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This week’s column will be dedicated to the top issue in southeast Nebraska: property taxes. Last week, 44 of Nebraska’s 49 senators attended our annual “Legislative Council,” which was hosted this year in Nebraska City. At Legislative Council, senators give presentations on the major legislative issues we plan to tackle in the next session. Senator Linehan and the Revenue Committee presented their proposal of a multi-year plan for property tax relief. This plan would drop the valuation of ag land in the current school funding formula from 75% to 55% of assessed value and introduce a per-student funding mechanism for schools which do not receive state equalization aid. The state would cover the 20% drop in property tax revenue on ag land to prevent losses to school districts. Other measures for property tax relief on residential and commercial properties would be included in following years if the bill were to pass.
This bill would be solid progress in the right direction for our state. We have approximately $166 million in excess revenue, and instead of spending that extra money, I’d like to see it returned to the taxpayers through property tax relief. There were some urban senators who expressed their distaste for the proposed bill since the first round of relief does not directly impact their districts. Their concerns illustrate to me that we still have some senators who fail to grasp the crisis we’re facing in rural Nebraska.
Our farmers are feeling the pinch of sky-high property taxes, low commodity prices, extensive flooding and, up until recently, poor weather in the areas that were not flooded. Moreover, District 1 is the only legislative district in the state which borders on three other states: Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas. All three of these states have far better property tax climates and are in direct competition with our farmers. Our property owners that live in town face an uphill battle, as well. Young people are renting homes are far higher rates than in years past, making it easier to leave town without having established the roots grown in buying one’s first home. School boards in southeast Nebraska work to balance the interests of the taxpayers and the needs of their schools, further pressured by the state’s failure to provide consistent funding for rural education. The property tax crisis is the most serious obstacle to rural economic development, without question.
The Revenue Committee’s proposal falls short of completely overhauling the state’s tax code, which I believe is necessary. However, it does make solid steps in the right direction. Back in 1979, farmers drove their tractors to Washington D.C. to protest the Carter administration’s farm foreclosures. The idea was to draw the urban officials’ attention to rural issues. My urban colleagues would be well-served to seriously consider property tax proposals before such a display happens here in Nebraska.
As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: email@example.com.