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Earlier this month, the Appropriations Committee heard testimony on a bill that would transfer $40 million from the Cash Reserve Fund to Natural Resource Districts with integrated management plans that have entered into contracts to construct or implement streamflow enhancement projects. Under LB 185, the loan would be repaid by June 30, 2018 with proceeds of the occupation tax. The authority to levy an occupation tax was granted by the Legislature to NRDs several years ago.
Four NRDs (the Upper Republican in Imperial, the Middle Republican in Curtis, the Lower Republican in Alma, and the Twin Platte in North Platte) worked together and purchased 19,500 acres of land. The plan was to take some farmland out of irrigation and to pump water into the Platte and Republican Rivers, in order to remain in compliance with the Republican River Compact (a 1943 three-state compact with Colorado and Kansas) and the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. The initial financing of the project was planned to be through the issuance of bonds with repayment being the proceeds of the occupation tax on irrigated lands collected by the four NRDs. However, a lawsuit was filed late last year by individual irrigators and two irrigation districts. Since the NRDs are unable to proceed with bonding authority while a lawsuit is pending, legislation was introduced to request a loan from the state.
After overwhelming opposition to the Governor’s proposal to fund the elimination of the individual income tax and the corporate income tax by repealing certain sales tax exemptions, Governor Heineman has asked the Revenue Committee to kill his proposal. This is a good example of the importance of input from the citizens of our state, showing that your opinions do have an impact on state government.
Amid all the opposition, the Governor did bring to light a topic that needs to be addressed. Since our tax code has not changed significantly in approximately 45 years, now is the time to have that discussion. LB 613, introduced by Senator Paul Schumacher of Columbus, was heard before the Executive Board this past week. It proposes to create a Tax Modernization Commission. The intent is to not only look at the income tax, but also study the sales tax, the property tax and other issues affecting state revenue, such as tax incentives. Under the proposal, a preliminary report is to be issued to the Legislature by December 15 of this year, in time for the introduction of legislation in the 2014 session. The legislation envisions an open process for the study, requiring the Commission to hold a tax summit, develop online questionnaires, and conduct public hearings across the state.
One of the bills that the Health and Human Services Committee heard this past week was LB 507, introduced by Senator Kathy Campbell, the chair of the committee. Under LB 507, the Step Up to Quality Child Care Act, the Nebraska Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services would be required to develop a quality rating and improvement system for child care and early childhood education programs. The purpose of the legislation is to bring accountability for the public funds invested in such programs. Under the proposal, the system would be available to all child care and early childhood education programs, but participation would be required for programs that receive significant amounts of public funds. In 2012, 43,000 children qualified for publicly-subsidized child care and licensed providers were paid more than $94 million in child care subsidy payments. It is imperative to ensure that the care the state supports is of high quality.
I encourage you to contact me with your opinions on legislation of interest. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My telephone number is (402) 471-2733 and my e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.