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This week we passed the half way point. Wednesday marked the 30th day of the session. I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day. On Friday we are scheduled to vote on 15 bills for final reading. If all those bills pass, we will have passed a total 32 bills to date for this session. During an average short session we traditionally pass approximately two hundred bills. With hearings coming to a close next week, we will be on the floor all day debating, so the number of passed bills should increase dramatically. Priority bills by Senators, Committees, and the Speaker will receive first attention for bill debated on the floor. Bills that were not selected as a priority bills will most like not be brought to floor for debate and therefore the bill will be indefinitely postponed.
March will also usher in debate on how to address the looming two hundred million dollar budget shortfall. My office has received a large amount of correspondence expressing concerns about which programs and agencies, including the University of Nebraska, will have to deal with budget cuts in order to balance the State’s budget. Budget cuts are never easy, no one likes to see a decrease in funds appropriated.
Last session several programs and institutions were hit harder than others. So now, it would seem only fair that those not effected as much by cuts last year should bear more of the burden this year. Cuts need to be fair and balanced. We, as a legislature, will be working hard to minimize the impact of these cuts within the fiscal constraints we have to operate under. The other option to cuts is to raise revenue. The only mechanism the legislature has to raise revenue is to increase taxation, either through raising taxes or removing tax exceptions. When I ask the same people who do not want their budgets cut, what taxes should we raise, typically their first response is, “not mine.” Then it’s usually followed by “my taxes are too high already.” Something is going to have give in this argument.
A number of constituents have mentioned taxing internet sales in Nebraska. Senator Watermeier introduced such a bill last session – LB44. While I agree with this bill, similar bills in other states have been found to be unconstitutional by the districts courts. The Supreme Court of the United States is scheduled to take up this issue later this year. Unfortunately, until they rule on this matter, the collection of internet sales tax will not be an option for increasing revenue in our state.
Speaking of taxes, in March we will also be addressing the several tax reform bills drafted this year. Senator Erdman’s bill, LB829 appears to be destined to be decided by you – the Nebraska voters. The Revenue Committee has not acted to move the bill to the full legislature for debate. This week, petitioners began soliciting the signatures necessary to place the proposal on the November ballot. I encourage you to go the following website to learn more on this ballot initiative – yestopropertytaxrelief.com. I have also posted a link to this site on my Facebook page – Senator Steve Halloran.
Another tax reform bill receiving a lot of press in the media is the Governor’s plan, LB947, which is sponsored by the Chair of the Revenue Committee Senator Jim Smith. The bill has been a work in progress. Several amendments to the bill have been proposed to gain broader support by the public and the Legislature. Essentially, LB947 would convert the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund to provide refundable income tax credits for agricultural property owners as well as homeowners. Tax credits would begin at 12% with a cap of $280 for homeowners. The credits would increase by 2% every other year until they reached 30% in 2031. The residential caps would rise $50 with each increase. The 30% tax credit would mirror the percentage offered by Senator Erdman’s bill or the ballot initiative. However it would take thirteen years to reach that 30% level. I am sure that lively debate will ensue in coming days and weeks.
Just a reminder that the next Coffee with the Senator is scheduled for this upcoming Saturday, March 3rd, 9:00 a.m. at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings. I hope to see you there!