Capitol View

Published on Monday, 12 August 2013 21:40
Written by thenebraskasigna

During a lengthy legislative hearing some years ago, a reporter friend said, "Nothing screws up the public hearing process like the public showing up."

It was a joke of sorts. But the press corps understood that public engagement, while vital to the democratic process, could be cumbersome. An occasional proponent or opponent would offer some words of wisdom "a sound byte or a headline" but the majority of the presentations were canned. And the cans were often distributed by special interest groups.

Nothing against special interest groups. They serve a vital function to make people aware of things that might otherwise escape them. Nebraskans are bombarded with causes and messages and buy-it-now offers. Most of us pay attention to the things that matter to us. One would think that the subject of taxes would fall into that category.

Early in this year’s legislative session, Governor Dave Heineman offered two massive proposals to change the way Nebraska collects taxes. Hours and hours of public debate followed before lawmakers settled on a plan (Legislative Resolution 155) to put a committee on it. The Tax Modernization Committee was formed and it has held some preliminary meetings with Chairman Senator Galen Hadley of Kearney announcing that everything will be on the table.

The committee has announced public hearings: Monday, September 23 in Scottsbluff; Tuesday, September 24 in North Platte; Thursday, September 26 in Norfolk; Thursday, October 17 in Omaha and Friday, October 18 in Lincoln. The committee consists of 14 senators broken into three subcommittees: income tax, property tax and sales tax.

By J.L. Schmidt, Statehouse Correspondent

As with major statewide issues of late "read that Keystone XL Pipeline" the public interest groups have already formed. Websites and Facebook pages speak of a group called Rebuild Nebraska. The website touts "coalition of concerned Nebraska organizations and residents, known as Rebuild Nebraska, has mobilized to support stable, sustainable fiscal decisions that will benefit all Nebraskans".

According to its latest news release, members of Rebuild Nebraska include AARP Nebraska, The Center for People in Need, The Center for Rural Affairs, Community Action of Nebraska, Nebraska Appleseed, Nebraska Association of County Officials, The Nebraska Association of Public Employees/AFSCME, Nebraska Hospital Association, Nebraska State Education Association, Nonprofit Association of the Midlands, and Voices for Children in Nebraska.

The coalition's rhetoric speaks of Nebraska pride in a high quality of living with great schools, safe streets, and strong communities, which it calls the foundational fundamentals of "The Good Life".

They have issued a call to the Legislature's Tax Modernization Committee to make recommendations that safeguard the legacy for our children and grandchildren by maintaining our state’s ability to invest in key services that maintain Nebraska’s strong economy and high quality of life.

On its website, the coalition promises to "work with lawmakers and other residents to promote a fair and balanced tax code that lets us provide opportunities for all Nebraskans by adequately funding economic building blocks such as education and infrastructure." It cautions that "recent fiscal decisions have already caused significant issues but, working together, we can start to repair this damage by making decisions about our tax code that will move the state forward."

Given that tax debate is all about whose ox is getting gored, it seems shallow for any special interest group, lawmakers included, to promise that we'll all work together to make the best decision possible. But it sounds good and probably makes people want to be a part of the process.

One thing for sure, the coalition says, "the time has come to make these changes.‚" Let's hope that everyone concerned realizes that and is willing to cooperate. Lawmakers, the governor and the public must all accommodate change.