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The 90-day legislative session is concluding four days early, but the Legislature was able to accomplish the one duty required by the Nebraska Constitution – pass a balanced budget. The task was not an easy one as the state began the year facing a projected $1 billion shortfall.
The Appropriations Committee should be commended for shepherding the two-year, $8.9 billion budget without raising taxes yet still ensuring core government services, such as education and corrections, were adequately funded. In the face of continuing declines in state revenues, Governor Ricketts vetoed an additional $56.6 million from the budget, bringing the total growth in state spending to just 0.6%.
In addition to passing the budget, the Legislature gave final approval to 170 bills out of the 667 that were introduced. Unfortunately, many measures fell victim to filibusters and were removed from the legislative agenda for the year. One of those was a bill I was championing that sought to bring comprehensive reform to our tax system and would have resulted in tax relief to many Nebraskans.
LB 461 proposed to do the following: change the way agricultural and horticultural land is assessed from a comparable sales approach to a more fair income approach; collapse the first two income tax brackets to simplify our tax code; increase the Earned Income Tax Credit to help poor, working families; create a new nonrefundable credit for low-income earners; phase out the personal exemption credit for the wealthy; reduce the top corporate rate to help make us competitive; increase the personal exemption credit; increase the Property Tax Credit Cash fund when certain triggers are met; and finally, allow for an 8-step phase in reduction of the top income tax bracket with triggers to ensure our General Fund grows at a rate that allows for us to continue to provide essential government services while also letting taxpayers to keep more of their hard-earned dollars.
Though this session has ended, my desire to grow the state and lower our overall tax burden has not. Efforts by those who want to significantly increase government spending and those who want tax relief to effectively benefit just one sector of our state will make this challenging, but I am up for the challenge. Through the legislative interim and my last session in the Legislature, I will continue to pursue the goals I have pledged to the voters of Legislative District 14 – bring greater efficiency to state government, create a more competitive environment for all our businesses, and to stimulate Nebraska’s economy to make our state an even better place to live.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE FOR MORE INFORMATION:
[INSERT DATE] Heidi Uhing
Unicameral Information Office
Papillion Sen. Jim Smith Invites Students to Youth Legislature
High school students are invited to take on the role of state senators at the Unicameral Youth Legislature June 11-14. At the State Capitol, student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and discover the unique process of the nation’s only unicameral.
The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives behind-the-scenes access to students who have an interest in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate or public speaking. Students will learn about the inner workings of the Legislature directly from senators and staff.
“An engaged and informed citizenry is the foundation of a government for and by the people,” Smith said. “It is very important for our youth – our future leaders – to have a genuine understanding of how their government works, how it impacts their lives and how they can influence its outcomes.”
Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers the full cost of admission. Applicants must submit a short essay. Other $100 scholarships are also available.
The Office of the Clerk of the Nebraska Legislature coordinates the Unicameral Youth Legislature. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Extension 4-H Youth Development Office coordinates housing and recreational activities as part of the Big Red Summer Camps program.
To learn more about the program, go to www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl or call (402) 471-2788. The deadline for registration is May 15.
Eighteen new senators helped kick off the 2017 legislative session, which convened for the 90-day cycle on January 4th. The beginning of the 105th Legislature’s two-year chapter not only saw a large number of freshman senators, it also ushered in a large number of changes to leadership positions. In fact, only three incumbent senators held on to their former chair positions. I was one of the incumbent senators who changed positions. For the past two-years, I was the chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, on which I still remain a member. However, on the first day of the session, I was elected to serve as the chairman of the Revenue Committee. As such, I intend to concentrate my efforts on tax reform over the next couple of years.
Of the 674 bills and resolutions introduced, 87 have been referred to the Revenue Committee. One of those bills to be considered by the Revenue Committee is a bill I introduced on behalf of Governor Pete Ricketts – LB 337. This measure seeks to bring income tax relief and takes a fiscally responsible approach by phasing in a reduction of the top income bracket over an eight-year period beginning in 2020. The current top bracket of 6.84 percent will eventually be reduced to 5.99 percent, but only if our revenues grow sufficiently to ensure education and critical state programs are adequately funded. Any scheduled decrease will be deferred if the state’s projected revenue growth is less than 3.5 percent. Our current top tax rate of 6.84% – applied to a single tax payer who makes as little as $29,831 per year – is one of the highest rates among our bordering states (only Iowa’s is higher). LB 337 will make our state more competitive and attractive to new businesses and residents, allowing us to grow our tax base and our economy.
While LB 337 focuses on income taxes, several other bills have been introduced to address property taxes and sales taxes as well. As the Revenue Committee chairman, I will pay close attention to all the proposals introduced and I intend to work closely with my colleagues to bring real, comprehensive tax relief to all Nebraskans.
Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 14th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.
Sen. Jim Smith
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