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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.