LINCOLN — The Nebraska Legislature's master of delaying bills offered Monday to drop his most recent filibuster and become “an ordinary member of the Legislature.”
State Sen. Ernie Chambers, the 75-year-old dean of the Nebraska Legislature, made the offer as he filibustered another bill he doesn't like, one to create a committee to study “modernization” of state taxes.
The senator said he would drop his effort to block Legislative Bill 613 if the Legislature's Revenue Committee would advance his proposal to rescind a law passed last year that allows cities to raise local sales taxes to a maximum of 2 cents. That measure allows cities, with a vote of its citizens, to increase local sales taxes as much as a half-cent above what had previously been allowed.
“Then I'll become an ordinary member of the Legislature,” Chambers said.
He has been no ordinary member so far this year, filibustering proposals to allow betting on historical horse races and to permit prison inmates to work for nonprofit groups, and promising to filibuster more bills.
Chambers has argued that the sales tax law should be rescinded because it was a product of political dealing and because higher sales taxes hurt the poor.
But a deal to end his latest filibuster didn't appear to be in the works Monday. That means that lawmakers will have to debate LB 613 for at least another four hours and 25 minutes before they could vote to end debate and advance the measure.
The tax study bill was launched after Gov. Dave Heineman's failed bid to get the Legislature to eliminate state income taxes to make the state more competitive for jobs and new residents.
But his proposal, which would have shifted the tax burden onto sales taxes by rescinding a number of tax exemptions, brought a deluge of opposition from businesses, farmers, nonprofit groups and hospitals. Those groups now benefit from tax exemptions.
Most senators agreed that a study was needed before Nebraska embarked on such a dramatic tax shift.
But Chambers is attempting to block the tax study bill, saying the Revenue Committee betrayed him by failing to advance his sales tax idea, LB 266.
Two weeks ago, the committee voted 4-3-1 to advance LB 266, one vote short of the five needed to move a proposal to debate by the full Legislature.
Kearney Sen. Galen Hadley, chairman of the Revenue Committee, said Monday he didn't see any shift in the votes on LB 266. Thus, he said, the filibuster will continue.
Much of Monday's debate over the tax study centered on whether the Revenue Committee had advanced too many bills to reform state taxes, and whether that was consistent with launching a study of tax reforms. Chambers also argued that the Legislature could study taxes without passing a bill.
Hadley defended the work of his committee, saying that needed changes in state tax law shouldn't have to wait for the conclusions of the Tax Modernization Commission, which aren't due until December.
“I don't think that's (acting) like a drunken sailor,” the senator said. “If you think we didn't do a very good job, you've got a chance to tell us that in how you vote.”
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