Thursday, July 11, 2013

Staring Down The Sacred Cows

For several months now, we've generally left the politics of our home state, Nebraska, off these pages. In part that decision has been motivated by the fact that - at least in an above board capacity - there hasn't really been any major political action going on at home.

Of course, we've also had plenty of political follies and failures to keep our attention as we've watched Virginia politics implode, from our DC office. The massive, messy, and unbelievably corrupt scandalpalooza of Virginia's Gov. Bob McDonnell is more real - and likely more devastating - than any of the fake scandals the mainstream media has been screaming about lately. There's also been the usual circus - politically and otherwise - to keep our attention in our South Florida office, including the trial of George Zimmerman.

In our Nebraska office, however, we've been waiting for the other political shoe to finally drop on the failed tax reform plans that Nebraska's GOP Governor Dave Heineman has been longing for since at least the beginning of 2012.

Wednesday, that shoe finally fell as the Nebraska Tax Modernization Committee - created this year by the Nebraska Legislature - began to get to work to decide which of Nebraska's sacred cows of tax policy are likely to end up on the political grill next year. However, for Governor Heineman and those like him hoping the committee will give them a reason to slash taxes, the news this week may have actually put the tax cows they'd like to put the budget knife to out of reach.

In case you missed the news, according to corporate-leaning cable channel CNBC, Nebraska now ranks fourth in the nation for best economic climate for business. While Gov. Heineman tried to put a shine on that news this week, news of Nebraska's successful business climate directly counters a key reason Heineman gave for wanting to cut taxes in both 2012 and 2013 - namely that Nebraska needed to cut taxes more in order to be favorable to business.

For Heineman and his tax cut addicted friends there was even more bad news this week. On Tuesday, it was announced that Nebraska's fiscal year, which finished June 30, was incredibly robust, as the year finished with significantly more money in the state's coffers than had been expected.

For state oversight agencies like the auditor's office, state ag and water management projects, schools - including Nebraska's six state colleges and universities, and even basic health care programs, this bounty of tax revenues should be great news, as Nebraska may finally be able to properly fund its fiscal responsibilities and obligations, after several years of deep painful cuts.

Unsurprisingly, Governor Heineman greeted the news about Nebraska's business climate and budget bonus in the selfish, foolish, arrogant way that we've come to expect from modern Republican politicians who live in the pockets of their wealthy donors. Heineman and company immediately began talking about giving tax cuts to their friends, instead of wisely noting that now is time to repair Nebraska's investments and to prepare for future economic storms and droughts.

While we applaud the idea of modernizing tax structures and laws everywhere, including in Nebraska, some of the basic rules about taxes and budgets remain the same as they always have - including the problems of staring down the 'sacred cows' on government budget sheets. The most basic fact remains the same: In the good times, the government should repair, replace, invest, and save, so that the bad times won't be nearly so bad.

Until voters elect officials truly willing to take on sacred cows - like the idea that any unexpected bonus tax revenue should always go to the rich instead of being reinvested back into the state - don't expect anything but bull from people like Nebraska's Gov. Heineman.