OpenSky welcomes new fiscal policy analyst and Weitz Fellow 

OpenSky is happy to announce that Elizabeth Gleason has joined our staff as our new Fiscal Policy Analyst and Lillie Cox has joined our team as a Weitz Fellow.

Prior to joining OpenSky, Elizabeth — a Nebraska native — worked as a research analyst at the University of Maryland. Elizabeth has a master’s degree in public policy from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Lillie is a recent graduate of Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. Prior to her graduation, Lillie served as an education fellow at Carleton’s Center for Community and Civic Engagement and as a tutor in the Northfield Reads and Counts program.

She also was an intern for a U.S. Congressman and a U.S. Senate campaign. The Weitz Fellowship Program is supported by the Weitz Family Foundation of Omaha and places recent Carleton College graduates in positions with non-profits in Lincoln and Omaha.

Save the date — OpenSky Fall Policy Symposium set for Sept. 21!

We’re excited to announce that OpenSky Policy Institute’s 2017 Fall Policy Symposium will be held Thursday, Sept. 21 at Nebraska Innovation Campus, 2021 Transformation Drive in Lincoln.

We’re happy to have Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First as our keynote presenter. LeRoy is considered one of the nation’s foremost experts on business tax incentives.

Further detail about the event will be announced in the coming weeks, but we want you to mark your calendars so that you can plan to join us at the symposium.

We hope to see you on Sept. 21!

Updated budget primer available online

Download an updated copy of our budget and tax primer, “Looking for Clarity: An Overview of Nebraska Budget and Tax Policy.”

The easy-to-read primer – which was updated recently with the most current state fiscal date — takes the confusion out of Nebraska’s laws and tax codes and distills it into a concise, manageable summary of how Nebraska collects and spends funds.

Looking for Clarity offers an unbiased look at Nebraska’s budget. OpenSky has combined information regarding the budget process, state spending, state revenue, and tax expenditures in one place. Helpful visuals and real-world examples illustrate where taxpayer dollars go.


A final Give to Lincoln Day 2017 thank you! 

Thanks to our amazing supporters, OpenSky raised $26,056, including $2,615 in Lincoln Community Foundation matching funds, during Give to Lincoln Day last month!

We are incredibly grateful for the generosity shown by so many OpenSky donors as we couldn’t do what we do without our amazing supporters. — The OpenSky Team

Kansas lawmakers roll back income tax cuts

The Kansas Legislature on Tuesday evening overrode a gubernatorial veto and rolled back some of the income tax cuts that have caused major problems during the past five years.

The Associated Press wrote, “The state will increase its personal income tax rates and end an exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners. Legislators expect the changes to raise $1.2 billion in new revenue over two years to close projected budget shortfalls totaling $889 million through June 2019 and also provide additional funds for public schools.”

In the wake of the of 2012 income tax cuts, Kansas was beset by problems such as:

Read the full AP article about the tax-cut rollback.

Sustained vetoes will cut provider rate funding for key services; Tax credits for private school scholarship donations raise concerns

Provider rate funding for services for the developmentally disabled and other populations will be reduced following the Legislature’s rejection of $32.7 million in gubernatorial veto overrides on Wednesday.

Biennial cuts that will result from lawmakers sustaining the governor’s vetoes include:

·        $32.5 million in provider rate funding for developmental disability services, behavioral health services, child welfare and other health and human services; and

·        $300,000 in funding for probation services.

The sustained vetoes were part of a budget veto package that reduced general fund appropriations by $56.5 million. The vetoes — which add to budget cuts already made by the Legislature — also reduced funding for higher education and the replacement of the State Capitol’s heating and air conditioning system. The vetoes called for adjustments to some funds within the Department of Roads budget, as well.

In another state fiscal development, the Omaha World-Herald reported that Legislature’s Revenue Committee on Thursday advanced LB 295 to be debated by the full Unicameral next year. The bill would allow taxpayers to claim income tax credits for the full amount of donations to private K-12 school scholarship programs. The proposed committee amendment to the bill (AM1418) would limit the credit to:

·        $10,000 for a married couple filing jointly and $5,000 for all other taxpayers;

·        $50,000 for S Corporations, LLCs, partnerships, estates and trusts; and

·        $150,000 for corporations.

Under AM1418, the total value of credits provided by the state would be limited to $2 million in the first year and could increase gradually each year, capping out at $10 million annually.
Furthermore, the amendment stipulates that corporations could claim up to 70 percent of those credits. Two other amendments are pending:

AM 1420, which would change the corporate limit from $150,000 to $100,000; and

AM 1421, which would allow corporations to claim up to 75 percent of the total amounts of the credits.

LB 295 enhances the tax benefits of donating to scholarship-granting organizations, as opposed to other types of charitable donations because providing a 100 percent credit for such a donation results in a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the amount of taxes owed. All other charitable donations reduce taxable income, which means the tax benefit is worth the amount of deduction multiplied by the tax rate in the tax bracket in which one’s income would have fallen prior to the deduction.

OpenSky has several concerns about the measure, Executive Director Renee Fry said, including the fact that some wealthy donors may actually be able to profit from their donations to scholarship-granting organizations.

“In fact, in other states that have similar programs, such as South Carolina and Georgia, some scholarship organizations advertise these credits as money-making opportunities,” Fry said. “At a time when a major budget shortfall is causing cuts to key services like higher education and programs for the developmentally disabled, we have serious concerns about creating a new tax credit that would further reduce revenue and allow wealthy Nebraskans to turn a profit by way of the tax code.”

Read this recent report from ITEP and AASA to learn more about the effects of tax credits for donations to private school scholarship programs.

Download an updated Nebraska Taxes At A Glance

We recently updated our Nebraska Taxes At A Glance document, which provides an overview of income, sales and property taxes in Nebraska. Download a PDF copy here.

Budget vetoes include funding for provider rates, Capitol HVAC, higher ed; Override debate could come Wednesday

Many state agencies — including the university, state college and community college systems — would see additional .5 percent reductions in funding under line-item budget vetoes made by the governor. In total, the vetoes would result in an additional $7.3 million in cuts to higher education over the next biennium.

Furthermore, the vetoes would reduce provider rate funding more than $16.8 million per year and cut $11.06 million in funding for the replacement of the State Capitol’s heating and air conditioning system. In total, the governor’s vetoes would cut about $56.5 million in General Fund appropriations from the budget approved by the Legislature last week. The vetoes also make adjustments to some funds within the Department of Roads budget.

According to media reports, the Appropriations Committee will discuss the vetoes on Tuesday and any legislative floor debate on overrides of the vetoes would be held Wednesday. NET Nebraska will stream any override debate live.

OpenSky statement on Gov. Ricketts’ comments regarding April’s receipts report

For immediate release – May 11, 2017

LINCOLN — The following is a statement from OpenSky Policy Institute Executive Director Renee Fry regarding the comments made by Gov. Ricketts about April’s tax receipts and the information distributed by OpenSky on Wednesday:

“Following this governor’s comments this morning, we have no disagreement about the numbers that were presented by him and Budget Director Oligmueller. We do take issue with the claim that OpenSky put out false information. We stand by the information we put out yesterday. The comparison of April’s receipts to February’s forecast created confusion as the Legislature’s budget factored in the April forecast, not the February forecast.”

Contact Chuck Brown at 402-610-1522 or for more information.

Sen. Campbell: Join me in supporting OpenSky on Give to Lincoln Day

Dear Friend,

I will support OpenSky Policy Institute on Give to Lincoln Day on May 18 because this amazing team provides some of the most thorough, accurate analysis of vital fiscal issues before the Nebraska Legislature.

Senators, media members and Nebraska residents in general rely on OpenSky for its non-partisan approach and comprehensive review of how important tax, budget and school finance legislation affects Nebraska’s future.

I hope you will join me in supporting OpenSky with a Give to Lincoln Day gift. Because it helps us secure a portion of a $350,000 matching pool generously offered by the Lincoln Community Foundation, a gift to OpenSky on or before Give to Lincoln Day is a great way to maximize your support of our mission to improve opportunities for every Nebraskan. Last year during Give to Lincoln, generous supporters helped OpenSky raise more than $29,000, including more than $3,000 in matching funds. We hope to surpass that this year.

You can help ensure OpenSky continues to be a trusted resource to senators, reporters and others via:

  • An online donation to OpenSky through our Give to Lincoln Website;
  • A gift from a Lincoln Community Foundation Donor Advised Fund; or
  • Check or cash gifts dropped off at the Lincoln Community Foundation (215 Centennial Mall, Suite No. 100) on Give to Lincoln Day. Checks must be made out to “Lincoln Community Foundation” with “OpenSky Policy Institute” written in the memo line.

You also can mail or drop checks off at the OpenSky office and we will hand-deliver them to the foundation office. Checks must be in the OpenSky office by May 18. The address is:

OpenSky Policy Institute
1201 O St., Suite 010
Lincoln, NE 68508

Again, I hope you will join me in supporting OpenSky and their important work.


Sen. Kathy Campbell
OpenSky Board Member