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The Legislature spent the better part of the mornings this past week debating a bill calling for a comprehensive study of our tax system. As amended, LB 613 creates the Tax Modernization Committee, whose purpose is to review and study the state’s tax laws, including, but not limited to, sales taxes, income taxes, property taxes, and other miscellaneous taxes and credits.
The Tax Modernization Committee would be comprised of the Revenue Committee members and the chairs of the Appropriations, Health and Human Services, Education, Agriculture, and Planning Committees. The committee is to consider fairness, competitiveness, simplicity and compliance, stability, adequacy and the interrelationships of the tax systems within the state revenue system as a whole. The importance of public input is recognized in the legislation and the committee is authorized to hold public hearings.
A report is to be issued by December 15, containing recommendations to update state, county, and local tax policies and to identify areas of concern that require further in-depth analysis and study.
LB 613 gained steam after LB 405 and LB 406 were introduced at the request of the Governor. The legislation called for the elimination or the reduction of income taxes, as well as the repeal of certain sales tax exemptions granted to business, agriculture, hospitals and other nonprofit groups. Due to an outcry from the public, both bills were killed by the Revenue Committee and LB 613 was advanced to the floor of the Legislature by the Executive Board.
Senator Ernie Chambers filibustered LB 613 because he was upset that several bills were being advanced to alter current taxes in light of the pending study, but the Revenue Committee did not advance a bill that he introduced to repeal LB 357, which was passed last year allowing for a local option sales tax rate of up to 2 percent. He offered numerous amendments to LB 613, slightly changing the wording of the legislation. After eight hours of debate and a successful cloture motion, LB 613 was given first-round approval on a 47-1 vote.
I support LB 613 because I feel that it is time to review the tax system. Over the years, new taxes and fees have been put in place, other taxes have been repealed, rates have been adjusted, and exemptions have been granted, but no one has looked at the whole picture to determine how the different parts work together. Times have changed over the past decades and our tax system needs to reflect those changes, while remaining competitive with other states.
An amendment is pending for the second stage of debate that would place a moratorium until July 15, 2014 on the imposition of a local option sales tax in excess of 1 ½ percent, which was the maximum amount allowed prior to the passage of LB 357 last year. Any tax rate above 1 ½ percent that was approved by electors prior to the effective date of the legislation would be allowed to remain in effect. I assume the intent of the proposed moratorium is to prohibit additional towns from utilizing the increased rate while the comprehensive tax study takes place. The amendment also places a moratorium on any new occupation tax or any increase in the rate of an existing occupation tax.
The public hearing process has been completed for this year. Full day debate will begin on March 27th and continue through the last day of the legislative session, which is set for June 5th. During this time, senators will try to discuss as many priority bills as possible and must pass a biennial budget. If you have any comments on bills that have been given priority status, I encourage you to contact me. My address is District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.