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The Legislature has 13 days left in this legislative session, with the 90th legislative day set for June 5. This past week, senators gave the budget bills second-round approval. The budget is now ready for Final Reading.
As I mentioned last week, the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board increased their projections for the next biennium by $9.7 million. The Appropriations Committee recommended the dedication of $8 million of the projected increase to the Property Tax Credit program. With the added $4 million each year, bringing the increase in the program to $64 million annually, taxpayers will see a total of $204 million per year in direct property tax relief. This credit is reflected on annual property tax statements. The Legislature approved the committee’s recommendation, prior to advancing the budget bills.
There were several other changes to the budget that were recommended by the Appropriations Committee and approved by the entire Legislature during Select File debate. Appropriations were updated for the multi-year project to replace the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning system at the State Capitol, based on continued planning and a better estimate of costs. A geothermal system has been identified as the preferred option, instead of contracting with the University of Nebraska for chilled water. Although it will cost more initially, it is expected to be more energy efficient in future years.
Funding was added to the budget for the Nebraska Developing Youth Talent Initiative. This initiative requires the Department of Economic Development to fund two pilot programs that are targeted to businesses in the manufacturing and technology sectors for two years. Grants would be provided to private sector for-profit entities, one of which must be in a rural area. This initiative will develop an industry-led partnership with schools to assist in specific career learning opportunities in manufacturing and technology sectors.
The Legislature gave first-round approval to a bill that was prioritized by the Revenue Committee. LB 259 would exempt from property tax the first $10,000 of valuation of depreciable tangible personal property in each tax district in which a personal property tax return is required to be filed. Although this wasn’t as comprehensive of a tax relief plan as some senators had hoped, it is estimated that it will provide for an average decrease of $162 in the personal property tax bills for business owners, farmers and other taxpayers.
The Legislature gave LB 610 final approval this past week on a 26-15 vote, with eight senators not voting. LB 610 proposes to increase the gas tax by a total of six cents over a four-year period. Revenue from the gas tax, which has remained flat over the past 20 years, has not kept up with the cost of road construction. The increased revenue is to be divided between the state Department of Roads, counties and cities, to be used for necessary road and bridge projects. Since the Governor has vetoed LB 610, the Legislature will need to override his veto if the tax increase is to take effect. Thirty votes are required on a motion to override, which is four more votes than given on final reading. I voted against LB 610, as I would prefer an increase in the current amount of sales tax dedicated to roads over a gas tax increase.
We have been working through the lunch hour and into the evening in an attempt to debate every priority bill. If you have any comments on the legislation that is still before us, I encourage you to contact me. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.
The Legislature is at the half-way mark of this 90-day session. This past week marked the priority bill designation deadline. Senators have the ability to designate one bill as their personal priority bill. Committees can designate two bills as committee priority bills and the Speaker of the Legislature is given the authority to designate up to 25 bills as speaker priority bills. After this point in the legislative session, generally only bills with priority status are debated by the Legislature.
I chose LB 106 as my priority bill. LB 106, the Livestock Operation Siting and Expansion Act, was recently advanced from the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. It directs the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, with advice from experts representing the Nebraska Association of County Officials, livestock production agriculture and the University of Nebraska, to develop an assessment matrix for use by county officials when determining whether to approve an application for a livestock operation siting permit. Nebraska’s agricultural industry has not grown in the past two decades at rates comparable to our neighboring states. LB 106 would provide for consistent standards, based on factual, objective criteria to be used by local governing bodies when granting permits, thereby allowing for more predictability and uniformity in the process.
As chair of the Performance Audit Committee, we chose LB 538 and LB 598 as committee priority bills. LB 538, introduced by the Performance Audit Committee, creates a process for ongoing evaluation of Nebraska’s tax incentive programs, in order to give legislators information to draw clear conclusions about whether tax incentives are benefitting Nebraska’s economy and meeting program goals. LB 538 requires the Legislative Audit Office to conduct a performance audit of each tax incentive program at least every three years.
LB 598, introduced by Senator Paul Schumacher, addresses the use of segregation in our prisons. Rules would be developed to guide the level of confinement, conditions, behavior, and mental health status of inmates. The legislation contains recommendations from an interim study conducted by the Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee of the Legislature, which incorporated results from an audit conducted by the Performance Audit Committee.
Other bills designated as priority bills by individual senators include:
LB 350, introduced and prioritized by Senator Lydia Brasch, reduces the valuation of agricultural land for purposes of property taxation from 75% to 65%. As of this time, LB 350 has failed to advance from the Revenue Committee.
Another bill that was prioritized but has not advanced from the Revenue Committee was LB 357, introduced by Senator Jim Smith. It proposes to reduce the individual and corporate income tax rates and increase the amount of funding to the Property Tax Credit program. The tax relief would be funded through transfers from the cash reserve and reductions in spending.
LB 586 prohibits discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity. This bill was introduced by Senator Adam Morfeld and designated as a priority by Senator Patty Pansing Brooks.
LB 610 was introduced by Senator Jim Smith and prioritized by Senator Curt Friesen. It would increase the gas tax by 1.5 cents every year for four years, with revenue being used by cities, counties and the state for road and bridge projects.
LB 643 proposes to legalize marijuana for medical use. It was introduced and prioritized by Senator Tommy Garrett.
Among the bills designated as priorities by committees include:
LB 259, which as amended by committee amendments, would exempt the first $15,000 worth of personal property value for each personal property tax return. This bill was designated as a priority by the Revenue Committee. Although this will provide some property tax relief, many senators were disappointed that the committee did not offer a more comprehensive solution.
LB 472 was prioritized by the Health and Human Services Committee. It is Senator Kathy Campbell’s third attempt at Medicaid expansion, which was ruled optional for states after the Affordable Care Act was challenged in court.
If you have any comments on the bills that have been given priority status, I encourage you to contact me. 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 email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
This past week, the Legislature debated whether the fees for issuing a marriage license and providing certified copies of marriage records should be increased. The marriage license fee hasn’t been increased since 1995. The proposed increase, from $15 to $50, would cover the counties’ administrative costs for issuance. Currently taxpayers are subsidizing a good portion of the cost. Amendments are pending to lower the proposed increase to $30 or $35. Under LB 88, the cost of providing a certified copy of a marriage record would increase from $5 to $16, which would align the fee charged by counties with what is charged by the Bureau of Vital Statistics.
Chief Justice Michael Heavican delivered his State of the Judiciary this past week. In his speech, he mentioned that the Judicial Branch participated in the Council of State Government’s Justice Reinvestment Working Group, along with the Executive Branch and Legislative Branch. The analysis from the CSG group found that people sentenced to probation have lower recidivism rates than people sentenced to prison and emphasized the value of increasing the use of sentencing alternatives.
Chief Justice Heavican reported on two effective sentencing alternatives available for our courts, instead of more costly incarceration sentences. Nebraska’s 16 problem-solving courts served more than 1,000 people last year, resulting in an estimated $15 million cost savings. Drug courts emphasize education and employment and results have shown that 95% of active participants are gainfully employed or attending school full-time. Furthermore, an evaluation of the drug courts portrayed that 95% of those who successfully complete the program remain crime-free one year afterwards. The second alternative is the Specialized Substance Abuse Supervision (SSAS) program, which provides an opportunity for otherwise prison-bound substance abusers to be intensively supervised by probation while receiving treatment. This program has seen 91% of participants remaining crime-free one year after being successfully discharged from the program. Additionally, an average of 94% of graduates were gainfully employed.
Several bills were heard before the Revenue Committee this past week that attempt to deal with the issue of high property taxes. Senator Kate Bolz of Lincoln introduced LB 186, which would establish a refundable income tax credit program. At a projected cost of over $200 million annually, this “circuit breaker” legislation aims to provide income tax credits to people whose property taxes or monthly rents are high compared with their incomes.
I introduced LB 178, which would lower the valuation on agricultural land from 75% to 55% for school district taxation purposes. Nebraska farmers and ranchers today represent less than 3% of the state’s population but pay more than 30% of the total property taxes collected statewide. Furthermore, in the last decade, property taxes on agricultural land has increased 162%, compared with the 40% increase in residential property over the same time period. Although I realize this legislation isn’t the end solution to the property tax problem, I feel that it is a first step, in that it helps address the disproportionate burden placed on rural land owners in the support of their school districts. The increased state aid which would be generated by this bill would be approximately $55 million, after the reduction in valuation is phased in over a four-year period.
Grand Island Senator Mike Gloor introduced LB 259, which proposes to exempt the first $25,000 in value of personal property. The fiscal impact on this bill is approximately $40 million per year.
More bills have been introduced with the goal of lowering property taxes in our state, which I will report on in coming weeks. If you have any questions or comments on legislation proposing property tax relief or on other issues before the Legislature, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.