On Friday we will have reached the 30th day and have completed the first half of this session. On Wednesday, the general session was shortened to less than one hour, so that various committees could meet and vote more bills to the floor. The Appropriations Committee has now heard all of the various legislative bills before it and is moving towards getting its bills to the floor.
Among the bills we heard on the Appropriations Committee this week were two bills that would create a water sustainability fund. These were L.B. 940 by Senator Ken Schilz, that would appropriate 50 million dollars from cash reserve funds (the state’s savings account) for creating water sustainability projects and L.B. 1046 by Senator Carlson of Holdrege, Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, that would transfer 50 million on an annual basis from the state’s general fund (tax dollars) to assist Natural Resource Districts to begin planning and the construction of dams to allow the state to make more use of the water that flows through the state. The bills drew support from natural resource districts, conservations groups and public power districts who emphasized the need to address keeping and increasing Nebraska’s future water supply for agriculture, industry, and cities. This past year a substantial amount of water flowed across and out of the state from Colorado in the South Platte River and could have been retained had there been additional dams on the Platte River to capture the water.
The Appropriations Committee also heard several bills, L.B. 1074 by Senator Al Davis of Hyannis, L.B. 1086 by Senator Pete Prisch of Omaha and L.B. 669 by Senator Beau McCoy of Omaha that would use state funds to reduce property taxes using the current Property Tax Credit Cash Fund. The amounts to be funneled to this fund ranged from 115 million dollars in Senator Pirsch’s bill, 85 million dollars in Senator McCoy’s bill and 25 million dollars in Senator Davis’s bill. The impact of the three bills is put in perspective that for a $150,000 house, Senator McCoy’s L.B. 699 would provide an additional credit of $73; $99 would be added by Senator’s Pirsch’s bill and $12 by Senator Davis’s LB 1095. Senator McCoy’s and Senator Pirsch’s bills were opposed by a think-tank organization called the Open Sky Policy Institute and the Nebraska Education Association. They questioned if any of the cash reserve should be spent considering the state needed 792 million dollars to balance the budget during last recession and even after budget cuts. The current projection of the level of the cash reserve is 726 million dollars in 2014-15.
Personally, I would prefer to see a reduction in the valuation of agricultural land from 75% to 65% of market value, since the average increase is our area will probably exceed a 15% increase in the past year. The Nebraska Farm Bureau, in support of lowering the value of agriculture land, has published data that only two states, California and Texas receive a greater total of property taxes from farm land, and that Nebraska has a much higher tax rate than most neighboring states. Their information also shows that farmers pay 26% of total property taxes in the state, although they make up only 3% of the state’s population. There are at least two bills, L.B. 670 and L.B. 813, that would have accomplished the reduction in ag land valuation to 65%, but it appears at this time that neither of these bills will get out of the Revenue Committee.
I look forward to receiving your input and the voicing of your concerns as we address these issues and many others during this year’s legislative session. Please contact me at my Lincoln office in the State Capital, District 36, Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509. My phone number is (402) 471-2642. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.