NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Roy Baker

Sen. Roy Baker

District 30

December 29th, 2015

Nebraska Unicameral Update

Sen. Roy Baker – District 30

 

PROPERTY TAXES.  The first recommendation of the 2013 Tax Modernization Committee regarding property taxes was to increase the state aid commitment to schools to offset property tax use and reduce property taxes as a share of total state and local taxes.  To that end, the Revenue and Education Committees conducted a series of joint meetings to explore possibilities.

 

The final meeting was held on November 30.  No legislative bill will be introduced by the joint committee.  It is likely there will be several bills brought forward by individual state senators.  The intent of those bills will likely center on some of the concepts discussed by the joint committee, including but not limited to the following:

 

  1. Increase the current Property Tax Credit Fund. Currently, over $400 million in property tax credits will be provided during this biennium.  However, with the current economic forecasts, the State revenues will not likely be sufficient to add to the current total. Concern was expressed that many taxpayers are not aware of the property tax relief measures that have been put into place since 2007.
  2. Change the assessment practices for agricultural land. Within this category ideas include: capping annual growth for all property;  one-year freeze in values; decreasing ag land valuation for purposes of the school state aid formula; and a implementing a circuit breaker for ag land when property taxes exceed X % of gross income.
  3. Increasing current tax sources: increasing sales taxes, increasing income taxes, broadening the tax base (eliminating exemptions), and in turn requiring lower property taxes.  Any proposal to increase income and sales tax rates is likely to receive significant opposition.
  4. Modifying school district budget and/or levy limits. The charge of the joint committee was to decrease overreliance on local property taxes.  Nebraska schools rely on local property taxes more than 48 other states.  The downside to reducing overall school district funding would be underfunding current education programs, possibly eliminating some.

 

A contributing factor to the current imbalance in property taxes resulted from rapidly escalating land values over the past several years, while residential valuations decreased following the housing bubble burst.  Recent information shows that residential valuations are now increasing again while ag land values have plateaued or even decreased in some areas.  Over time, the current imbalance will self-correct to some extent, though not likely fast enough to suit many.

Beatrice State Developmental Center.  Legislative Resolution 32, passed by the 2015 Legislature, provides for the continuation of the Developmental Disabilities Special Investigative Committee. The Committee has been in place to provide ongoing oversight of the placement and care of the developmentally disabled in Nebraska since 2008, following the temporary de-certification of the BSDC.  I serve as the vice-chairman of the committee.  We held a joint hearing with the Health and Human Services Committee on December 17.  We heard extensive testimony from Courtney Miller, recently appointed Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities. Ms. Miller also serves as the interim director of the BSDC.

 

There is a strong trend nationally not to place developmentally disabled persons in institutions.  With the goal in mind of placing individuals in the least restrictive environment, more people are being served in home and community based programs, with proper support.  The trend does not take the BSDC off the table – there are some residents for which the BSDC likely is the least restrictive environment.  Director Miller stated that she and her DD staff will be working with the Executive Branch over the next year to develop a plan for what the BSDC should look like and be like in the future.   We anticipate receiving the report of that study in December, 2016.

 

As always, I welcome your communication.  Feel free to contact me on these matters, or any other subject related to the Legislature.  Please join our email list to receive the monthly District 30 newsletter. My Capitol office telephone number is 402-471-2620; the email address is rbaker@leg.ne.gov.  The website is http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist30/ and we are also on Facebook, search for Roy Baker.

The Holidays are Here!

November 23rd, 2015
Senators representing Lancaster county were hosted by Lincoln Mayor Beutler and his staff on December 17.

Senators representing Lancaster county were hosted by Lincoln Mayor Beutler and his staff on December 17.

 

Coby Mach at the annual legislative update of LIBA, Lincoln Independent Business Association on December 21.

Coby Mach at the annual legislative update of LIBA, Lincoln Independent Business Association on December 21.

 

Sen. Roy Baker spoke at the December 9 NCSA Legislative Preview Conference at the Cornhusker. Pictured with Jason Buckingham, Executive Director of Fiscal Affairs for the Ralston Public Schools.

Sen. Roy Baker spoke at the December 9 NCSA Legislative Preview Conference at the Cornhusker.
Pictured with Jason Buckingham, Executive Director of Fiscal Affairs for the Ralston Public Schools.

 

Sen. Baker with teachers from Norris and Beatrice schools at the Capitol District meeting of the NSEA on 12/7/15.

Sen. Baker with teachers from Norris and Beatrice schools at the Capitol District meeting of the NSEA on 12/7/15.

 

Wreaths Across America presented a Christmas wreath in honor of all U.S. Veterans today at the Capitol. Lt. Gov. Mike Foley spoke at the ceremony in the Warner Chamber. Sen. Matt Hansen accepted the wreath on behalf of the Legislature. Pictured with the wreath, left to right: Sen. Hansen; Diane Bartles, US Air Force Association Lincoln Chapter; Ralph Bierman, US Army; Lt. Gov. Foley.

Wreaths Across America presented a Christmas wreath in honor of all U.S. Veterans today at the Capitol. Lt. Gov. Mike Foley spoke at the ceremony in the Warner Chamber. Sen. Matt Hansen accepted the wreath on behalf of the Legislature. Pictured with the wreath, left to right: Sen. Hansen; Diane Bartles, US Air Force Association Lincoln Chapter; Ralph Bierman, US Army; Lt. Gov. Foley.

Roy wreath

 

Roy gas 2

The range of gas prices from Clear Lake, IA (Casey's) to Omaha and Lincoln.

The range of gas prices from Clear Lake, IA (Casey’s) to Omaha and Lincoln.

 

The holiday lights are ON, on the Gage County Courthouse, Nov. 22, 2015

The holiday lights are ON, on the Gage County Courthouse, Nov. 22, 2015, with great music from the Homestead Harmonizers to warm the crowd during the ceremony!

 

Roy lighting 3 Roy lighting 4 Roy lighting

 

 

Congratulations to Ben Rice of Firth, NE; recognized by the Nebraska Department of Education, Commissioner's Recognition for Student Excellence in Career Education, Agricultural Proficiency Award Program in Environmental Science and Natural Resources Management. Ben is the son of Dan and Brenda Rice.

Congratulations to Ben Rice of Firth, NE; recognized by the Nebraska Department of Education, Commissioner’s Recognition for Student Excellence in Career Education, Agricultural Proficiency Award Program in Environmental Science and Natural Resources Management. Ben is the son of Dan and Brenda Rice.

Tackling the Issues

November 10th, 2015

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

State Senator Roy Baker

District 30

 

Beatrice State Developmental Center   Legislative Resolution 32 was passed in the 2015 session to provide for the continuation of the Developmental Disabilities Special Investigative Committee.  The Committee has been providing ongoing oversight of the placement and care of the developmentally disabled in Nebraska since 2008.  The BSCD had been decertified, resulting in a loss of $25 million per year of Federal funding.  That funding has been restored, and the Department of Justice has closed the case.

 

I serve on the committee, and was tasked to focus on BSDC.  My staff arranged a tour of the BSDC for the Senators on the committee, and the staff hosted us on October 21.  We had the opportunity to see the facilities, visit with staff at all levels, and with parents and guardians.

 

We learned that the population being served in the 1970’s was over 2,000 with approximately 3,000 staff.  Clearly the Center was a major employer in the Beatrice Community.  Today, the number of developmentally disabled is down to 116, with around 550 employees.  There have been no admissions since 2012 and only four since 2010.  There has been a clear trend across the country to look to community based programs instead of institutions, with the focus on better integration into mainstream society.

 

The parents and guardians all told us that they don’t see the BSCD as an institution, but as a home for their loved ones.  When residents were moved out of the BSCD into community settings during the crisis, the displaced residents were unhappy and did not fare well, particularly the behaviorally challenged.

 

With a dwindling number of people being served, many of the facilities on the campus are not being utilized.  The costs of providing services exceeds $400,000 per person served per year, with about 60% Federal funding.  The State’s share of BSDC budget is over $22 million per year.  The Investigative Committee is committed to providing the same high level of care in the future to the current residents, while realizing we have to have a plan in place to take into account the new realities.

 

Tax Relief and School Funding  The Revenue and Education Committees have met jointly for a series of sessions to discuss how to provide property tax relief via increased funding of K-12 schools, who would in turn be required to lower the amount of local property tax requests.  In effect, nothing would change for school districts – they would be neither better off nor worse off.  It is likely that the additional funding would be a stream separate from existing State Aid (TEEOSA).  The additional funding might come via foundation aid per pupil, increased reimbursement for special education expenditures, and/or increasing allocated income taxes up to the 20% level.  Any changes in the existing State Aid formula would be separate from this discussion, and most likely initiated in the Education Committee.  Changes in the State Aid formula that might be considered include:  elimination of the minimum levy; reduce ag land valuation from 75% to 65% just for purposes of calculating equalization aid; and eliminating the averaging adjustment, which  would bring more school districts back into receiving equalization aid.

 

The next step is to hold public hearings on the concepts.  Testimony on LR332 from the Revenue Committee and LR344 from the Education Committee will be heard at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 12.

 

Feel free to contact me on these matters, or any other subject related to the Legislature.  My Capitol office telephone number is 402-471-2620; the email address is rbaker@leg.ne.gov

 

 

September Report

October 16th, 2015

State Legislature Update

Sen. Roy Baker, District 30

 

PROPERTY TAX RELIEF STUDY REPORT

 

The Education and Revenue Committees have been holding joint sessions this summer and fall in an attempt to explore increasing state support of public schools as a mechanism to provide property tax relief. The first recommendation by the 2013 Tax Modernization Committee regarding property taxes was to increase the state aid commitment to schools to offset property tax use and reduce property taxes as a share of total state and local taxes.

 

There have been several situations over the past fifteen years that have substantially impacted Nebraska’s economy and the manner in which the public schools have been funded.  The burst of the dot.com bubble occurred in the early 2000’s, which impacted retirement systems and the overall economic health.  The Legislature was forced to reduce the state’s commitment to school funding, and raised the maximum general fund levy limit from $1.00 to $1.05 per $100 of valuation.  The result was a greater reliance on local property taxes among the revenue sources.

 

The housing bubble burst occurred between 2007 and 2012.  Home values bottomed in 2012.  Housing was a key factor leading to the recession in Nebraska and across the nation.  Home values are just now back to where they were in 2007, in general.  As a consequence of that housing bubble burst, the taxable valuation of residential property flat-lined or went down.

 

Meanwhile, a good cash-grain economy in the agriculture sector led to rapidly increasing farm land values.  The value of farm land has doubled or even tripled in some instances in a span of just a few years. Farm land owners are bearing more of the local property tax load, and are understandably not happy about it.

 

Taxes of any kind have never been popular.  Senators report hearing the most dissatisfaction with property taxes, more so than with income and sales taxes.   Farm land owners have led the outcry for fairness and property tax relief.

 

Rural senators on the committee suggest finding a way to provide some property tax relief targeted toward agricultural landowners.  With the number of urban senators exceeding that of rural senators, the success of such proposals is in question.  In the committee work sessions, we have heard the recitation of both urban and rural myths, each side believing the other has more tax loopholes and is somehow better off.

 

The State of Nebraska does not collect any property taxes. Thus, the only way that the Legislature can impact local property taxes is to provide more state support to local governmental subdivisions.  The Legislature has taken small steps in recent years by providing property tax credits to all property owners.  The 2015 Legislature boosted the annual amount allocated to property tax credits to over $200,000,000.  Some property tax relief is better than none, but has not been enough in the eyes of many.

 

Most members of the committees agree that the state aid to schools equalization formula, known as TEEOSA, should remain in place, and that any additional state support of schools should be distributed to all public school districts in the state, equalized and non-equalized.  In return, the districts would lower their property tax requests by the same amount as the supplemental aid.

 

The two largest school districts in District 30, Beatrice and Norris, both of which are equalized, have experienced increased taxable valuations, primarily due to the higher farm land values. However those districts have seen their state equalization drop as a result of the higher valuations, and have been unable to materially reduce the property tax levy.  School finance has been unpredictable the past few years.  Districts that used to be solid financially are now not, and others that were in poor shape financially are now in a good position.

 

It is probable that some school districts are being managed more efficiently than others.  However, it does not appear that the current property tax concerns are the result of runaway spending by school districts, counties, or other governmental subdivisions.  School districts already operate under spending limitations and property tax levy caps.

 

Attempts by your Legislature to solve the property tax dilemma by stepping on local control is not likely to be well received.  Past attempts to impose State control over the property tax entities have not been successful.  In 1996, voters rejected property tax limits for governmental subdivisions 490,113 to 167,204.  In 2006 voters rejected the imposition of a state spending limit, with only 28% voting in favor.  Again, it should be noted that school districts are restricted by spending limits.

 

As the joint Education – Revenue meetings continue, I will keep you informed.  There are no easy answers. The goal is to reach consensus on legislation to be introduced in the 2016 session.

 

Your input is always welcomed. You may contact my office by telephone, (402-471-2620), email (rbaker@leg.ne.gov), or visit in person.

Education Committee of the States representatives meet with Senator Baker on Nov. 9, 2015. Pictured (from left) Tonette Salazar, ECS in Denver; John Bonuito, Nebraska Association of School Boards; Sen. Baker; Cheryl Wolff, Governor's Policy Research Office; Dr. Mike Baumgartner, Coordinating Council for Post Secondary Education. Not pictured, Brian Halstead, Nebraska Department of Education.

Education Committee of the States representatives meet with Senator Baker on Nov. 9, 2015. Pictured (from left) Tonette Salazar, ECS in Denver; John Bonuito, Nebraska Association of School Boards; Sen. Baker; Cheryl Wolff, Governor’s Policy Research Office; Dr. Mike Baumgartner, Coordinating Council for Post Secondary Education. Not pictured, Brian Halstead, Nebraska Department of Education.

 

 

Sen. Baker and Governor Pete Ricketts at the Governor's Pheasant Hunt, sponsored by Main Street Beatrice, on Nov. 7, 2015

Sen. Baker and Governor Pete Ricketts at the Governor’s Pheasant Hunt, sponsored by Main Street Beatrice, on Nov. 7, 2015

Sen. Baker speaks with guardians and staff on the BSDC tour.

Sen. Baker speaks with guardians and staff on the BSDC tour.

BSDC

Senators Johnson, Davis and Baker listen to staff reports at BSDC in Beatrice.

Senator Coash and Senator Baker, chair and vice chair respectively, of the Developmental Disabilities Special Legislative Committee, along with Legislative staff and parents/guardians on tour at BSDC.

 

 

Senator Roy Baker along with many other state dignitaries, participate in the ribbon cutting and tour of Nebraska Innovation Campus (NIC) on October 8th.

Senator Roy Baker along with many other state dignitaries, participate in the ribbon cutting and tour of Nebraska Innovation Campus (NIC) on October 8th.

Sen. Baker and Casey Karges, Cortland, executive director of the Mediation Center; at a joint meeting of the Revenue and Education Committees, studying property tax relief and funding of K-12 education.

Sen. Baker and Casey Karges, Cortland, executive director of the Mediation Center; at a joint meeting of the Revenue and Education Committees, studying property tax relief and funding of K-12 education.

Interim Update

August 26th, 2015

 

 

The level of activity around the Capitol this summer is much less than when the Legislature is in session, affording me time to touch base with District 30 constituents, meet with other individual Senators, and attend events.  I expanded my knowledge through attending the Education Commission of the States in June, and the National Conference of State Legislatures in early August.  Starting this month extending into the fall, there will be some hearings on interim studies and other committee work.

 

The desire for property tax relief remains on the forefront.  That is an issue that constituents raise with me frequently.  The State Legislature cannot directly lower property taxes, since there has been no State property taxes in Nebraska since a successful initiative petition in 1966.  Thus, property taxes are levied only by local governments in Nebraska.  The 2015 Legislature did, however, add another $60 million plus for property tax credits.

 

Beginning with fiscal year 2001-02, the State of Nebraska experienced revenue difficulties, and over the next several years, more of the tax burden was shifted to local communities. One action the Legislature will consider in 2016 is restoring more State Aid to local governments, which would enable local governments and school districts to reduce local property tax requests accordingly.  I am a member of the Education Committee which is scheduled to meet jointly with the Revenue Committee this fall, the first meeting being on August 27.  It is my hope that agreement can be reached to increase State funding to school districts, with the requirement that local school districts lower their property tax requests proportionately.  There is no simple solution on how to do that equitably.

 

Ag land owners are particularly feeling the pinch of property taxes, as land values in many areas of the State have more than doubled in the past six years.  Dealing with that issue may be difficult as the number of urban senators outnumber that of rural senators.

 

Please feel free to contact me at the Capitol. Stop in, email me at rbaker@leg.ne.gov, or call my office, (402)471-2620.  We will soon begin periodically sending out updates through email.  Contact my office if you would like to be included on the emailing list.

Sen. Baker enjoys spending time with his grandchildren, including "best buddy" Clive, pictured here.

Sen. Baker enjoys spending time with his grandchildren, including “best buddy” Clive, pictured here.

 
Published February 13, 2015

The importance of community is a lesson repeated over and over for Sen. Roy Baker. His great-grandparents, who traveled here from Pennsylvania in 1874, settled on land purchased from the Union Pacific Railroad for just $5 an acre. Over the years, they and other newcomers pulled together to build new homesteads and communities from scratch.

The senator’s grandfather D.W. Baker served his community as a member of the Nebraska House of Representatives from 1907-1913, and his father, William Baker, served on the school board of District 43, a grain elevator board and as a York County commissioner.

Upon graduating high school, Roy Baker understood that a strong school makes a strong community. He attended the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in education and later returned for his master’s and doctorate degrees—also in education.

Baker spent the next few years teaching and coaching basketball in Central City and serving as school principal in Marquette. At only 28 years old, he returned to his hometown of Benedict as superintendent of schools. It was daunting to take on so much responsibility so young, but he was eager.

“I really wanted to be the person responsible for making things better in my community,” Baker said.

He has fond memories of every school he worked in, but his 13 years working just south of Lincoln as Norris Public Schools superintendent left perhaps the strongest impression. Baker was at the helm when an F4 tornado ripped through the community on May 22, 2004 — a day he will never forget.

The community response was extraordinary as people chipped in to help clean up and rebuild. Despite sustaining $35 million in damage to the school, students were able to return in the fall just a few weeks later than scheduled.

Baker said the experience was a tremendous exercise in perseverance and the importance of community.

“I learned how important it is to have the ability to handle a crisis while keeping my mental faculties about me and staying calm,” Baker said. “It was a phenomenal thing to have happen, but it really pulled the community together.”

Baker plans to apply those lessons to his service in the Legislature, saying he understands the importance of asking for help and working together with his colleagues on shared goals. Nebraska’s schools and students will be his top priority, but ultimately he hopes that citizens respect his service to his district and the entire state.

“It’s important to me that people see me as a statesman, not a politician,” he said.

http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=16369

 

Sen. Baker and Casey Karges, Cortland, executive director of the Mediation Center; at a joint meeting of the Revenue and Education Committees, studying property tax relief and funding of K-12 education.

Sen. Baker and Casey Karges, Cortland, executive director of the Mediation Center; at a joint meeting of the Revenue and Education Committees, studying property tax relief and funding of K-12 education.

 

9.22.15 Beatrice Stake Your Claim member awards luncheon at Classics. Lora Young, Beatrice Chamber director, Sen. Baker, and keynote speaker Dr. Tammy Beck - UNL Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and External Engagement at the 2015 Chamber of Commerce awards in Beatrice, Sept. 22nd

9.22.15 Beatrice Stake Your Claim member awards luncheon at Classics.
Lora Young, Beatrice Chamber director, Sen. Baker, and keynote speaker Dr. Tammy Beck – UNL Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and External Engagement at the 2015 Chamber of Commerce awards in Beatrice, Sept. 22nd

Congratulations to these award winners at the Beatrice Chamber of Commerce award luncheon, Sept. 22:

Young Professional of the year – Michael Sothan, Main Street Beatrice

Business Person of the  Year- Christina Lyons, Gage County MAPS Coalition

New Business of the Year-Julie’s HotDogs

Business of the Year- Homestead Land Co.

Non-profit of the Year – The Bargain Box

 

 

Senator Baker, along with Sen. Johnson and Sen. Kolterman, addressed an annual gathering of the Nebraska Bankers Association on Monday, October 5th, in Lincoln.

Senator Baker, along with Sen. Johnson and Sen. Kolterman, addressed an annual gathering of the Nebraska Bankers Association on Monday, October 5th, in Lincoln.

 

A beautiful evening on Sept. 11 to honor our first responders before the football game in Beatrice!

A beautiful evening on Sept. 11 to honor our first responders before the football game in Beatrice!

Sen. Baker tours the Steele Flats wind farm in southern Gage county on September 17th, managed by the Nextera company.

Sen. Baker tours the Steele Flats wind farm in southern Gage county on September 17th, managed by the Nextera company.

 

 

 

Celebration at Beatrice State Developmental Center - 40 years of Kiwanis support for the All Faiths Chapel at BSDC.  DHHS Director Courtney Phillips and Gov. Pete Rickets were among the speakers.  8.12.15

Celebration at Beatrice State Developmental Center – 40 years of Kiwanis support for the All Faiths Chapel at BSDC. DHHS Director Courtney Phillips and Gov. Pete Rickets were among the speakers. 8.12.15

A beautiful evening on Sept. 11 to honor our first responders before the football game in Beatrice!

Texas Terry performs at Odell Community Day, 8.23.15

Texas Terry performs at Odell Community Day, 8.23.15

The Odell Community Building rings with the sound of music! 8.23.15

The Odell Community Building rings with the sound of music! 8.23.15

Dr. Baker honored at the dedication of the new football field at Norris Schools. 8.21.15

Dr. Baker honored at the dedication of the new football field at Norris Schools. 8.21.15

Gov. Ricketts participated in the ribbon cutting for the new addition at NEAPCO in Beatrice 8.12.15

Gov. Ricketts participated in the ribbon cutting for the new addition at NEAPCO in Beatrice 8.12.15

Summer in District 30

July 21st, 2015
Attended the ribbon cutting for the new career academy high school 8.10.15.  This joint venture of LPS and SECC partnering community businesses, industries, and agencies is a game changer! Pictured: Paul Illich, President of Southeast Community College

Attended the ribbon cutting for the new career academy high school 8.10.15. This joint venture of LPS and SECC partnering community businesses, industries, and agencies is a game changer! Pictured: Paul Illich, President of Southeast Community College

Dr. Baker honored at the dedication of the new football field at Norris Schools. 8.21.15

Dr. Baker honored at the dedication of the new football field at Norris Schools. 8.21.15

Roy and Paula Baker in Seattle at the National Conference of State Legislators convention.

Roy and Paula Baker in Seattle at the National Conference of State Legislators convention.

Piper Kerman, author of "Orange is the New Black", spoke to us very effectively on prison sentencing reform at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Seattle on August 5.

Piper Kerman, author of “Orange is the New Black”, spoke to us very effectively on prison sentencing reform at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Seattle on August 5.

Andy Reetz addresses the participants following the second annual GameOn11/25 golf event at Hillcrest on July 27.

Andy Reetz addresses the participants following the second annual GameOn11/25 golf event at Hillcrest on July 27.

Flipping pancakes with the Kiwanis at Hickman Hay Days!

Flipping pancakes with the Kiwanis at Hickman Hay Days!

Sen. Baker speaks at the park dedication in Pickrell.

Sen. Baker speaks at the park dedication in Pickrell.

NSEA banquet

NSEA banquet

Library Read poster

The Charter Night Celebration of the Kiwanis Club of Southern Gage County was held at the Wymore Legion Club on Sunday evening, July 19.

The Charter Night Celebration of the Kiwanis Club of Southern Gage County was held at the Wymore Legion Club on Sunday evening, July 19.

Sen. Baker visits the Lakeview assisted living facility in Firth. Pictured with Sen. Baker are Helen Crunk, Nick Faustman, and Ron Preston.

Sen. Baker visits the Lakeview assisted living facility in Firth. Pictured with Sen. Baker are Helen Crunk, Nick Faustman, and Ron Preston.

Sen. Roy Baker

District 30
Room #1208
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2620
Email: rbaker@leg.ne.gov
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