Fulton is president of the Nebraska State Education Association. Rooker is executive director of Voices for Children. Brasch is executive director of the Center for People in Need. Abel is president of the Nebraska Association of Public Employees/American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
In recent years, surveys and rankings have shown time and time again that Nebraska really is “The Good Life.” One of the lowest unemployment rates in the country; the No. 2 ranking in highest quality of life by Forbes; consistently ranked one of the best places for business by Gallup — the list goes on and on.
The Good Life that we enjoy today didn’t happen overnight or by accident. Instead, our state has carefully planned for things like top-notch schools and world-class health care. The systems we have today weren’t solely paid for with the taxes we just paid or are about to pay. They were also paid for by taxpayers in the past — the services they budgeted for and then have an effect on our quality of life today.
In recent discussions on the state budget, the possibility has been raised of eliminating the Nebraska state income tax in 2013. This idea would have very dangerous effects on the Nebraska economy and put at risk all of the basic, needed public services for which the state is responsible — both today and for future generations.
Imagine if long-ago taxpayers hadn’t budgeted for our schools or roads or public safety. Would we enjoy the same quality of life that we do today?
The state income tax provides more than half of the revenue in Nebraska’s general fund. It pays for essentials like schools, law enforcement, our roads and streets, and public safety. Without the state income tax, the educational systems, safe streets and stable economy that Nebraskans take pride in could lose much of their funding source. Nebraska must continue to invest in the economic stability, education and safety of its people.
A rash move of eliminating the state income tax would make Nebraska choose one of two undesirable options: We would either have to cut many of the services that affect people’s lives every day or come up with new revenue sources to avoid a giant budget deficit.
That could mean counties and cities would be forced to raise regressive property taxes and sales taxes to keep paying for the basic necessities Nebraskans deserve. It even could mean eliminating sales tax exemptions on groceries, making it even more expensive for working families — with their budgets already stretched to the breaking point — to put food on the table.
To see how costly this plan could be, we don’t have to look very far. The Kansas Legislature substantially lowered income tax rates and eliminated their state’s income tax on business income this spring, a move the Kansas Legislative Research Department said will cause a $4.2 billion budget deficit over the next five years. That means Kansas is going to have to raise other taxes or do significant damage to that state’s schools, law enforcement, highways and hospitals. One way or another, the Kansas quality of life will suffer because of this.
Nebraska is in a great position to continue to meet our obligations to our people responsibly, as well as maintain a high quality of living without implementing a reckless economic policy that would invite instability, explode our budget deficit, stifle our economic growth and hurt hardworking people.
A healthy and educated work force, safe streets, emergency medical care and a sturdy economy are all the results of wise decisions our state has made in the past using our state income tax dollars.
Elimination of the income tax would be a step backward from “The Good Life” for future generations.