Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Two Candidates; One Insanity

by Kyle Michaelis
There are certainly higher profile news stories out there than a debate between the two legislative candidates in Nebraska's 42nd District held at the North Platte Senior Center on Monday night. Having read excerpts of that debate from the North Platte Bulletin, however, I doubt any of these other stories are more relevant to Nebraska's future...or more troubling in what they foretell.

The race between Marc Kaschke and Tom Hansen in the 42nd legislative district is illustrative of a very real problem that has held Nebraska, particularly its overwhelmingly Republican 3rd District, in its grip for decades. That problem is false promises founded on outright fiscal irresponsibility. Behold, in their own words:
Spending lid amendment

Kaschke – “I wish there were a different solution,” Kaschke said. “The last 20 years or so the legislature has said, ‘trust us, we will lower your taxes and our spending.’ But they haven’t done that. I don’t know how to change it without a constitutional amendment. I don’t believe it will hurt schools or roads. Nebraska should live on the same restrictions we have to live on.”

Hansen – “I signed the petition on the first day out. Then my son brought up that it could lead to property taxes going up. I had the chance to unsign it but I didn’t. I believe the question is legitimate. The legislature lowers taxes when revenue is down. They have to. Our state has a balanced budget amendment. State agencies are accountable to the legislature but they need to be more accountable. If they have money left in their budgets in May, they hurry up and spend it before June or they won’t get it the following year. Spending lids don’t seem to work so well.”

State estate tax

Kaschke – “I’m a proponent of repealing the estate tax. People sometimes have difficulty passing on businesses to their children and have to pay for the business for the entire second time.”

Hansen – “Governor Heineman wants that settled too. Money that’s been taxed and taxed gets taxed again. Investments get taxed again. It needs to be repealed.”

In a pamphlet prepared by the AARP, both Kaschke and Hansen:

Opposes cutting off Medicaid coverage for people who cannot afford to pay premiums, deductibles or co-payments.

Supports a prescription-plus program – a program that would allow people without prescription drug insurance to purchase drugs at the same price Medicaid pays.

Supports increasing the level of funding for home and community based services for Nebraskans over age 65.

As you can read for yourself, Hansen at least admits that "Spending lids don't seem to work so well." However, disregarding that simple fact, you almost have to respect the way Kaschke stands by the spending lid amendmenet, practically admitting that, if elected, he'd be no better than current legislators at managing the resources of state government.

All in all, though, what we have here are two candidates who talk a lot about cutting taxes but offer no answers for where the requisite cuts in spending are going to come from. Instead, they've each made guarantees to the AARP - who were sponsoring the debate - of more spending and expanded programs under Medicaid.

This seems particularly ludicrous in the frontrunner Hansen's case since his website acknowledges "the State’s share of Medicaid payments is approaching 20% of the budget and that is not sustainable." It's nice to know he sees the problem, but already he's made commitments that all but guarantee no solutions will be forthcoming. Since he's concurrently calling for repeal of the state's estate tax - as is Kaschke - the question has to be where this extra money is going to come from when they're actually cutting into the state's revenues.

Both candidates in this race - both Republicans - are engaging in the same political song and dance that voters have seen for decades. They tell us what we want to hear, promising more services and fewer taxes. But, the numbers don't add up. Their irresponsibility is our irresponsibility because we fall for it, again and again.

The fact that some of these candidates are now willing to accept so drastic a measure as the Spending Lid amendment - choosing the constraints of a simplistic and destructive formula over simply being honest with voters about their agenda, their limitations, and their priorities - is a sad testament to the state of our democracy.


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