September 12th, 2014

I’m pleased to report that the U.S. Highway 77 Platte River bridge expansion and improvement project continues to move toward full completion.

This week the lead contractor finished the temporary platform that will be used to remove the remainder of the former Platte River bridge. Removal is expected to be finished by early December.

The paving contractor is also actively on the project and expects to finish all remaining pavement work by the middle of next month.

Permanent pavement markings are expected to be completed as soon as temperature conditions reach acceptable ranges, which may not occur until mid to late April.

Shouldering and grading work will continue throughout, as much as possible, and may finish before year’s end.

The Nebraska Department of Roads informs me that completion of the entire project is expected by mid to late May.

This is welcome news as it would mean the project will finish 8 months ahead of schedule.

I’d like to thank all of the men and women who have, and continue to, work to bring this welcome improvement to Dodge County and eastern Nebraska. Also, thanks to users of the new bridge for their patience and courtesy as this major project wraps up.

Highway 77 is a key part of our region’s infrastructure. Improvement and expansion of this commercial route will facilitate smoother and safer travel for all users.

April 21st, 2014

The Legislature concluded its work for the 2014 legislative session on April 17. We made progress on several fronts to reduce Nebraskans’ tax burden and made a significant commitment of new resources to improve water policy. We also renewed investments in K-12 education and enhanced economic development and job creation efforts.

Reducing Nebraskans’ tax burden has been a high priority for this Legislature. We devoted a great deal of time over the past sixteen months to find ways to do more with less in government. The Legislature’s Tax Modernization Committee, of which I was a member, undertook a comprehensive study of our tax code as well as the tax codes of all the other states in the U.S. We toured the state border-to-border last summer and fall to receive public testimony from Nebraskans on where they felt taxes were out of line. All three major taxes (property, income, sales) had deficiencies that we identified for correction.

On property taxes, we were able to increase the State Property Tax Credit program by nearly 22% percent; to a total of $140 million per year. We also expanded the pool of those eligible for the homestead exemption program to include more modest income seniors and disabled Nebraskans.

On income taxes, we indexed the individual income tax brackets for inflation, ending “bracket creep.” We provided an income tax exemption for Social Security benefits ($58,000 exemption for married families filing taxes jointly; up to a $43,000 exemption for all other filings). We also exempted some military retirement income benefits from taxation, depending on certain conditions.

On sales taxes, we exempted agriculture repair parts from taxation. We also exempted certain precious metals purchases that are used as retirement investments. We also clarified that postage is not subject to sales tax when certain conditions are met.

It is estimated that these tax reduction efforts will provide over $400 million in relief over the next five years. None of us feel our work is done on the tax burden reduction effort and we will give great priority over the upcoming interim to figure out how to further reduce property taxes in Nebraska. We are also committed to exempting more military retirement benefits in the next legislative session. Good work was done this year to reduce property, sales, and income taxes, but more work remains.

The Legislature also made a large commitment of new resources to better tackle challenges in Nebraska regarding floods, droughts, and water quality issues. LB 1098 was passed to increase the membership of the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission and provide increased grant and matching funds to local private landowners and local government units who partner in efforts to store water during wet years, better utilize limited water resources during drought years, and improve water quality for all water users (agricultural, residential, commercial, industrial, etc.). Over $30 million will be available by mid-2015 to make investments in the most promising initiatives.

We renewed our state’s impressive commitment to public education by passing LB 725. This bill ensures that over $930 million will be provided for state aid to education next year. This is in addition to the over $200 million in special education aid. Our state’s young people need and deserve a quality education and the state must partner with local school districts and communities to see that this is offered.

The Legislature continued its efforts to help businesses expand and grow by extending the Nebraska Advantage programs for two more years. These initiatives have led to businesses commitments of nearly $11 billion in investment and more than 28,000 jobs since 2006. We also refined and expanded our research and development tax credits and other economic development assistance programs. Our state’s economy is the envy of many other states in the U.S. and we must continue efforts to further enhance and expand it.

Please continue to share your thoughts with me on state issues of interest to you. I can be reached at 402.471.2625, cjanssen@leg.ne.gov, and District 15, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.

April 14th, 2014

The final two main issues of the 2014 session were resolved last week as we passed LB 1098 and LB 907, which address water policy and our criminal justice system.

LB 1098 encompasses the Legislature’s work throughout the past year to address comprehensive water policy. This bill creates a Water Sustainability Fund to identify efforts that will maximize water efficiency and utilization. Through LB 1098 and the budget bills, $32 million will be set aside for projects that the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission will select.

In order to ensure the best use of these funds, the number of commission members will be increased. New members will represent agribusiness, agriculture, ground water irrigators, irrigation districts, manufacturing, metropolitan utilities districts, municipal water users, outdoor recreation users, public power districts, irrigation districts, range livestock owners, surface water irrigators, and wildlife conservation.

Projects will be competitively bid and cooperation between private land owners and government entities will be required before any project will go forward. To encourage future responsible policy, any river basin in Nebraska which has three or more natural resource districts operating under an integrated management plan will be required to develop a basin-wide plan for any areas with hydrologically connected water supplies. We do not want efforts on one end of a basin to negatively impact efforts on the opposite end of the basin.

With the amount of resources committed to this bill, the Legislature included accountability measures to review how the $32 million is being spent. The Appropriations Committee will conduct a specific analysis of the fund before developing each two-year state budget to make sure we are receiving maximum return on our investment.

This legislation will help Nebraska better prepare for floods, drought, and water quality problems. I am encouraged by the cooperation and commitment we have seen so far on this measure and hope that future efforts will continue in that spirit.

We also passed LB 907 last week to reform our prison system. This legislation seeks to reduce the recidivism rate of persons who have previously committed criminal offenses. We studied this issue in great detail the past summer and fall due to overcapacity concerns in our correctional system institutions. There was little interest in spending over one hundred million dollars on a new institution, so the Judiciary Committee spent their time figuring out how to prevent repeat offenders.

LB 907 focused on five areas of need. The bill will expand mental health services for inmates. It will also create a vocational and life skills program for inmates. It requires the Department of Corrections to develop reentry plans for all inmates before their sentences are 80% complete which explain in detail how they will obtain jobs, housing, and health care services after their release. It also permits more GPS tracking of parolees. Finally, it creates a Nebraska Justice Reinvestment Working Group that will work with the Council of State Governments to comprehensively review other states’ efforts to reduce their prison populations and develop Nebraska-specific solutions for future consideration. Our work is not finished in this area, but LB 907 is a good start on tackling our capacity and reentry issues.

Please continue to share your thoughts with me on issues before the Legislature. I can be reached at 402.471.2625, cjanssen@leg.ne.gov, and District 15, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.

April 7th, 2014

It was my privilege to stand with Governor Heineman as he signed LB 987 into law last week.

LB 987 evolved over the last four months to become the Legislature’s signature income tax relief legislation for 2014. It will provide income tax relief in three key ways.

First, LB 987 will finally index Nebraska’s individual income tax brackets for inflation. This has been a goal of mine and several others to ensure that cost of living pay increases and workplace promotions don’t bump people into a higher tax bracket solely because of these factors. Many states do not index brackets for inflation, resulting in “bracket creep.” It is an easy way for state governments to almost guarantee tax revenue increases without having to go through the legislative process. I am glad that Nebraska has joined 31 other states that either index brackets or have no state income tax.

Second, LB 987 increases the exemption for Social Security benefits. Previously, Nebraska was one of only 8 states who taxed their residents’ Social Security benefits to the full extent of the federal treatment of the benefits. Provisions of LB 987 will exempt most Social Security benefits from taxation. There will be up to a $58,000 exemption for married families filing taxes jointly and up to a $43,000 exemption for all other filings.

Finally, LB 987 will exempt a portion of certain military retirement benefits depending on the date of retirement and election of the retiree. This portion applies prospectively, but I and many others will work tirelessly next session to work to apply the concept retroactively. LB 987 will help efforts to recruit and retain military retirees in our state.

All three of these elements were a part of my tax relief package introduced in January, in the form of LB 721. While LB 987 does not go as far as my original proposal, I was pleased to work with other senators and the Governor to prioritize and achieve tax relief this year.

Property tax relief was also a priority for me and many others and we made some headway on this goal through provisions of LB 905. Senators approved and the Governor signed a $25 million increase in the Property Tax Credit Program. This will bring total annual property tax relief to $140 million through this program. Again, this was less than my January proposal to increase the amount to $150 million per year, but it is a welcome move to provide more property tax relief.

We also made some progress on additional property tax relief through passage and approval of LB 986. This bill will expand eligibility for our elderly and disabled Nebraskans to qualify for the homestead exemption program. This program reduces modest income seniors and disabled persons property tax bills owed to local governments by providing state funds to counties in lieu of some of the qualifiers’ obligations.

It was my pleasure to introduce and advance the Military Honor plates bill on April 2. I introduced LB 383 to honor our state’s active duty service men and women and veterans through the creation of Military Honor license plates. Plates will be available to members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and National Guard after proof of eligibility. Senators, past and present, have worked on this for years. We are nearing the finish line. If LB 383 passes and is signed into law before adjournment, the plates will be available in January 2016.

The remaining days of the 103rd Legislature, Second Session will focus on criminal justice system reform and water policy.

The Judiciary Committee has prioritized providing more focus and attention on pre-release planning for correctional system inmates and post-release supervision.

Water policy debate will focus on how to better address water sustainability efforts and ensure Nebraska’s compliance with current interstate compacts. Water policy is immensely important to our entire state. Residential, agricultural, industrial, commercial, and recreational water users all have an important stake in ensuring future availability of this vital resource. I am hopeful that discussions now will pay off in the future through wise strategic planning.

Please continue to share your thoughts with me on issues before the Legislature. I can be reached at 402.471.2625, cjanssen@leg.ne.gov, and District 15, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.

March 31st, 2014

The Legislature passed the mainline budget bill on a 40-8 vote on March 24. I did not vote for the budget bill because I felt it included more spending than necessary and did not give high enough priority to property tax relief. Per our constitutional process, the budget was presented to the Governor that day and he utilized his ability under Article IV to consider the bill for five days and to line-item veto provisions he disagreed with. He used the full five days and returned the budget with his objections last Saturday.

I agree with his stated reasoning on several of the provisions that he removed. It is best for legislators to consider long-term spending obligations during the beginning of our biennium (two-year) budget cycle. We are in the second year of the 2013-2015 fiscal year budget, and adding large, multiple year projects to the budget places future Legislatures in difficult positions. While our state constitution wisely forbids the current Legislature from binding future Legislatures into forced spending, it becomes difficult to reverse course once commitments have been made or indicated.

The Appropriations Committee members will meet early this week to consider the Governor’s line-item veto message and decide if they will recommend as a committee specific overrides. The other individual members of the Legislature will also have the opportunity to request overrides, if they wish, later this session.

The Governor’s veto messages can be viewed at: http://governor.nebraska.gov/news/2014/03/29_budget_veto.html.

Senators were able to make good progress on increasing state government transparency last week as we debated and advanced LB 719. This measure will increase the public’s ability to affect state agency rules and regulations.

When state agencies draft proposed rules and regulations, or some changes to existing rules and regulations, they currently are required to have comment periods and public hearings before issuing final rules. The comment period allows affected parties and interested members of the public to offer input. Sometimes it is not clear how, or if, the state agency has responded to the testimony before issuing final rules. This can become frustrating when agencies ignore important information.

LB 719 will require agencies to attach to the proposed rules or regulations written reports summarizing public testimony and listing specific issues. Agencies must respond to the issues and indicate how they resolved them or explain why it was not necessary to do so. LB 719 was also amended to permit senators to request justification for current rules and regulations that senators feels have strayed or deviated from their original purposes. Agencies would have to explain in writing their reasoning. All responses would be made public.

The Legislature made progress on addressing deferred maintenance work at many of our state parks and recreation areas last week. On March 27, the Legislature passed LB 814. This bill will direct sales tax receipts from the purchase or lease of motorboats, personal watercraft, all-terrain vehicles, and utility-type vehicles to the newly created Game and Parks Commission Capital Maintenance Fund. These resources would be used to repair distressed facilities and get them back up to optimal conditions. Nebraskans and our many guests from outside the state deserve a quality state parks system. LB 814 will utilize current resources to target needed improvements. LB 814 will sunset to ensure the investments are being used wisely.

Please continue to share your thoughts with me on issues before the Legislature. I can be reached at 402.471.2625, cjanssen@leg.ne.gov, and District 15, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.

March 24th, 2014

We are approaching the final stretch as the Legislature has approximately three weeks remaining in our 2014 session. I am pleased that we have prioritized tax relief this year, and hope that we can make even more progress on improving our tax code before we conclude next month.

One additional improvement I was able to make last week focused on retirement tax policy. During floor debate on the Legislature’s main income tax relief proposal, LB 987, I was able to convince my colleagues to add a military retirement benefit income tax exemption to the standing bill.

My amendment will, for the first time in the history of Nebraska’s income tax code, provide for a military retirement income exemption if certain conditions are met. This has been a long-term goal of mine and many other senators who served before me during past decades.

I have worked diligently during my tenure in the Legislature to recognize the importance of retaining and recruiting our military retirees. Nebraska is one of only eight states who have no provisions for preferential treatment for military retirement benefits. This change will instantly move our state into a more competitive position to retain our talented retirees. We still have more work to do, but my amendment gets us started by including recognition of military retirement benefits in the code.

LB 987 now contains three important income tax policy improvements. It will index all four income tax brackets for inflation. This provision will end “bracket creep.” This will provide an estimated $100 million in tax reductions over the next ten years. The bill also exempts nearly all Social Security benefits from taxation. There will be up to a $58,000 exemption for married families filing taxes jointly and up to a $43,000 exemption for all other filings. Finally, military retirement benefits may be excluded up to a certain amount depending on the date of retirement and election of the retiree.

Last week, we also debated and advanced an education priority bill to Final Reading.

LB 1103 was selected by the Legislature’s Education Committee chairwoman as her personal priority bill for this year. It charts out a course for K-12 public education in our state and seeks to develop measurable goals and priorities of our limited resources to achieve the best education possible for all of Nebraska’s school children.

We devote an enormous amount of taxpayer resources to public education in Nebraska. It is important for all Nebraskans to have a voice in how these resources are allocated. General state aid to education alone is over $900 million a year in state General Fund dollars. Aid for special education students is over $200 million in additional General Funds. Assistance to the University of Nebraska, the Nebraska State Colleges, and local community colleges approaches $700 million in General Funds.

The education of our children is a top priority of the Legislature. It is of utmost importance that we provide the next generation of Nebraskans with a lifelong love of learning and individual development and advancement. In order to best provide for and pay for this priority, we need to receive input from Nebraskans on how we are doing and where we need to go. If LB 1103 passes, the Education Committee will conduct at least three public hearings across the state during the latter half of 2014 to receive your recommendations.

Please continue to share your thoughts on education policy, tax policy, and all other areas of interest to you that we are currently considering in the Legislature. I can be reached at 402.471.2625, cjanssen@leg.ne.gov, and District 15, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.

March 17th, 2014

The 2014 legislative session has approximately one month remaining before our work will end as called for by the state constitution. Last week, we discussed adjustments to the biennium budget, tax relief legislation, education policy changes, transportation funding, and criminal justice system issues. Near the end of the week, the chairman of the Legislature’s Planning Committee distributed updated information on interesting demographic statistics that the committee has recently compiled.

In 2009, the Legislature passed LB 653, which created a new Special Committee of the Legislature. The Planning Committee was charged with establishing and maintaining a future focus on the priorities of the state of Nebraska. The committee’s data collection efforts are helpful to me as we debate issues that may have long term impacts on our resources and our citizens. The newest information also compares the forty-nine legislative districts on certain metrics.

Overall, Nebraska is in a fairly envious position nationally. Our unemployment rate is consistently the second or third lowest in the country. We are frequently recognized as a top place for establishing a business. Our poverty rate is much lower than the rest of the country. Our high school education completion rate is high. Our cost of living is affordable. Our crime rates are low and our public recreation area access is high. We have many things to be proud of.

Within the state of Nebraska, our forty-nine different legislative districts have interesting similarities and differences. Our district, Legislative District 15, is one of three that consists entirely of one county; in our case, Dodge County. The other single county districts are Scottsbluff and Lincoln counties (both in the western half of the state – Districts 48 and 42, respectively).

In order to “get to know” our District a little better, here are some interesting statistics (the following information is from the Planning Committee report using 2008-2012 American Community Survey information from the U. S. Census Bureau):

Total Population: 36,590 (NE: 1,827,306)

Population under 5 years: 2,447 (NE: 130,754)

Under 18 years: 8,727 (NE: 457,925)

18 to 64 years: 21,154 (NE: 1,121,838)

65 years or older: 6,709 (NE: 247,543)

85 years or older: 1,199 (NE 38,582)

Educational Attainment for the Population Aged 25 Years and Older (District 15)

Total 25 years and over: 24,926

High school graduate/GED: 21,135

Bachelor’s degree: 4,363

Advanced degree: 1,258

Associate’s degree only: 1,889

As a Percent of Population 25 years and older

High school graduate/GED: 84.8 (Statewide: 90.4)

Bachelor’s degree: 17.5 (Statewide: 28.1)

Advanced degree: 5.0 (Statewide: 9.1)

Associate’s degree only: 7.6 (Statewide: 9.4)

Employment Status for the Population Aged 16 Years or Older

Total 16 Years or over: 28,720 (NE: 1,419,577)

In Labor Force: 19,825 (NE: 1,008,534)

In Armed Forces: 27 (NE: 5,636)

Civilian Labor Force: 19,798 (NE: 1,002,898)

Employed: 18,540 (NE: 946,986)

Unemployed: 1,258 (NE: 55,912)

Not in Labor Force: 8,895 (NE: 411,043)

Labor Force Participation Rate: 69.0 (NE: 71.0)

Unemployment Rate (Percent of Civilian Labor Force): 6.4 (NE: 5.6)

Median Value of Owner Occupied Housing Units: $109,900 (NE: $126,700)

Median Household Income: $46,475 (NE: $51,381)

Persons Below Poverty as a Percentage of the Population for Whom Poverty is Determined: 11.7 (NE: 12.4)

Percentage of Civilian Non institutionalized Population with Health Insurance: 89.5 (NE 88.6)

Since my space is limited, I invite you to access other information from the report at: http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/reports/lpc.php.

Please continue to share your thoughts with me on issues before the Legislature. I can be reached at 402.471.2625, cjanssen@leg.ne.gov, and District 15, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.

March 10th, 2014

We are entering a critical part of the 2014 legislative session.

Nebraska voters approved a series of constitutional amendments that dictate how we appropriate and spend taxpayer dollars. Our constitution requires a balanced budget and state law provides for a cash reserve to temporarily hold any unexpected increases in revenue receipts. The Legislature passes a biennium (or “two year”) budget every odd-numbered year. Since Nebraska voters passed a constitutional amendment requiring annual legislative sessions over forty years ago (previous to its passage, the Legislature only met once every two years), during even-numbered years, the Legislature nearly always makes adjustments to the final year of the state budget. This isn’t mandated, but is usually appropriate to better match actual expenses incurred. If revenues are coming in stronger than expected, it also provides senators more opportunities to pass tax relief measures and return those extra dollars back to the taxpayers.

The Appropriations Committee released its budget adjustment recommendations on March 7. I was pleased to see that they included a 22% increase in the amount of funding for the state’s Property Tax Credit Program. This program provides direct property tax relief to Nebraskans by offsetting the amount of local property taxes political subdivisions assess. The credit is proportional relief and based on a person’s property valuation versus statewide property valuation. In my comprehensive tax relief proposal introduced earlier this year, I included a 30% increase in this property tax relief measure. There will be at least one opportunity to get closer to my goal through amendments to the Appropriations Committee recommendation during floor debate.

Other notable changes that the Appropriations Committee recommended to the state budget include increased resources for water management, state park maintenance, criminal justice system reform, job training and recruitment funding, and State Capitol repairs. Drought and interstate water compacts are creating challenging conditions for our agricultural producers and the water they need to produce our food and fuel. A statewide commitment to better utilize the water resources in our aquifers and that enter our state through surface water channels can create better opportunities to maximize their benefits and ensure future sustainability. Some state parks maintenance needs have been deferred for decades and it is important that we prioritize high use areas for repair and rehabilitation. Our district’s assets, including Fremont State Lakes and Dead Timber State Recreational Areas, have recently been repaired, and other parks assets are in line for improvements as well if the budget adjustments are adopted. Our criminal justice system, including prison capacity issues, will be the focus of other budget amendments. Increased interest by Nebraska businesses and out-of-state businesses looking to relocate to our state motivated the Appropriations Committee to increase funding for job training programs. Repairs to the State Capitol were also included in the recommendation to replace an increasingly obsolete HVAC system in the building. The committee also recommended installation of fountains in the Capitol courtyards, but this proposal may not cross the finish line we debate “wants” versus “needs.”

It is clear that Nebraskans’ greatest need is tax relief. We have the opportunity to pass meaningful, significant tax relief this year. I will continue to urge my colleagues to maintain a laser-like focus on this goal.

Please continue to share your thoughts with me on issues before the Legislature. I can be reached at 402.471.2625, cjanssen@leg.ne.gov, and District 15, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.

March 3rd, 2014

We received welcome news last week on the state of Nebraska’s economy.

In order to meet our state constitutional requirement to maintain a balanced budget, members of the Legislature and the Governor and their respective staff meet regularly to match revenues with expenses. While some states politicize the budget meetings and projections, our previous Legislatures passed laws to make the process strictly business. We have a nine-member Nebraska Economic Forecasting Board, with membership from across the state and diverse in their areas of expertise, that makes future revenue predictions. The Legislature utilizes their numbers to make sure that we do not spend more money than we will have in the bank by the time expenses become due. We pass a biennial budget each odd-numbered year and make sure the numbers continue to add up in the even-numbered year. We can make adjustments if the actual receipts and expenses call for it.

In last week’s meeting, the forecasting board projected growth in revenues over previous expectations for the current two-year budget at nearly $100 million. This means our economy is performing better than expected and we have more revenue coming into the state coffers than expected.

This creates even more opportunities than we already had to significantly reduce Nebraskans’ tax burden this year. Even before last week’s improved projections, we were on track to maintain a record cash reserve. With the new numbers, we must return these unexpected revenues back to the taxpayers. We have plenty of room to pass property, income, and sales tax relief before we adjourn this legislative session in mid-April. I am excited about the possibilities and will continue to urge my colleagues on the Revenue Committee to think big as we consider and advance tax relief bills for consideration by the full Legislature.

It was my privilege to welcome the members of this year’s Leadership Fremont class to the Unicameral last month. These community professionals have agreed to participate in the Fremont Chamber of Commerce’s nine-month program to explore emerging community issues, immerse themselves in community service organizations, and acquire leadership skills training to help themselves and their employers promote the greater Fremont area. One of the class’s meetings is held at the statehouse each year. The attendees were able to watch the Legislature in action to see how it works and what issues are particularly pressing in 2014. Senator Ken Schilz of Ogallala provided a comprehensive review of where public policy discussions are heading regarding water use and law. I focused on tax relief legislation working its way through the Revenue Committee process. As a member of the committee, I’ve had the opportunity to focus my colleagues’ attention on property and income tax relief. The group also met with Governor Heineman to hear his thoughts on where Nebraska can improve and modernize tax policy. It was exciting to meet with these future community leaders as they acquire a better understanding of state government and the ways in which it can help promote business as well as opportunities to get out of the way as times change and old laws and regulations are repealed.

Congratulations to all the winter sports teams and participants as their seasons approach their conclusions. Our legislative district has already earned an impressive and growing list of state titles. North Bend Central and Fremont – Logan View brought home state bowling titles. The Fremont girls basketball team will be in Lincoln this week as they pursue a state title at Pinnacle Bank Arena. We have also had many successful swimmers and wrestlers from our district. Keep up the great work as you pursue your academic and athletic endeavors this school year.

Please continue to share your thoughts with me on issues before the Legislature. I can be reached at 402.471.2625, cjanssen@leg.ne.gov, and District 15, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.

February 24th, 2014
We made progress on several fronts regarding lowering Nebraskans’ tax burden last week at the Legislature.

The full Legislature debated and advanced LB 474 from General File (1st round) debate. LB 474, as amended, would end the practice of municipalities levying an occupation tax on an item that is subject to a state excise tax. An Omaha senator was motivated to introduce this proposal after his city’s governing board imposed an occupation tax on tobacco retailers in town. The council made a pledge to the University of Nebraska Medical Center to contribute a significant amount of dollars to a new medical research facility. The council decided to fund their offer by singling out sellers of tobacco products and imposing an occupation tax on them. The research efforts certainly have great merit, but the method by which the council decided to meet their commitment was questioned by many. Occupation taxes are receiving welcome new and heightened scrutiny by taxpayers and legislators. While some occupation taxes are justified, governing boards have stretched their original purpose to the limit. LB 474, if it is approved through two more rounds of debate, would end the ability of cities to impose an occupation tax on any seller of items that are subject to state excise taxes. Currently, those items include motor fuel, alcohol, and tobacco.

The Revenue Committee met multiple times in executive session last week to advance property tax relief and income tax relief measures.

Our property tax relief work last week focused on providing additional property tax relief to Nebraskans who qualify under the homestead exemption statutes. Lower income elderly Nebraskans and certain physically disabled Nebraskans presently may apply to their county treasurer for property tax relief if their annual incomes are below certain levels and their home valuations are also below certain levels. There is a sliding scale of income levels and associated percentage exemptions offered. If a person qualifies under the guidelines, the state of Nebraska provides property tax relief. The program does so by using state General Fund dollars to offset the local property taxes assessed by political subdivisions. The Legislature currently provides approximately $75 million in property tax relief statewide through the homestead exemption program. Three bills were advanced from the Revenue Committee last week that would expand the availability of the program. LB 986 would increase the income limits for those that currently qualify. LB 850 would permit those with intellectual disabilities to utilize the program. LB 1087 would permit more military veterans and their families to qualify. These measures would provide approximately 20% more property tax relief to Nebraskans who utilize the homestead exemption program.

The Revenue Committee also took the first step to improve two large flaws in our current income tax system. LB 987 would annually index our income tax brackets for inflation. We are one of 19 states that do not index. This, in effect, results in a hidden tax increase every year for those who receive raises or promotions at their jobs. We need to end this “bracket creep.” LB 987 would also modestly improve our Social Security benefits taxation policy. The bill increases the income amounts of those receiving Social Security benefits before the benefits are subject to state income taxes. Most states exempt a portion of or all Social Security benefits. LB 987 would increase the income caps at $58,000 for those filing married jointly and $43,000 for all other filers. I’m pleased to see we’re making some progress on this front. I offered multiple bills to accomplish both goals and we’re getting closer to where I think Nebraska policy should be.

Please continue to share your thoughts with me on issues before the Legislature. I can be reached at 402.471.2625,  cjanssen@leg.ne.gov, and District 15, State Capitol, Lincoln NE 68509.