Sunday, January 21, 2007

Omaha World-Herald's Selective "Skepticism" on Tax Policy

by Kyle Michaelis
The Omaha World-Herald has not published a single bit of substantive criticism of Gov. Dave Heineman's regressive proposal to shift more of Nebraska's tax burden onto Nebraska's poor, young, and working class to subsidize massive cuts in the income tax for the upper/upper-middle classes. It won't even allow this raw, undeniable truth about Heineman's plan into its pages.

Nor has the OWH displayed any understanding or concern for the fact that the state's wealthiest citizens are also the only ones who benefit from Heineman's concurrent proposal to eliminate Nebraska's estate tax. In fact, the World-Herald has done little but cheerlead in its attempts to strong-arm the legislature into adopting the Heineman Tax Hike since before it even saw the light of day.

No scrutiny. No skepticism. And, let's not forget the most important component of fulfilling the Heineman-Herald agenda: an absolute double-standard for any competing proposals, particularly those with the audacity to reflect the will of the people by tackling property taxes.

For just a taste of this double-standard, allow me to share the latest morsel of the World-Herald's hypocrisy in its Sunday editorial:
To hear some people, one would imagine that the sharp disagreement over using state income- and sales-tax revenues as a way to provide "property-tax relief" is something new for Nebraska. In reality, it is one of the most longstanding public-policy disagreements in the state.

And skepticism toward the effectiveness of such "relief" - skepticism based on legitimate, policycentered grounds - has a long pedigree. Consider this sampling from World-Herald editorials and articles from years past:

• Editorial from Oct. 5, 1983 - "The increasing suggestion that 'property-tax relief' is a proper goal for the 1984 Legislature should put Nebraska taxpayers on their guard. In tax matters, 'relief' almost always is spelled 's-h-i-f-t.' . . . The term 'tax relief' warrants similar caution. Unless someone guarantees a reduction in government spending, 'tax relief' for some taxpayers almost always means a heavier burden for others"....

• Editorial from Jan. 4, 1995 - "A New Year's thought for Nebraska taxpayers: Don't get your hopes up over talk of property-tax relief in the Nebraska Legislature. Nebraska has had nearly 30 years of schemes designed to reduce property taxes by raising the rates of the sales and income taxes. That approach hasn't worked.....

Note: This year marks 40 years since the creation of Nebraska's state sales and income taxes, along with the false hope of long-term property-tax relief.

Such considerations should not pre-empt an impassioned and informed debate in Lincoln this year over how to restructure Nebraska's woefully dysfunctional tax system. Conscientious lawmakers such as State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine...and State Sen. Tom White of Omaha have introduced serious legislative proposals that take a run at this longstanding issue.

As the debate on those and other proposals unfolds in Lincoln, however, everyone needs first to acknowledge that this is no new debate. It is a very old one. And it involves a long string of disappointments for Nebraska taxpayers.

Which is why any new bold proposal for state-directed "property tax relief" deserves rigorous scrutiny. History provides ample basis for skepticism.
One can't help but wonder how much the World-Herald's long-standing skepticism towards property tax relief hasn't directly contributed to its supposed failure over the years. When the state's most powerful voice has, for decades, been dismissive of efforts to reduce property taxes, their nay-saying is bound to have been a contributing factor in the do-nothing mentality they now hope to perpetuate.

The World-Herald doesn't want the state to do anything about property taxes, and they have used the guise of historical distrust to mask what is little more than a difference in priorities. Yet, in demanding property tax relief, the people of Nebraska can stand-up to Heineman and the Herald's bullying to remind state legislators who it is they actually represent.

By the way, is anyone else astonished to see that quote from 1983 about property tax relief representing a "tax shift"? Looks like Heineman is not only relying on the World-Herald to carry his water with the public but also to write his speeches and feed his rhetoric.

What's different from 1983 and today is that the World-Herald was then at least honest that "tax relief for some taxpayers almost always means a heavier burden for others." Today, Heineman wants to thrust - or shift - that heavier burden on the backs of those least able to bear it, and the World-Herald stands silent - without scrutiny or skepticism - but towards those plans that are far more equitable to the majority of Nebraskans.

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Anonymous Elisia Harvey said...

I'm starting to think that in this tax discussion, there are 5 groups of people:

1. The group that doesn't actually know any poor people, so it has no concept of how a tax increase affects the poor.

2. The group that knows poor people but doesn't realize it, and so it still has no concept of how tax increases affect the poor.

3. The group that is poor (or close to it) but doesn't think it is, and so doesn't include itself in the discussion of how tax increases affect the poor.

4. The group that knows it's poor, realizes that tax increases hurt it, but aren't taken seriously when it tries to speak up.

5. The group that is too busy working 60+ hours a week to have time to discuss public policy.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


You make a great point, and I'm well aware of those 4th and 5th groups who are so difficult to reach and to win over. If you have any ideas along these lines and want to expand them into a fuller article, you know it will have a home right here at NNN.


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