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CAPITOL VIEW: Fate of CIR should be known soon PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 19 May 2011 16:48

Local governments haven’t fared well in the 2011 Legislature when it comes to money issues.

First, lawmakers completely did away with direct aid to cities, counties and natural resources districts. That cut, at the behest of Gov. Dave Heineman, cost the locals some $44 million over two years.

Now comes word that cities will likely be denied the option of asking local voters if they want to increase their local sales tax rate.

The proposal, opposed by Heineman, was seen by Omaha and some other communities as a way to ask, plead or beg voters to enhance the possibility for providing more revenue for local services.

The sales tax measure was likely sidetracked for the year when its chief sponsor, Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, said he intended to devote most of his energy to the enactment of a bill revising standards to be used by the state Commission of Industrial Relations.

A move by business and the state and local Chambers of Commerce to drastically rewrite the law – leaving the CIR with what amounts to mostly token authorities – didn’t pick up much steam in the Unicameral.

Whether a compromise could be reached was unclear at press time.

What was clear: Opponents of the CIR were prepared to initiate a petition drive aimed at letting Nebraskans decide in a statewide vote whether to eliminate the commission entirely.

CIR supporters don’t want that to happen.

For one thing, when voters are asked to eliminate anything in government – other than programs which send them money – there is every chance that whatever it is will get the proletariat’s heave-ho.

For another thing, Heineman has said that he won’t sign off on any bill that doesn’t make what he deems significant – but unspecified – revisions in the CIR system.

If no bill is enacted, either because of legislative inaction or because of a Heineman veto, the possibility of that referendum on the CIR’s existence comes into play.

The CIR settles disputes between unionized public employees, state government and local governments.

Local governments, Lincoln and Omaha most especially, say the current system is skewered in favor of labor. They also complain that the CIR’s decisions aren’t consistent and don’t take into account a local government’s ability to afford a CIR-mandated settlement.

The pending proposal would diminish some of the CIR’s authority and would expand the criteria it would be required to consider when deciding financial issues in labor disputes.

Opponents say it isn’t enough. How much would be enough, for them and for Heineman?

Keep reading your newspaper. We’ll know soon.

 

ED HOWARD is the statehouse correspondent for the Nebraska Press Association.