Leaving for love and all the other reasons
Gov. Jim Pillen, flanked by several state senators, unveiled his tax cut proposals Wednesday. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)
From Gov. Jim Pillen’s State of the State address last month: “Our tax policy chases our kids and grandparents out of the state. We can’t grow Nebraska that way.”
Really? Taxes drain the state of young brains? Drive Nana and Papa from their homes?
The idea cropped up again later at a hearing on Legislative Bill 754, which would gradually lower the top individual and corporate income tax rate to 3.99 percent by 2027. The argument, pushed by Pillen and others, is that lower taxes keep people from leaving the state while bringing others in, including businesses.
The point seems to make sense but is thin on the receipts to prove that taxes play much of a role in outmigration.
Curious, I spent two afternoons reading a variety of studies on why we move from one state to another. Taxes were barely a blip. Maybe they were a subcategory of “other” or “cost of living” or buried in the assumption that lower taxes create good jobs, which often enriches job creators more than attracts out-of-state workers. I found no strong connection.
Much of the research into this type of migration is focused on older workers because they are at the end of their earning potential and primed to move … often to warmer climes, some from the cryogenics experiment we call winter in Nebraska. Smart.
Recent college grads and other young skilled workers are at the beginning of their earning potential. When they and their minds leave the state’s census rolls, it should raise alarms … no offense to grandma and grandpa.
No study I found — either peer-reviewed academic research or surveys from moving companies and business magazines — indicated state émigrés were escaping the lash of onerous tax policies.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs, found that Nebraska yearly loses about 2,000 people with college degrees. Of the 20 categories of reasons they left, tax relief was not one of them.
So why do we migrate from state to state? Here’s generally what I found, reasons you probably could have guessed: We pack up and pick up for better jobs, for love, for better weather, for a chance to be closer to family, for a return to “home,” for health reasons, for educational opportunities, for freeing ourselves from urban traffic and crime or the perpetual limits of provincial life or for the peace of mind that comes from living in a place with values you value.
Speaking of which, for years Nebraskans have fervently touted the state’s values as a draw for transplants from the other 49. We called it the “Good Life.” We still do, although now we’ve added the nuance and irony of “Honestly, It’s Not for Everyone.”
My nickel says no clever tourism slogan has ever stopped brain drain or outbound migration. That said, what we value — as evidenced by our behavior — remains important to those of us who call the state home. Which is why two recent news stories surely gave pause to those counting individual exoduses from Nebraska.
Without getting into dueling polls, a couple recent ones revealed that about six Nebraskans in 10 opposed further state abortion restrictions. The Legislature had a public hearing in late January on a proposed law, LB 626, that would prohibit doctors from performing abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, in essence creating a near total ban in the state. Like taxes, abortion laws do not show up among the reasons people leave a state. But for a woman — especially a young woman solidly represented in that 60% — who wants control of her body, her health and her family planning, LB 626, if passed, may become a factor in our state’s brain drain.
Another event, too, may inform and influence someone considering a job in Seattle, a move closer to family in Michigan or the warmth of Palm Springs. According to data from the Southern Poverty Law Center and 24/7 Wall St., Nebraska has the dubious honor of being the state with the highest number of hate groups per capita.
Some Nebraskans may indeed have left for greener tax pastures. Still, if we’re going to address both our tax policies and the loss of ambitious, bright young minds, we need to do it with facts. That means losing the hyperbole and overestimation of what role — if any — the way we tax ourselves has on those considering a call to Allied Van Lines.
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