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It’s hard to imagine that the Legislature has already reached the half-way mark of this 90-day session. We have had several “extended debates” and it seems that patience is a virtue that not everyone is blessed with.
Committee hearings will conclude soon, with full-day floor debate scheduled to begin March 23rd. March 12th was the deadline for Senators to designate their personal priority bills, which generally are considered before other measures for floor debate.
I have designated LB 610, introduced by Senator Jim Smith of Papillion, as my personal priority bill. The bill will increase the fixed motor fuels tax rate by 1.5 cents every year for four years. Of the two components of the fixed rate, the portion allocated to the Nebraska Department of Roads will increase ½ cent every year, from 7.5 cents to 9.5 cents. The portion that is allocated to cities and counties will increase one cent every year from 2.8 cents to 6.8 cents. Beginning January 2019, the total fixed motor fuels tax rate would be 16.3 cents per gallon. By the fourth year this will provide $25.4 million for use by the Department of Roads and $50.8 million for use by counties for roads and bridges.
I have always felt that our roads and bridges should be funded with motor vehicle fuel taxes. One of the core obligations of the State should be to build and maintain our transportation infrastructure. The recent study by the Transportation Committee last year pointed out the number of bridges we have in this state and the number of deficient bridges that counties are dealing with. With roughly 11,700 bridges that are 20’ or longer that cities and counties are responsible for, and 20% of those bridges being deficient, the study estimated that the cost of rebuilding our deficient bridges could reach several billion dollars. I believe LB 610 would answer the demand across the state for road and bridge repair and would also help our counties with property tax relief by providing more dollars from the motor vehicle fuel tax.
In the next 45 days the Legislature has many major issues to address including repealing the death penalty, prison reform, drivers licenses for DACA recipients, repealing the motorcycle helmet law, agri-tourism promotion, property tax relief, school finance, medical marijuana, Medicaid and the state budget. Unfortunately so far there are no bills that have been passed out of committee that will give us meaningful property tax relief. So far the bills such as LB350 that would have lowered ag land valuation from 75% to 65% have not received enough support to make it out of committee. Senator Smith’s LB357 that would have lowered income taxes and transferred $40 million to the property tax relief fund is still in committee. Several Senators have used their priority designation on bills that so far do not have the votes to make it to the floor. It is still possible that some of these bills could make it out of committee but we are running out of time.
So far this session we have:
– Introduced 663 bills
– 16 have been Indefinitely Postponed
– 25 have been passed into law by the Legislature
– 58 have been signed by the Governor
On Thursday last week the Legislature passed LB 164, a bill I introduced that allowed Natural Resources Districts to adopt a biennial budget instead of an annual budget. The bill passed 44-0 and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Time is not on our side, but I think just as prior Legislatures have done, we will ensure the state’s business is completed. The only thing that we are constitutionally required to accomplish is to pass a balanced budget. With the temperature heating up inside the Capitol and outside I’m starting to get spring fever and want to get started with spring fieldwork like the rest my peers. Again I ask that if you have any concerns that you contact me and hopefully we can address them.