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The Legislature continues to take up a wide range of issues, but most of those topics were overshadowed by two complicated subjects this week – tax revenue and the budget. I say these bills are complicated because revenue includes all forms of taxation and yet greatly impacts school funding. Of course the budget is affected by the economic conditions of the state. And one factor influencing the economic condition of the state is – taxation.
Before looking into these, let me point out that the Legislature has only one constitutional requirement as far as passing bills in any session – it must appropriate funds for the expenses of the state government, and, the budget must be balanced. Of course, in every session many bills do become law and other important matters are addressed.
Coming back to the two main proposals brought to the floor this week, we have one set of bills that will be acted upon – those that make up the budget from the Appropriations Committee. The other main bill is less certain, LB 289 from the Revenue Committee.
The appropriation bills can be amended as we go through the stages of debate, but we will pass a budget in some form. The set of bills that comprise the budget are LBs: 293, 294, 295, 296, 297, 298 and 299. Of these, LB 294 is the mainline budget bill and is 268 pages long. All of these are on the Legislature’s website and linked to the home page (see site information at the end of this article).
Regarding the revenue bill, LB 289, the three hours of discussion we had were largely philosophical in nature and no specific details about collecting property, sales and income taxes, or how to fund education, were hammered out. Following the protocol set up by the Speaker, after three hours the bill’s sponsors must show him they have enough votes to invoke cloture (33 votes required) before the bill is put back on the agenda.
Nearly every senator points to property tax as a key concern. This has been a common theme for the past twenty years. As Senator Linehan, chairman of the Revenue Committee pointed out, if it was easy to fix the property tax issue, it would have been done by now. But that does not lessen the necessity to find a better and fairer solution for all tax payers. The problem is deciding on what is better and what is fair. For example, differences between populated versus less populated areas of the state, agricultural versus industrial areas, large schools versus small schools, and even political divisions all became evident during the debate on LB 289.
While there is some agreement on needing to reform the tax system in our state, the communication I receive in my office is also divided in supporting or opposing the elements in LB 289. No one wants to bear the brunt of higher taxes, but neither is anyone willing to suffer all the spending cuts – and understandably so. The senators on the Revenue Committee are working hard to find compromises that are acceptable which would stand up as amendments to the bill. We shall see if they are able to bring this issue back for debate.
There will be no letup in intensity in the coming week. Bills already scheduled for debate include LB 720, known as the “ImagiNE Act” concerning business incentives; and LB 670, the Opportunity Scholarship Act which would give tax breaks to those making scholarship contributions. LB 720 has a fiscal note of over $30 million in the biennial budget; and LB 670 could cost $ 22.5 mil in that same two-year time frame.
Also on the agenda will be LB 110, the Medical Cannabis Act. The bill’s sponsors have spent many hours with medical professionals and others and as a result the sponsor does have a lengthy amendment to add to the bill. This is an issue that could be important to have regulated by the state rather than let it happen by other means. I will be listening intently to the debate on this one.
All in all, it has been an interesting week, and promises to be the same next week. I encourage you to get on the website and look carefully through the budget yourself. As taxpayers we all need to be educated on where our dollars go and all the areas the state funds. You can find it at www.nebraskalegislature.gov. Click (here) or on the page link for the Appropriations Committee Proposed Budget. Contact me directly at email@example.com or call 402-471-2620.