The writer is a Nebraska state senator who represents District 13 in northeast Omaha and Douglas County.
I applaud the improvements to Nebraska’s tax policy that have been proposed by the Legislature’s Tax Modernization Committee. The fact that these proposed improvements do not include any radical or economically disruptive changes is a testament to the committee’s integrity and focus.
While some continue to advocate for irresponsible tax policy changes, such as the elimination of income tax without a means to make up for that lost revenue, the committee has apparently recognized that such a move would place the state in a perpetual crisis for the sake of chasing a tax ranking from a non-Nebraska group.
Focusing on this tax ranking would be a long-term detriment to the state’s overall stability, while there are many ratings and indicators that matter greatly to everyday Nebraskans and not just to interest groups. A well-educated, healthy and employable population (and the data that shows these realities) are indicators that should concern policy-makers, citizens and business groups alike.
What percentage of our high school graduates are ready for college and the trades? Nebraskans care about that rating. What percentage of Nebraska families live without medical insurance? Nebraskans care about that rating, too. Across the state, 16 percent of children and 12 percent of all Nebraskans live in poverty. Nebraskans care about that rating, also.
Many people incorrectly presume that poverty is predominantly an urban problem. The reality is that while poverty may be very concentrated in certain areas and communities in our largest cities, many of our rural communities are struggling under the weight of poverty as well. Census data show that there are 25 counties in Nebraska with a child poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, and 14 with an overall poverty rate above 15 percent. Our state’s three largest counties are not included in either of those designations.
It is also worth noting that in Omaha, impoverished communities are no longer only found east of 90th Street. Recent Census data show 10 areas west of 90th Street that had a poverty rate of 15 percent or greater. In 2000, there were none.
From my vantage point on both the Education and the Health and Human Services Committees, I have increasingly come to recognize that policy investments in education and health grow Nebraska’s middle class. By supporting our beleaguered middle-class families, we can begin to rebuild the human and economic infrastructure that will create a better future for ourselves and our children.
The things that matter to middle-class families are that they can meet their basic needs and give their children a good education and a better future — not income tax cuts for those who least need the help.
In my entire term as state senator, I have never heard one of my constituents request an income tax break for the wealthiest Nebraskans. But I have heard pleas for reductions in property taxes. I believe we can accomplish targeted and responsible property tax relief through a long-term commitment to additional pre-K-12 education funding.
Again, I am glad that the Legislature’s Tax Modernization Committee is rebuking calls to disrupt Nebraska’s resilient economy. Let’s look forward to a robust debate that includes policies that continue wise, forward-thinking investments in the Good Life.