NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. Dan Watermeier

Sen. Dan Watermeier

District 1

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov

Legislative Update

April 21st, 2016

After completing their work, the Nebraska Legislature has adjourned sine die. Senators balanced the budget, provided property tax relief to agricultural landowners, tightened limits on school district spending, accelerated road projects, and increased opportunities for wind energy development.

Governor Ricketts vetoed three bills, but the Legislature attempted to override only one. LB 947, introduced by Omaha Senator Heath Mello, allows lawfully present immigrants to apply for professional and commercial licenses. This bill would extend benefits to youth qualifying for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Under executive order, President Obama has allowed certain young people that were brought into the country illegally as children to be deemed temporarily lawfully present in our country. Last year, the governor vetoed legislation allowing drivers’ licenses for this group of individuals, but his veto was overridden on a 34-10 vote. Thirty votes are required to override a governor’s veto.

The Governor felt that LB 947 was unfair and was concerned with the scope of the legislation, which would provide business licenses to a much broader group of illegal immigrants than just the young adults under the federal DACA program. Supporters of the legislation viewed it as a workforce development issue. After attending college in Nebraska, they did not want to see these skilled youth leave for another state in order to obtain the license necessary for their job. Senators voted 31-13 to override the governor’s veto of LB 947.

The other two bills vetoed were LB 580 and LB 935. LB 580 proposed to change the redistricting process of drawing maps for governing districts, which is required every 10 years after a new census. The bill proposed to create an Independent Redistricting Citizen’s Advisory Commission in an effort to take some of the politics out of the process. Governor Ricketts believed that LB 580 was constitutionally suspect as the Nebraska Constitution requires the Legislature to conduct legislative redistricting. Senator John Murante, the primary sponsor of LB 580, chose to continue to work on this proposal rather than attempt to override the governor’s veto.

LB 935 proposed several changes in audit procedures and state operations. The Governor will work with the State Auditor on a revised proposal next year, in order to still achieve the policy objectives of the legislation but reduce bureaucratic paperwork.

Term limits affected eleven senators this year. Senators who cannot run again include the Speaker of the Legislature and the chairs of the Appropriations Committee, Education Committee, Health and Human Services Committee, Natural Resources Committee and Revenue Committee. Next year will see many new leaders emerge to carry on their responsibilities.

After senators finished their work on the last day, those outgoing senators were recognized and given the opportunity to give some final remarks. Senators spend a great deal of time together and things can get heated at times. However, we also develop a certain kind of bond that comes from working together for the betterment of the entire state. Consequently, the ceremonies on the last day can be emotional, as outgoing senators say goodbye to their colleagues.

With the session concluding, I will be spending more time at home in the district. I will be in Lincoln on a weekly basis for meetings, public hearings, and office work. My office will still be able to assist you throughout the interim, as my staff will be available if I am not, and we correspond on a daily basis. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

February 19th, 2016

February 19th marked the deadline for priority bill designations. Every senator is allowed to designate one bill as their personal priority bill. Committees are allowed to designate two bills and the Speaker of the Legislature is allowed to designate up to 25 bills as speaker priority bills. Typically, after the deadline date, bills that have not been designated as priorities do not stand a good chance of being debated, unless they are non-controversial and are chosen for consent calendar.

I chose LB 744 as my priority bill. It recognizes communication and contact agreements to permit continuing communication and contact after the placement of an adoptee between the birth parents and the adoptive parents in private and agency adoptions. However, the law would make it clear that the existence of, or the failure to comply with such agreements, does not affect the adoption decree, the relinquishment of parental rights, or the written consent to adoption.

Senator Lydia Brasch chose LB 960, introduced by Senator Jim Smith, at the request of the Governor, as her priority bill. LB 960, the Transportation Innovation Act, would create three new programs funded by transfers of up to $150 million from the Cash Reserve Fund to the Transportation Infrastructure Bank Fund by June 30, 2023 and pledges up to $150 million of state motor fuel taxes collected during the same time period. A major purpose of the Accelerated State Highway Capital Improvement Program is to fast-track the completion of the expressway system. The County Bridge Match Program is proposed to promote innovative solutions and additional funding to accelerate the repair and replacement of county bridges. The goal behind the Economic Opportunity Program is to finance transportation improvements to attract and support new businesses and business expansions.

Senator Ernie Chambers picked LB 1056, the Patient Choice at End of Life Act. This legislation would allow an adult with a terminal illness to request a prescription for aid-in-dying medication. Senator Tommy Garrett has chosen LB 643, which would allow for the use of marijuana for medical treatment. Senator Mike Gloor selected LB 1013, which proposes to increase the tax on cigarettes from $0.64 to $2.14 per package.

Senator Laura Ebke has designated LR 35, which calls for Nebraska to join other states in passing an application calling for an interstate convention for the purpose of proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The scope of the convention is to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress. The convention will only occur after 34 states pass the same application. In order for a valid amendment to emerge from the convention, it needs a simple majority vote. However, it still must be ratified by the legislatures of 38 states before becoming part of the U.S. Constitution.

Senator Mike Groene selected LB 717, which would change the way that land is assessed for property tax purposes, using a 5-year history of comparable sales, rather than the current 3-year history for agricultural and commercial property and two years for residential property. It would exclude the sales that constitute the lowest 20% of assessment ratios, thereby removing abnormal sales and smoothing out the spikes in valuation. It would also freeze 2016 valuations at the 2015 level of assessment.

Senator Jim Scheer picked LB 883 as his priority. This bill, which I have mentioned several times in past newsletters, proposes to add a student foundation aid component to the school finance formula. It would provide a base level of funding to all public school districts, regardless of whether they qualify for equalization aid.

Senator John Kuehn prioritized LR 378, a constitutional amendment introduced in an effort to protect agriculture as a vital sector of Nebraska’s economy by guaranteeing the rights of Nebraskans to engage in farming and ranching practices. It is meant to protect Nebraska farms from out-of-state extremist animal rights and environmental groups that target Nebraska agriculture.

The Revenue Committee chose LB 958 and the Education Committee selected LB 959 as committee priority bills. These two bills, introduced at the request of the Governor, aim to slow the increase in statewide agricultural land valuation, slow the growth of property taxes levied by the political subdivisions, and slow the growth of spending by schools.

The Health and Human Services Committee selected LB 1032 as one of their committee priority bills. LB 1032, which would adopt the Transitional Health Insurance Program Act, is the fourth attempt at Medicaid Expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act. Even with the federal government picking up 90% of the cost, the Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that over a 10-year period, it could cost our state almost $1 billion to pay for health insurance for this expanded population.

These are just a few of the bills that have been designated as priorities, but portray the controversial issues that have been selected. Senators are set to begin all day debate the first full week in March. I can foresee that we will be working into the evening on many nights prior to our scheduled last day on April 20.

I have heard from constituents who have received telephone calls from organizations asking them to call their senator either in support or against a certain issue. Sometimes these robo calls may give you incorrect information. You may need to ask some questions or do some research in order to get the full story.

As we get into discussion of priority bills, I encourage you to inform me of your opinions. Only with your input, can I thoroughly represent my district. 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 dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov.

 

Legislative Update

February 5th, 2016

The chairman of the Revenue Committee, Senator Mike Gloor, introduced LB 958 at the request of the governor. LB 958 is part of a property tax relief proposal offered by Governor Pete Ricketts. The public hearing on LB 958 was held this past week before the Revenue Committee, lasting 6 ½ hours. The governor was the first proponent testifying after Senator Gloor.

The intent of the Governor’s proposal is to slow the increase in state-wide agricultural land valuation and to slow the growth of spending and therefore, property taxes levied by political subdivisions. The legislation limits the budgeted growth of restricted funds, eliminates exclusions to the levy limit, and limits the state-wide increase in agricultural land valuation to 3%.

Under LB 958, if the increase in agricultural land in any year exceeds 3% on a statewide aggregated basis, the Property Tax Administrator will determine the factor needed to uniformly and proportionately reduce the value of every parcel of agricultural land so that the statewide aggregate increase on agricultural land does not exceed 3%. The adjusted valuation used for the calculation of the school finance formula would also be adjusted by this factor.

Governor Ricketts said that the legislation introduced this year is a step toward his broader goal of tax relief in Nebraska. He pledged to continue to work to reduce property and income taxes during his time as governor. He mentioned that he has heard from Nebraskans that say his proposal doesn’t go far enough and from others, primarily local governments, that felt it goes too far, leading him to conclude that it strikes the right balance.

Earlier this week, the Nebraska Farm Bureau, the Nebraska Cattlemen and the Nebraska Pork Producers all indicated their support for LB 958. The three major agricultural groups believe that the governor’s proposal is a step in the right direction and will help remedy the disproportionate property tax burden placed on agricultural landowners when supporting school districts.

Open Sky Policy Institute testified in opposition to LB 958. The Institute released a policy brief stating that if an assessment growth cap on agricultural land had been in effect for this year, it would have resulted in shortfalls for schools and other localities, tax shifts and disparate impacts on agricultural landowners. They cited another study which stated that such unintended consequences are why assessment caps are among the least effective, least equitable, and least efficient strategies available for property tax relief. While the intent of the cap is to help the agricultural community, the Institute believes that the largest benefits will go to farmers and ranchers near urban areas, not to the most rural parts of Nebraska.

Others testifying in opposition to LB 958 stated that the bill would shift taxes to residential and commercial property owners. Others feared the potential loss in revenue for school districts and other political subdivisions. City representatives stated that it would hinder their ability to save money for major projects, as well as provide for services such as public health and 911 coverage, because the bill would put capital improvements and expenditures for interlocal agreements under the overall budget limit.

As the Legislature continues to discuss various bills pertaining to tax relief, I encourage your comment. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number at the capitol is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

January 28th, 2016

The legislative session is well underway, having passed the one-fourth mark of this 60-day session. Senators have been debating controversial issues, with several bills encountering a filibuster and requiring a cloture motion before the vote to advance can be taken.

LB 471 is an important bill that didn’t require much debate and was easily advanced by senators this past week. This bill, introduced by Omaha Senator Sara Howard, will strengthen the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program in Nebraska. Currently, dispensers of prescription drugs are not required to report prescription information and patients can opt out of having their information reported. LB 471 would prohibit patients from opting out of the system and would require all dispensed prescriptions to be entered into the system, including those with cash payments. Prescribers and dispensers of prescription drugs would be able to access the system at no cost to the provider.

Narcotic overdose deaths are a significant problem. Persons addicted to prescription drugs will go from doctor to doctor to obtain prescription painkillers. Nebraska and Missouri are the only states that have not implemented an operational prescription drug monitoring program. Senator Howard disclosed documentation showing that people from 38 states have come to Nebraska to fill prescriptions for narcotic pain medications. LB 471 would close loopholes in our current program in an effort to prevent the misuse of prescription drugs.

When our current school finance formula was first developed 25 years ago, one of the goals was to have no more than 45% of the revenue financing our K-12 school districts coming from property taxes. Today, property taxes make up approximately 50% of the funding for our local school districts. Our current state aid formula is too dependent on property taxes and needs to be revised. However, as I have mentioned earlier, the Legislature is facing a $140 million shortfall. Analysts have estimated that reducing school district’s reliance on property taxes to the 45% level would require $176 million in additional state aid.

Our current state aid formula calculates the needs of a district, which are what it costs to run the school. Subtracted from this figure are the resources of the district, which is made up of primarily property tax revenue, as well as state sources, such as special education reimbursement. The difference is paid to school districts through the state aid formula as equalization aid. The number of districts that receive equalization aid has steadily decreased over the years, primarily due to the significant increase in the valuation of agricultural land. Currently, only 87 of our 245 school districts receive equalization aid. That is why I am supporting LB 883, introduced by Norfolk Senator Jim Scheer and 11 other senators. It would provide a base amount of aid to all school districts, regardless of whether they qualify for equalization aid. LB 882, a companion bill, deals with school budgeting. It limits a school district’s ability to exceed its allowable growth percentage, limits cash reserve growth and removes the ability of schools to carry forward their unused budget authority.

When looking at the revenue that funds our state government, property taxes make up about 42% of total taxes paid in Nebraska, with sales tax revenue comprising 28% and the income tax contributing 27%. I believe that the Legislature should strive to more evenly balance the revenue from our three major tax sources. Last year, we increased the funding for the Property Tax Credit program by $64 million annually. This year, there are several proposals (including LB 883) that would increase state aid to school districts, thereby lowering the burden on the property tax to fund our schools. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I am hopeful we can continue to make progress on property tax relief, while balancing the budget.

As the Legislature debates issues of interest to Nebraskans, 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 telephone number at the capitol is (402) 471-2733 and my email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov.

Legislative Update

January 15th, 2016

Governor Ricketts presented his State of the State Address to the Legislature this past week. He said he looks forward to working with us to bring relief to taxpayers. He urged us to prioritize property tax relief, as it is his number one priority this year. He touched on economic development and the need to grow Nebraska. He expressed his support for a proposed $26 million investment in the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln, as part of his broader efforts to help reduce recidivism. The governor reiterated his opposition to Medicaid expansion, referring to it as one of the biggest long-term risks to the budget.

Following his speech, several bills were introduced by senators, at the request of the governor. Two bills, introduced by the chair of the Revenue Committee and the chair of the Education Committee, make structural changes to how property taxes are levied on residential, commercial and agricultural property. These bills tighten current spending limits on all local governments. They also propose to tighten levy limits by removing exceptions that don’t require voter approval. Furthermore, the proposed legislation will limit the statewide aggregate increase in the class of agricultural property to 3% per year by adjusting the value of agricultural land.

As I mentioned last week, I worked with other senators on legislation that alters the school finance formula to provide property tax relief. Senator Jim Scheer of Norfolk is the primary sponsor of LB 883 and 11 senators have signed on as co-sponsors. LB 883 proposes to provide a base amount of state aid per student to school districts to offset property taxes. This aid would be phased in over four years, until it reaches $3,000 per student, regardless of whether the school qualifies for equalization aid. The bill also makes some adjustments in the state aid formula to help subsidize the cost of the base aid. Under the current formula, almost two-thirds of the school districts receive no equalization aid. The increase in the valuation of agricultural land has contributed to the disproportionate burden placed on property taxes in supporting school districts. I don’t believe that the founders of the current state aid formula envisioned this would happen and consequently, I feel that it is time to revamp the system.

Last year, I introduced LB 47, which proposes to make the question mandatory rather than optional, on the driver’s license application regarding whether to place your name on the Donor Registry. LB 47 was selected as a Speaker priority bill last year, but was not fully debated. The purpose of the bill is to increase the number of donors in Nebraska. More than 98% of Nebraskans registered as donors became registered through the application process for a driver’s license. With the question currently optional, only 55% of applicants are registered as donors. This percentage is higher in states where the question is mandatory.

LB 47 does not require applicants to become donors, but merely requires that they answer the question with “yes”, “no” or “elect not to answer”. At the public hearing, an organ recipient testified that he can accept if applicants choose not to register. However, it’s harder to accept apathy, when applicants skip over the answer. After several hours of debate, LB 47 received initial approval earlier this week.

The Unicameral Youth Legislature will be held on June 5-8, 2016 at the State Capitol. It gives students an opportunity to learn what it’s like to serve as a state senator. High School students will learn about the unique process of our unicameral system by sponsoring bills, conducting committee hearings, and debating legislation. Students learn directly from senators, staff and lobbyists, working on legislation from the previous session. All high school students are eligible and the deadline is May 15. The fee is $350, which includes lodging, meals and transportation. Scholarships are available. For more information visit NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl.

The hearing process will begin on January 19. Senators will meet as a body in the morning and divide into committees in the afternoon. All bills are referenced to a standing committee and a hearing is held before this committee. This gives the public the opportunity to make their viewpoints known before the committee takes action on the bill. If you are interested in any of the bills that have been introduced, I encourage you to attend a public hearing. I also encourage you to contact me with your opinions on legislation that has been introduced or with any question you may have. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number at the capitol is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

January 8th, 2016

On Wednesday, January 6, state senators convened for the short session of the Nebraska Legislature. Legislative sessions in even-numbered years last for only 60 days because it is the second year of the biennium and deals with budget adjustments. In the odd-numbered years, the Legislature meets for 90 days and sets the budget for the two-year period.

This year, however, the budget adjustments will take more time, as the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board in late October lowered revenue projections, creating a $110 million deficit. This deficit may grow depending on the final certification of state aid to schools and adjustments in the budget for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Due to the resignation of Senator Jeremy Nordquist, senators welcomed recently appointed Nicole Fox to the Legislature, representing District #7 in Omaha. Since Senator Nordquist was the chair of the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee, Seward Senator Mark Kolterman was elected as the new chair.

Senators began introducing legislation on the first day of session and by the third day almost 200 bills were introduced. The last day for bill introduction is January 20. I have introduced six bills so far, as well as one from the Performance Audit Committee, of which I chair. Among the bills that I have introduced, is LB 733. It requests additional funding for employees of the Department of Corrections. With the recent riot at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, it reiterated the staff recruitment and retention problem that the state faces in some correctional facilities.

I also introduced legislation (LB 755) that seeks capital construction funds for projects at our state colleges, including the Theatre and Community Center at Peru State College. The renovation project will address needed facility improvements, in an effort to maintain PSC’s role of providing quality academic, cultural, and civic opportunities to its students and our region.

The Governor has announced one of his priorities for this year – the creation of a transportation infrastructure bank. The proposal would be funded through a cash reserve transfer and would be used to accelerate roads construction, provide matching funding to counties to expedite bridge repair, and to fund transportation projects that support industry expansion as well as attract businesses to Nebraska.

At a recent meeting with Governor Ricketts, he informed me that his number one priority is property taxes. Several senators and I have been working on legislation pertaining to the school finance system and property tax reduction. I will provide more details after the bill has been introduced.

If you are not aware of the Legislature’s website, I encourage you to check it out at NebraskaLegislature.gov. It has recently been revamped, to make it more user-friendly. It contains a wealth of information. Viewers can read the text of bills introduced, search state statutes, e-mail state senators, see the agenda for the day, read the online version of the Unicameral Update, and watch the Legislature live.

With session starting, I will be at the State Capitol daily. If you are in the Capitol, please feel free to stop by my office. My office number is Room 2000, which is located on the second floor, north side. If calling my office, I am happy to visit with you if I’m available. If I am in a meeting, my staff will be able to assist you. Tim Freburg is my administrative assistant. He answers the telephone, greets visitors, and handles my calendar. Kim Davis is my legislative aide, who works on constituent issues and legislation.

In order to effectively represent my legislative district, I welcome your input. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov.  My address is Senator Dan Watermeier, District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509 and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

March 12th, 2015

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 dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov.

Legislative Update

February 6th, 2015

The Platte Institute, initiated in 2008, was Nebraska’s first free market think tank. It is a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational institute. It was founded on the belief that protection of the freedoms and quality of life that Nebraskans enjoy is best served by encouraging free enterprise initiatives and promoting individual responsibility and dialogue. The institute’s staff and scholars study public policy issues and develop proposals to increase economic opportunity, while protecting the individual rights of Nebraskans.

The OpenSky Policy Institute is also deemed a non-partisan think tank, focusing on tax and budget issues. OpenSky began its work in 2011, after three years of organizational planning. OpenSky’s mission is to improve opportunities for every Nebraskan by providing impartial and precise research, analysis, education and leadership.

Both the Platte Institute and the OpenSky Policy Institute have worked on proposals for tax relief. Senator Jim Smith of Papillion introduced LB 357, on behalf of the Platte Institute. Senator Al Davis of Hyannis introduced LB 280 for OpenSky.

LB 357 proposes to invest $40 million a year over the next two years from the Cash Reserve Fund to provide immediate income tax relief to families and businesses. The proposal would gradually reform Nebraska’s income tax system with a goal of reducing the top rate to 5%, down from the current rate of 6.84%, and replacing the bottom rate of 2.46% with a 0% tax bracket. It also lowers the top corporate income tax rate from 7.81% to 5%. The proposal would freeze property tax rates while relieving local governments of unfunded state mandates. It is envisioned that income tax relief would be achieved entirely with state spending restraint, primarily by reducing the rate of growth in state spending. Since the cash reserve will be used for the first two years of the proposal, spending reductions are delayed until 2017.

The Platte Institute developed their long-term tax plan to provide more opportunities for Nebraska families and to create a business environment that is more competitive with other states. They believe that more savings for families and businesses will ultimately result in accelerated business creation, greater job growth and a vibrant, expanding state economy.

LB 280 aims to better balance the three major sources of taxes in our state – property, sales and income taxes. OpenSky recognized that the agriculture community is picking up a larger portion of funding for schools, without a corresponding growth in population or income, as agricultural income hasn’t risen as fast as land values. Their proposal would allow for the reduction of property taxes statewide, placing an emphasis on agricultural land owners.

As proposed in LB 280, agricultural land valuation would be reduced for purposes of calculating the school state aid formula from 75% to 65% of actual value. Furthermore, the bill would reduce the property tax levy cap on local school districts from $1.05 to 80.5 cents. To compensate for the lower property tax revenue, the proposal would impose a local income tax of at least 19.4% of a person’s state income tax liability. This revenue would be included as part of the resources calculation in the state aid formula, thereby assessing a community’s ability to pay. Finally, the bill establishes a foundation aid component for the state aid formula, which is a per-pupil amount that would go to every district, to guarantee a minimum level of support.

The public hearing on LB 280 and LB 357 has been scheduled for February 18 before the Revenue Committee. These are just two of the many bills that have been introduced by senators regarding tax relief. During the next several weeks, the Revenue Committee, the Education Committee, and the Appropriations Committee will be working on which proposals to advance to the floor of the Legislature. If you would like to voice your opinion on either of these two proposals or other legislation, 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 dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov.

Legislative Update

January 30th, 2015

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 dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

 

Sen. Dan Watermeier

District 1
Room #2108
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2733
Email: dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov
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