Chamber of Commerce Nebraska's King of Special Interestsby Kyle Michaelis
While the Omaha World-Herald used its Sunday editorial to echo familiar condemnations of political parties and nameless "special interest groups" for exerting too much influence and applying too many pressures leading up to the 2007 session, it's no surprise that the World-Herald fails to mention the Chamber, which is unrivaled in its ability to set and control Nebraska's legislative agenda. It is the king of Nebraska's special interest groups, beginning from the very first day of new Senators' orientation when the Chamber of Commerce has long hosted a private dinner in their honor.
Still, the influence of the Chamber of Commerce largely goes unrecognized, in favor of coverage and criticism of more controversial organizations with nowhere near its reach and pull.
In October, the Grand Island Independent already reported of the Chamber's plans for 2007:
Like 'em or not, term limits are here and they will have a very real effect on the Legislature in 2007, said Barry Kennedy of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry....Again, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Chamber's agenda lines up almost perfectly with that of Gov. Dave Heineman. With the new legislature, the Chamber is not only convinced the governor will have more power; they're counting on it.
As a result of the new membership, Kennedy and other chamber members are convinced the executive branch will gain power....
In the next year, the chamber would like to see a reduction of personal income tax, adjustments in corporate income tax brackets, a repeal of the state estate tax, a repeal of business-to-business sales taxes on services and workers' compensation reform among the top issues discussed by the senators, he said.
The one thing Heineman has clearly added to the agenda mentioned above is simplifying and speeding up the process for corporations to receive tax breaks from the state - the driving force in his appointment last week of Union Pacific executive Douglas Ewald as Nebraska's new tax commissioner.
Clearly, such a change is in the Chamber's direct interests, both financially and philosophically. It's brilliant, though, for them to use Heineman as their mouthpiece on this one issue to escape detection of the power they wield behind the scenes. Being too obvious in this regard - where so much money is involved - might result in the people of Nebraska asking some tough questions about who's benefitting from and who's behind such incentives.
Nobody wants that to happen. Not the press. Not Gov. Heineman. Not the Chamber of Commerce. And, certainly not me.