have a NICU nearby and when people have heart attacks, an ambulance will be by within minutes and get them to a hospital. That’s the perk of having a lot of people living in one place, it’s harder to cut big infrastructure. It’s also cheaper in big cities because they can take advantage of “economy of scale”. This means that some costs are fixed, no matter how many people come through the door. So, with more people using a service, the cheaper it is to serve each person. For example, an elementary school. The cost of the teacher stays the same if there are 5 or 25 students. Therefore it’s “cost efficient” to fill up classrooms and close down schools that don’t meet a minimum number of children, like small-town schools.

But despite the high cost of providing schools, healthcare, and social services to small towns, I firmly believe they’re worth it. Even though it’s cheaper for me, someone in a city, to have those services for my family, I’m willing to pay a bit more so EVERYONE can have a hospital nearby, a neighborhood school, reliable and fast internet, you know; the basics. And the richest among us, like the governor, Pete Ricketts, a man who has personally given nearly 2 million dollars in less than 10 years to buy elections and the death penalty, and their companies like TD Ameritrade, can afford to pay more taxes. 

If we’re cutting a tax without adding a different one, let’s be clear who gets cut: small towns and farmers.  After the recession in 2011 as things started looking up in the national economy, the federal government closed rural post offices in Nebraska. In 2019 we saw rural nursing homes close down and small town grandmas and grandpas already living outside their homes were forced into new towns farther away from family. And we’ve known for years that families are not coming to or staying in small towns, forcing school closings and consolidation.

80% of rural America is medically underserved. 80 PERCENT.

Nebraska rural schools are the most underfunded in the nation! The only reason the kids continue to get a good education is because Nebraska communities have come together where the state has failed. But there’s a bottom and we’ve all watched as school after school closes and kids have to bus further and further.

We need to raise taxes in Nebraska somewhere if we want real property tax relief. This is a small population state which already underfunded 2019’s flood relief, and the 2020 spring rains are coming sooner than later. Pete Ricketts has drawn a line in the sand that he will not sign any budget with a tax increase. He is also illegally refusing to enact the medicaid expansion that was voted on, passed, and demanded by the people of Nebraska nearly two years ago. Simply doing what he is legally required to do and expanding Medicaid would save many rural medical facilities around the state.

Here’s some good news for the people of Nebraska and the few senators that seem to have forgotten – the legislature is its own branch of government. It can override a veto and pass meaningful tax cuts and flood relief with tax increases on the wealthy and corporations. Omaha and Lincoln sent senators who are willing to fight for a budget that doesn’t defund rural Nebraska. My question is, did the rest of the state do the same?

Speak up, show up, and raise some hell. Small town kids deserve all the things that kids in the big cities get but you have to fight for it and we all have to stop swallowing the lies that all tax cuts are good and all tax increases are bad.