Cities keep sales tax authority; Medicaid expansion looks dead; trouble over Whiteclay beer deliveries

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May 20, 2013 - 5:58pm

Cities in Nebraska won’t lose their ability to raise sales taxes; a key senator has all but given up on expanding Medicaid this year, and there is trouble with beer trucks in Whiteclay.

On sales tax, last week, senators seemed on the verge of repealing permission they gave cities last year to raise them another half percent. Sen. Ernie Chambers came within one vote of attaching an amendment to do that. Monday, Chambers had an additional vote from Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, who wasn’t there last week. But he lost three votes, including that of Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege.

"Last Thursday on this floor, I think I made a mistake," said Carlson. He said state officials complain a lot about what they consider federal overreach, and ought to follow the same policy toward municipalities. "Many of us think that states should have more freedom to govern themselves. We generally prefer local control. And if local control is a good thing, then I believe we ought to lead by example. We ought to practice what we preach. And we have our actions follow our talk.

Joining Carlson in switching their votes were Sens. Danielle Conrad and Kate Bolz of Lincoln. They supported the sales tax rollback on Thursday, but passed in Monday’s vote.

Also Monday, Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, the leading proponent of expanding Medicaid, all but acknowledged that effort is dead for this year. "Unless the unforeseen should happen… I do not see Medicaid expansion returning to the agenda because time is running out on me," Campbell said.

Campbell is now proposing a study of alternatives, including what Arkansas is proposing, to use Medicaid expansion dollars to subsidize purchases of private insurance policies on the new health care exchanges. However, she cautioned, any alternative would have to be approved by the federal government, which is still considering Arkansas’ plan, and cannot cost the federal government more than simply expanding Medicaid.

Also on Monday, Col. David Sankey, Nebraska State Patrol Superintendent was asked about recent incidents in which trucks delivering beer to Whiteclay have been vandalized and their drivers threatened. Sankey said the State Patrol is trying to address the problem. "We’re working with the Sheridan County officials up there to try and provide more law enforcement in the area, to try and perhaps time that better with those deliveries and be available when those situations occur so that if something like that occurs we’re available to respond," he said.

Whiteclay is a village in northwest Nebraska where four beer stores sell the equivalent of more than 4 million cans of beer a year, largely to residents of the officially-dry Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Asked about Sankey’s statement, tribal President Bryan Brewer said "All they worry about is protecting the owners of the bars making sure they can your alcohol to sell to our people to our people. I mean, If that’s all they’re concerned about I have a problem with that. They should be concerned about what the alcohol is doing to our people. But they’re concerned about the beer trucks," Brewer said.

Brewer said a better solution is a proposal he’s made to set up a permanent roadblock to check vehicles crossing the state line into the reservation. The council has not yet voted on that.

In other news, the Legislature voted 46-3 approval of the main budget bill, without any substantive debate or changes to the funding. Gov. Dave Heineman now has until Saturday to issue line item vetoes if he thinks any of the approved spending should be cut.

Correction: An earlier version of this story, and the audio version, incorrectly stated where in the state Whiteclay is located. 

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