Oklahoma lawmaker warns Nebraska about tax cut "triggers"

Jan. 9, 2018, 3:52 a.m. ·

Sen. Carol Blood argues to increase gun permit fees (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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As Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts gets ready to reveal his tax cut proposal, an Oklahoma lawmaker is warning against scheduling tax cuts in advance. Senators killed a proposal to increase gun permit fees. And senators continue to introduce bills as the legislative session continues.

Gov. Pete Ricketts is expected to discuss a tax cut proposal in his State of the State speech Wednesday. Last year, his proposal included so-called “triggers,” to lower corporate and individual income tax rates, if and when projected tax revenues went up by a certain amount. Opponents blocked the proposal.

Anticipating this year’s version will be similar, the Open Sky Policy Institute, which opposed last year’s proposal, sponsored a conference call Tuesday with an Oklahoma lawmaker who sponsored trigger legislation. Rep. Leslie Osborn, a Republican, now says that was a mistake. Osborn says Oklahoma lawmakers failed to anticipate a drop in oil prices that cut into other state revenues and left the state facing a huge budget gap. “To tie your hands in advance, when you’re not sure what will be happening economically – nationwide, statewide, and economy-wide – is I believe extremely foolhardy,” Osborn said.

Oklahoma repealed its trigger legislation last year, and Osborn says the state won’t make the same mistake again. “Should we ever decide to cut taxes again, fine. But we would do it in the actual year where we had the true parameters and the true economic indicators and weren’t trying to guess into a future level. Because no matter how you set that trigger, there’s going to be something you haven’t accounted for,” she said.

But Nebraska state Sen. Jim Smith, chairman of the Revenue Committee, said triggered tax cuts promote a better economy. “What we want to do is provide a certain amount of certainty for businesses so they can make their decision so they understand the state has made a conscious decision … to reduce the tax burden. That’s when they’re more prone to want to invest. And I think …families need to be able to make the same decisions,” Smith said.

Smith has been working with Ricketts on this year’s tax cut proposal. And while he declined to get into specifics, he said there are ways to make the triggers more conservative than those in last year’s plan, criticized for being based on economic projections, not actual revenues. “We are going to take a much more cautious approach to reducing the tax burden and sending the right signals to our businesses in our state, so that we can see a growing economy,” he said.

In other legislative news, senators debated a proposal by Sen. Carol Blood to raise the fee for a permit to purchase a handgun from $5 to $25. Blood said the fee hasn’t increased in 25 years, while counties have incurred increasing costs for doing background checks and issuing permits. “I am a member of the NRA (National Rifle Association). I have worked in jobs that required me to qualify on weapons. And I certainly understand the need to protect oneself. This truly is just about making sure we’re not placing undue financial burdens on the counties and on law enforcement as they work 24/7 to protect us,” Blood said.

Senator Mike Hilgers was among those who opposed the bill, saying it would impose a hardship on gun owners. “I have discussed with many people in my district and throughout the state of Nebraska who can barely afford a firearm; who can’t afford a concealed carry permit; and who just want to be able to defend themselves and their family. And for a lot of those people who I’ve spoken with, an additional $20 does mean something,” Hilgers said. “It very well might mean for them the difference between owning a firearm or not. And that means the difference between being able to protect their family or not, or being able to protect their property or not.”

After several hours of debate, senators voted 27-17 to indefinitely postpone the bill, killing it for this year.

Meanwhile, senators continue to introduce new bills. Sen. Sara Howard is proposing to require Nebraska’s public colleges and universities to survey students every two years about sexual assault, report results to the Legislature, and make sure employees are trained in how to handle reported assaults. Howard said the surveys would show if students feel safe. “The real purpose is to dig into whether there are enough resources that are available on campus for students to feel like they can walk to and from class without looking behind them, or looking over their shoulder. Or they’d know that there is a place that they can go if there is a sexual assault on campus with resources available to help them,” Howard said.