Based on Transcript Prepared By the Clerk of the Legislature

Transcriber's Office

 

 

Floor Debate

April 18, 2018

 

SENATOR SCHUMACHER: Some of you may have noticed that I'm wearing two pins today. That's so I can do a double whammy. Actually, this is the first time I've worn those pins and I figured if I didn't do it today, I'd just be out of luck. (Laughter)

 

I want to thank the folks of the 22nd District for the honor of serving here and for making all of those wonderful sunrises visible to be savored on the way in from Columbus every morning that I was here. I want to thank Michele, who I took out of Florida more than 40 years ago, away from the sunshine and the sands to a land without mountains, without oceans, with 100 degrees in the summer, an abundance of animal odors and allergens, and highs of zero in the winter. She stayed with me and raised two wonderful girls, Nicole and Kristen. I want to thank the folks back in Columbus who kept the enterprises running while I had a picnic down here: Tom Havelka, who has been with me a long time and been a tremendously loyal friend; Gina, Mary , Ray; Linda, who is the...Linda Aerni, who is the mother of rural Internet and broadband in Nebraska; Clay and Lindsay, all those people who worked so hard so I could be here. You know, I never used my full allotment of staff. For the first years, I had one, and that was not because I was so darn conservative and didn't want to spend tax money, but it was because Peg Jones was so good she could do the work of two people. The last few years, Darlene Howsden helped so that Peg could take a break. Want to thank the legislative staff, without whom this place would not run--thank you very much. And to our pages: I hope, as you sat there looking out at us, you had the thought, gosh, I could do better than that (laughter), and one day will run for this position. To the press corps: I always felt I was treated fairly and I'm tremendously appreciative that some of the doozies I uttered never made it into print (laughter). To the camera crews who operate those cameras covering the Chamber: Thank you. The last thing I needed was my mother asking, why were you picking at that on TV? (Laughter) To the lobby: You were so much fun (laughter) in committee hearings and I hope I made you a lot of money with my bills when they sent terror into the hearts of your clients. Also want to thank research groups, such as OpenSky, which provided excellent and accurate information when it was needed fast. And Senator Chambers is not here, but I'm told that he's always watching, so turnabout is fair play. I was privileged with having him as a seatmate for five years. And when I watched him sometimes, I saw someone walking in the desert, seeking discourse with gods and demons; I saw somebody rushing into a temple to throw out the Pharisees and the money changers; somebody walking along a dusty path, picking up a trembling little critter, holding it, and sending it to safety. I now know what is meant when the ancient texts speak of a holy man. It was my honor.

 

Colleagues, I'm sorry to leave you with such a mess (laughter), and that I can't stay to help you clean it up. I've been around Senator Brasch long enough to know that if I left today without stirring the pot, it would be un-American (laughter). Incidentally, Senator Brasch and I had a bit of a contest. We wanted to have perfect attendance, and we both fell just a tad short. I missed a snow day when the only thing on the agenda was to adjourn and Senator Brasch had an important event to go to and she broke her perfect attendance this year, but we did pretty good.

 

Some parting observations: Barring some cataclysm, Nebraska's future can be predicted with a high degree of certainty. It will be...continue to be dominated by the evolution of agriculture. It will see unprecedented bounty in grain and livestock produced by corporate genetics, chemistry, technology, finance, data, transportation, and food processing. Traditional paradigms focusing on land ownership and physical labor will continue to diminish in importance. No cropland will go untilled, no grassland ungrazed. With few exceptions, smaller communities will wither, middle-sized ones will trudge along, and the few larger ones will endeavor with uncertain results in the international competition of geography, climate, and culture.

 

Today the state faces a financial crisis fueled by the ease of winning elections simply by telling people that they are overtaxed and abused by bloated government. "I'll cut your taxes," is a rallying call of Machiavellian winners and the very first words in the "I want to be Governor" handbook. Our rhetoric causes people to expect government to perform, prisons to be reformed, mental health to be addressed, preschoolers to be taught fundamentals while both parents work for low wages, quality education to be provided for all, public pension plans to be bailed out, local government debt to be retired, penniless baby boomers to be cared for, highways to be four-laned, and the working poor to be provided with subsidized training, housing, and healthcare-well, maybe not healthcare--in order to facilitate the profitability of capital incented to be deployed here. We've led people to expect that and more, and the people trusted us, believed what they were told: that the tab for all that would be paid for by tax cuts, eliminating waste, running the state like a business, withering away government, an influx of people that looked like us, and the elusive butterfly of growth.

 

But we face the stark reality of our rainy-day fund approaching dangerously low levels, more than halved while the sun was shining, unstable and volatile revenue sources, extraordinary measures taken to dramatically slash previously approved state budgets because there simply was no money, state vendor payments manipulated, necessities deferred, retirement vacancies unfilled, hundreds of millions of dollars in business incentive obligations locked into a decade or more, sophisticated accounting maneuvers employed to produce the illusion of a constitutionally mandated balanced budget, and an accelerating plunge into a financial abyss. Faced with that reality, people have every right to hold us accountable to pandering to the human psyche's affinity for easy solutions and quick fixes that serve only to perpetuate ideologies that are the antithesis of the adaptations necessary for a viable future. In modern democracies, it is far too easy for the patently ignorant or unconscionably ambitious to cleverly exploit the latent proclivity for simplicity and order.

 

In the not-too-distant future, this great Chamber will be filled with debates about the consequences of austerity, about closing state colleges, curtailing the four-lane highway program, selling public power assets, consolidating university departments with those in neighboring states, transitioning paved roads into gravel in depopulating counties, and abandoning the notion that every homestead is entitled to daily physical access to a state-operated K-12 system. So much of my time here was focused on taxation strategies that now leave you in the quicksand of three-quarters of a billion dollars a year in reduced revenue and hearing only demands for more quicksand.

 

When I became county coroner, I received some good advice from my predecessor: When you have terrible news to deliver, spit it out, don't hem/haw around, use a sharp knife and thrust swiftly. So here it is when it comes to rural property taxes. There can be no property tax reduction for the agricultural estates because there is no accessible place to get the money. The urban population generally has small estates, maybe a house and a modest pension, and all of that is exposed to the ravages of the nursing home and final medical expenses. Many live paycheck to paycheck with no equity to borrow against. Most urban heirs can expect to inherit little or nothing. In contrast, the agricultural estates that stand to gain the more from property tax manipulations are worth millions, sometimes tens of millions. The heirs, many of whom live out of state, stand to inherit those millions virtually tax free. It is hard for those estates to get much sympathy. To be sure, there is a sinful amount of special deals, perks, exemptions, and incentives which reduce the income and sales taxes paid by the special folks. Such perks are guarded like Fort Knox and protected by nothing less than extortion, the unabashed threat: We will just leave the state. But even if Fort Knox were to be successfully raided, there would be a long waiting list ahead of doling out to the more rural estates on top of the 25-percent valuation decrease they already receive. There can be no property tax reduction for the rural estates because there can't be. All that there can be is shell games, smoke and mirrors, and packs of lies. Our people deserve more honesty than that.

 

Nor can there be some refuge in a petition drive. The simple truth is that the Legislature, caught between a rock and a hard place, has the people's express permission to nullify a petition with no more votes than it takes to end a filibuster. Taxes are one of the mechanisms of organizing capital to do what a society expects done, and sometimes they are the only mechanism. Economies will adjust to a stable and predictable tax system. Anomalous favors to one group or another serve only to disrupt that process. Death and taxes are certainties. Nothing in this Chamber can change that.

 

One final observation: We live in a time when increasingly the past is cherished and the future is not welcome. In analyzing the pathology of our present predicament, our lack of candor with the public may be a consequence of a greater force. At the core of our democratic failure may be a university system that has failed in the mission of educating, of bringing forth that greatness that was within an aspiring peasant population fleeing the heavy hand of royalty and archbishops in search of freedom and opportunity. Can a university that shudders at the prospect of controversy and is panicked by the thought of its brand being weakened by a losing football season be relied upon to convey to the present the message of the future? The blessing and the curse of term limits bar me from further exploring that issue in this Chamber. It may come to pass that from time to time I will speak on these and other issues at voiceofnebraska.com, but for now, in this fleeting moment, time draws to a close and I must take leave of this Chamber.

A sunset, a snowflake, a cloud formation;

The gods give in limited ration:

To touch a soul;

And warm a heart;

To last but a moment;

Then forever depart.


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