Six Republicans running for governor met in a debate for the final time prior to the May 13th primary in the television studios of the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
The Omaha World-Herald and UNO television co-produced the debate.
Moderator Mike’l Severe asked a variety of questions, including questions about taxes, prison overcrowding, troubles within the Department of Health and Human Services, and the defeat of Medicaid expansion in the Unicameral.
A simmering dispute between two of the candidates spilled over in the debate when Attorney General Jon Bruning accused former Ameritrade executive Pete Ricketts of secretly funding attack ads against him.
“I mean look at the evidence over the past. In 2012, there were hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by Pete Rickett’s Dad Joe Ricketts, his PAC Ending Spending, against me,” Bruning stated. “So now that Pete’s running for governor, he expects Nebraskans to believe that his family is sitting out. It’s just not credible. Nebraskans know the truth and I trust them to know the truth.”
Bruning lost a close primary election in the United States Senate race in 2012 to then-state Sen. Deb Fischer. Fischer went on to win the general election.
Ricketts denied the accusation. He also disputed an assertion made by Bruning that donors had told him Ricketts was behind the third-party attack ads.
“One of the things that Jon has been talking about is things that happened in the last election cycle that, of course, he actually was able to talk about, because he knew it,” Ricketts responded. “And he’s mentioned these donors he talked to. That’s just not true. If Jon has evidence, he should come out and say who are the donors’ names and who are the people who told (him) this. I can tell you right now what he is talking about is simply not true.”
Severe pressed state Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha on his pledge to create 10,000 new jobs in his term as governor or not run for re-election. Severe noted the state Department of Labor reports Nebraska typically produces 10,000 new jobs each year.
McCoy said he isn’t talking about typical jobs.
“Those 10,000 jobs are the jobs that you can raise a family on; you can make a great career of. Those are difficult to get those jobs going and they’re ones that I’m going to roll up my sleeve and work very hard to do,” McCoy replied.
Omaha tax attorney Bryan Slone advocated a big change in the state tax structure.
“We need to lower the rates and eliminate special interest deductions and credits,” Slone stated. “And just like the federal government where it created a greater economy, the free-market will always allocate resources better than government picking winners and losers.”
State Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege says state government needs to ask some questions before it undertakes any radical change in Nebraska’s tax system.
“What’s the purpose? Is it to raise more money or is it to spend money in a better way?” Carlson asked. “So, if our objective is to raise money that’s the wrong thing to do.”
State Auditor Mike Foley dismissed the suggestion that Nebraska eliminate some of the sales tax exemptions it grants, since the state grants more exemptions than it collects in taxes.
“I’m not interested in expanding the sales tax base. We have too many taxes in Nebraska,” according to Foley. “The tax burden on the people of Nebraska is excessive.”
Click here for a link to the entire debate.