NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. John Kuehn

Sen. John Kuehn

District 38

Welcome

January 6th, 2016

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 38th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.

Sincerely,
Sen. John Kuehn

Letter to the District 5

February 12th, 2016

Nebraska winter weather made for an interesting and atypical week in the Nebraska Legislature. Despite the blizzard altering the week’s schedule, the public hearing addressing one of the most important topics before the legislature took place as scheduled. The Revenue Committee held hearings on the proposals for property tax reform on Thursday, February 4.  Lasting all afternoon and well into the night, the primary focus was LB 958.

LB 958 begins to address the property tax burden in Nebraska through several components.  First, the bill would put a limit on the rate of valuation increases on agricultural land. It is well documented that farmland valuation has increased at an atypical rate over the past few years, with a single year jump of 29% in 2013-2014. The disproportionate valuation growth between classes of property has shifted the burden of funding local government in rural areas like District 38 squarely on the shoulders of ag land owners. Under LB 958 the statewide aggregate increase for agricultural land valuation would be capped at 3%. Although the major valuation increases have already taken place, the cap prevents the disparity between property tax burden on different classes of property from being exacerbated.

Second, LB 958 increases accountability of local spending decisions and gives greater voice to local taxpayers for spending increases. All levy limit overrides must be subject to a vote of the people. Greater transparency of local spending and increased voter participation in spending decisions improves civic engagement in local government. Full local control over spending decisions remains.

Finally, LB 958 tightens the levy and spending limits on local government. Exceptions to budget limits for restricted funds are eliminated, as is carryover of unused budget authority. Levy limit exceptions for voluntary termination agreements and court judgements are also eliminated. With permission of a vote of the people local governments can still exceed spending limits, but the total budget expenditures will be accounted for in the levy exceptions, improving transparency of local government spending for voters and taxpayers.

The property tax problem is a complex, multifactorial issue. It evolved over a series of years and amidst unprecedented economic changes in the agriculture economy and the Great Recession. Addressing the problem will require multiple policy changes over several years. State and local governments alike will need to aggressively step forward to address spending, establish a tax policy that preserves local control, and prioritizes expenditures.

During the hearing there were many testifiers representing local taxing authorities who simply said “no”. Unable to answer questions about sustainable spending, acceptable rates of government growth, or alternative solutions to address the property tax burden, it was disappointing to see the attempts to obstruct property tax reform. Hyperbole was rampant, with some predicting catastrophe if local growth is restricted to only 3% per year. I am frustrated by the magnitude of fear baiting perpetuated and the lack of alternative solutions suggested.

Every level of local and state government must be willing to participate in action-based solutions, not simply resist change and push the responsibility to someone else. I am confident we can responsibly address the property tax challenges in a sustainable manner that preserves local control. To do so, all stakeholders must exhibit the political will to come to the table and participate in the process.

I encourage you to closely monitor the property tax bills as they progress through the legislative process. If you have any questions or concerns regarding property taxes or any other matter before the Legislature, do not hesitate to contact my office at 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

 

Letter to the District 4

February 12th, 2016

The fourth week of the 2016 Legislative Session continued the trend toward extended debate on several issues as they came before the entire unicameral body for debate. While some issues have failed to advance in the face of filibuster, others have narrowly advanced to the next round of debate.

During the past two weeks, several pieces of carryover legislation from the 2015 session were the focus of debate. Meningitis vaccination for young adults, expanded gambling, packer ownership of swine, statewide conformity in gun laws, and the age of eligibility for public office were all topics before the unicameral that encountered significant opposition and were subject to filibuster. Current unicameral protocol establishes the time period for debate on any bill to six hours on general file, four hours on select file, and two hours on final reading. At the conclusion of that time period, 33 votes are required to end debate, known as a “cloture motion”. If the cloture motion passes, the underlying bill is then voted on by the body, with a simple majority of 25 votes required for advancement. If the cloture motion fails, the bill is pulled from the agenda and effectively killed for the rest of the legislative session. In practice, it only takes 17 of the 49 senators willing to sustain debate on a bill throughout the time period and vote nay on cloture to kill a bill.

The comparison between making sausage and the legislative process is not inaccurate. From idea to introduced bill, throughout the committee process, to debate and amendment on the floor, most legislation is the result of a continual cycle of discussion and revision. Few bills or policies are perfect in their entirety. As your representative, my job is to get the best legislation possible to represent the interests of District 38, as well as Nebraska. The process is fluid and dynamic, and an amendment can make a bill I oppose something I can support, or can have the reverse effect. In the end, legislating is more than just “stopping” a bill—it is a process of working with my colleagues from all districts in the state to develop a law that represents the interests of all Nebraskans. When the vote is called, I have only two options before me, yes or no, despite how many issues may be contained in the bill.

While filibusters are an important tool in the legislative process, they are not a replacement for productive discussion and cooperation among stakeholders. Compromise is not necessarily a sign of weakness, but can also be a means of advocating for a core value. As the session continues, I encourage all voters to carefully read the bills before the legislature and follow the debate. Your input and perspective is critical as I make the daily choice of when to stand firm, when compromise is necessary to achieve the goal, and when to let an issue go. To provide input on any bill, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District 3

January 22nd, 2016

Bill introduction has concluded and a total of 487 bills and resolutions have been introduced for consideration by the legislature this session. Each bill will have a public hearing in the committee to which it was referenced during the next five weeks. Floor debate continues on carryover legislation from last session.

In the Appropriations Committee we continue to work on the development of the preliminary budget adjustments to the biennial budget. In conjunction with the recommendations made by the Governor, the committee is considering deficit requests to address expenses that were not foreseen during last year’s budget process. Addressing the projected revenue shortfall is also part of our work to guarantee a balanced budget.

In addition to the bills I discussed last week, LR 378CA, the Constitutional Right to Farm Amendment, and LB 792, the “revolving door” bill, I introduced two other bills for consideration this session.

LB 720 would make the unauthorized capture of images by unmanned aerial vehicles a trespassing offense. UAVs, commonly known as “drones”, have become very popular among people who use them for both hobby and commerce. Many of these drones have the ability to capture photos and video during their flight. As the technology advances, the law regarding an individual’s right to privacy with drones flying over personal private property and taking photos and videos has not kept pace. LB 720 requires express permission to capture an image over private property using a drones flying below 200 feet. It does not affect the flying or use of drones, but rather protects citizens, their homes, businesses, and farms from unauthorized photos and videos. I look forward to the discussion about the appropriate use of this new and exciting technology.

LB 979 is a bill enabling the substitution and use of a class of medical products called “biosimilars”. Biosimilars are an innovative class of pharmaceuticals that provide treatment options for health care providers and patients. LB 979 updates Nebraska statutes to allow for the substitution of biologic products only with FDA approved interchangeable biologics. Current state law governs the substitution by pharmacists of generic drugs for their branded counterparts, and similar statutory direction is needed to craft state policy allowing for the substitution of FDA approved interchangeable biologics. The bill would provide guidance for health care providers and patients as use of these innovative products grows.

If you should have any questions about the legislation I have introduced or any other matter before the Legislature, do not hesitate to contact my office at 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District 2

January 15th, 2016

The second week of the legislative session saw the continued introduction of bills for consideration and debate on carryover priority bills from the 2015 session. During the week, the Governor also introduced his proposals to address the property tax crisis and the revenue shortfall. Committee meetings will begin during the third week and legislators will begin making their way through several hundred pieces of introduced legislation.

LR378CA is a proposed constitutional amendment I introduced which would establish a constitutional Right to Farm in Nebraska. As introduced, the amendment states “the Legislature shall pass no law which abridges the right of citizens and lawful residents of Nebraska to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest.” As Nebraska’s number one industry, one in four Nebraskans is employed in an agriculture related field. Small business in Nebraska, the bulk of Nebraska’s industrial sector, and much of our transportation and shipping industry in Nebraska is directly linked to the success of our ag producers. Throughout the country we have seen continued baseless attacks on agriculture, including the use of GMO technology in crop production and antibiotic use to protect animal health. Locally in District 38, we have seen activists protest livestock production practices. As fewer and fewer consumers have a connection to the farms and ranches that produce their food, Nebraska agriculture must be mindful of the need to proactively protect our industry from activist legislation and regulations intended to restrict agriculture on a purely ideological basis. I look forward to working with farmers and ranchers across Nebraska to advocate on their behalf.

LB 792 is a second bill I introduced that would require a two year period after leaving office before state-level elected officials could serve as lobbyists. State senators, constitutional officers, and other state-level elected politicians would be prohibited from using the influence of their former office to lobby lawmakers immediately after leaving office. Staff who serve in a policy-making role would be restricted for one year. Commonly referred to as “revolving door” policies, federal law, as well as statutes in 33 other states, reflect similar ethical provisions. This year there are 314 paid lobbyists on record with the Legislative Clerk’s office. Voters should have confidence that influence and relationships elected officials develop while in office are not used to bring undue influence on the policy making process in the immediate years after leaving office.

Both of these bills reflect the priorities and objectives that motivated me to seek elected office. As a fourth generation livestock producer in Nebraska, advocating for Nebraska agriculture is my greatest priority. Additionally, transparent, accessible, and effective government is the core of my political ideology. In the past week there has been much speculation about my motivation for introducing both of these bills. It is disheartening to me that cynicism in the political world runs so high that it is somehow odd that a farm kid from Heartwell representing an agricultural district would introduce a bill protecting agriculture, or that any senator would impose restrictions on themselves in the name of good government.

If you should have any questions about LR378CA, LB 792, or any other matter before the Legislature, do not hesitate to contact my office at 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District 1

January 8th, 2016

The second session of the 104th Legislature convened on Wednesday, January 6. Within the first few days of bill introduction, several significant issues have been proposed for consideration. I have introduced three pieces of legislation. LR378CA is a proposed amendment to the Nebraska Constitution protecting the Right to Farm and Ranch in Nebraska. If passed, the amendment would be placed on the general election ballot in November. LB 720 protects privacy from capture of images from unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, without permission. LB 792 is a “revolving door” bill mirroring federal guidelines that prohibits elected officials and policy-making staff from serving as lobbyists for a specified amount of time following the conclusion of their service. I look forward to working with my colleagues on these pieces of legislation.

The issue of greatest urgency facing my work as a member of the Appropriations Committee this session is the currently-projected $110 million decrease in revenue. The Nebraska Constitution requires a balanced budget, so the disparity between revenue projections and the budget passed last session must be addressed. While there are several potential ways to address the projected shortfall, a number of factors influence my approach to the issue.

First, agriculture commodity prices continue to remain below the highs of the recent years and some areas of livestock production continue to fall. Decreased farm income, and the resulting ripple effects through the economies of our local rural communities, represents more than a mere hiccup or blip. Agriculture is by its nature cyclical, and all indicators point toward a downward trend in the cycle. To that end, I am hesitant to simply fill the revenue gaps with Cash Reserve funds or other temporary fixes. Until the ag economy begins to improve, I expect revenue projections will likely continue to drop.

Second, it is my belief that state government should reflect the values of the voters and constituents who empower it. Families in District 38 have already been tightening their belts and restricting their spending as farm incomes fall. Just as taxpayers are prioritizing their spending and making difficult choices, lawmakers should do the same. Although it is always a challenge, lawmakers need to make strategic reductions now to avoid drastic and draconian cuts in future years should revenues continue to decrease.

Thus, I will be working with my colleagues to find reasonable, measured, and strategic reductions in spending to match the General Fund budget to meet the most current revenue projections. The shortfall, while significant, is certainly within our reach to address responsibility without negative effects on any single program or constituency. The Revenue Forecasting Board will meet again at the end of February with the potential to again revise the revenue projections. Their conclusions could require additional adjustments during the session.

A new voice will be answering the phone in my office this session, as John DeWaard joins my staff as Administrative Assistant. Nick Knihnisky will be available to assist with constituent services and policy questions as my Legislative Assistant. If you should have any questions, do not hesitate to contact my office at 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

2016 Welcome Letter

January 8th, 2016

The Second Session of the 104th Nebraska Legislature will convene on Wednesday, January 6, 2016. Known as the “short session”, the second session consists of 60 legislative days and is currently scheduled to adjourn on April 20. Legislation introduced last session remains on the worksheet for consideration this session, as well as new bills introduced during the first ten legislative days.

A significant portion of my work this session as a member of the Appropriations Committee will be addressing the $110 million revenue shortfall projected by the Revenue Forecasting Board in November. Although the budget for the 2015-2017 biennium was passed last session, the anticipated decrease in revenue will require adjustments to that budget to meet Nebraska’s constitutional requirement of a balanced budget. The Revenue Forecasting Board will meet again in February, potentially reducing or increasing revenue projections once again. The legislature will also need to address deficit spending requests from the Department of Corrections for higher than anticipated costs for inmate medical care, a federal fine assessed to the Department of Health and Human Services, and a request for additional funds to address deferred maintenance of facilities at the University of Nebraska.

The property tax crisis will play a central role this session as well, as lawmakers seek to address the imbalances in local funding for education and increased spending by local political subdivisions. Specific proposals and initiatives will be more clear at the conclusion of bill introduction.

Given the short time of the session and the number of important issues for the Legislature to consider, the designation of a bill as a “priority” will be critical. Each senator can prioritize one bill, standing committees can prioritize two bills, and the Speaker can prioritize up to twenty-five bills. It is not likely that bills without a priority designation will be considered on the floor by the entire body. Bills not acted upon by the legislature will effectively “die” upon adjournment of the 104th Legislature in April.

During the coming few weeks I will outline the bills I will be introducing this session, as well as keep District 38 constituents up to date on the issues that emerge. If you should have any questions, do not hesitate to contact my office at 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

A number of voters in District 38 have inquired about the various exemptions and credits that exist within the property tax system. There are certain classes of taxpayer status that are exempt from taxes, as well as certain types of real property and tangible personal property that is exempt from property taxes.  The Property Tax Credit Fund was begun in 2007 to provide direct property tax relief to taxpayers.

One of the most significant exemptions is the Homestead Exemption. Eligible homeowners have a portion of their “homestead” exempt from property taxes based on their income and value of their home relative to the county average. Homeowners can apply for the Homestead Exemption if they are 65 years or older, have a developmental or certain permanent physical disability, or are qualifying veterans. Unlike exemptions based on taxpayer status which simply remove that class of property from the revenue of a political subdivision, the revenue not paid by eligible homeowners who receive the Homestead Exemption is compensated from the state General Fund to the local government. In the 2015-2017 budget $144 million of revenue to local political subdivisions will be reimbursed.

Other exemptions include the increased value of real property due to planting of trees along a highway and of preserving historically significant property. Property owned by state or local governments, agricultural and horticultural societies, educational organizations, religious groups, charitable organizations, and cemeteries is exempt from tax. Those lost revenues are not reimbursed by the state. Non-depreciable tangible personal property, household and personal items, business inventory, livestock, wind generation personal property, and certain data center parts are also exempt from property tax.

The use of Tax Increment Financing, known as TIF, is also a frequently asked question regarding property tax policy.  TIF allows cities to issue bonds to cover public costs for private development of residential or commercial projects in areas determined to be “blighted”. The increased value of the redeveloped property generates higher property tax revenue, which in theory is used to pay the costs of the bonds. The statutes regulating the TIF program have evolved significantly since the original adoption of the law authorizing TIF in 1979. The number and cost of TIF projects have risen dramatically over the past decade, from 393 projects costing $25 million in 2004 to 655 projects totaling $55 million in 2014. TIF projects are locally initiated and managed, and the costs and benefits are borne locally. The use of TIF has allowed many communities to promote significant local redevelopment and community improvement. Accusations of inappropriate use of the program have also been made. I encourage taxpayers to engage in local community discussions about TIF projects to understand the benefits as well as the costs of specific projects, as projects vary greatly within and between communities.

The Property Tax Credit Fund uses state General Funds generated primarily from income and sales tax to provide a direct credit to property owners. Each taxpayer receives a credit based on the valuation of their property. In the coming year, $204 million of General Funds will be paid to political subdivisions to cover the credit. That will amount to over $90 of credit for every $100,000 of property value, or about a 5.5% of the typical property tax bill in tax year 2015. The existence and continued growth of the Property Tax Credit Fund is recognition of the imbalance in Nebraska’s tax system.

I have appreciated all of the great questions, conversation, and engagement of constituents regarding property taxes, and look forward to continuing the discussion.  Please do not hesitate to contact my office by email at jkuehn@leg.ne.org or 402-471-2732. For daily updates, please follow me on Twitter @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

The policy challenges regarding reforming Nebraska’s Property Tax system can be broken down into two areas.  The first is what functions of government we fund with locally paid property taxes as opposed state general funds.  The second is how we equitably distribute the burden of who pays property taxes to support those functions of government.

The first area of consideration is what property taxes pay for. There are many schools of thought regarding “fair” tax policy. This leads to a discussion about the balance of funding government operation through a combination of property taxes, sales taxes, and income taxes. Currently, property taxes make up 39% of total taxes paid, compared to a total of 44% from sales and individual income taxes combined. Changing that distribution to reduce taxes collected on property would require sales and income taxes increases to cover the costs of functions currently funded by property taxes, functions of government that are currently funded by sales and income taxes to be scaled back or eliminated, or a combination of the two. Any reduction in total property taxes collected would most likely have an impact on the state General Fund.

At the center of the local versus state debate in rural areas is the issue of funding K-12 education, which makes up 60% of the average property tax bill. Current statute gives significant control of per student spending to local boards. In the 2013-2014 school year the average cost per pupil across the state was approximately $11,300.  By comparison, the average cost for the school districts in Legislative District 38 was about $3,000 per student higher, with a wide range from $10,600 to $19,600. The percentage of that cost funded by local property taxes versus state general funds is determined by a rather complex formula that takes into account the local property tax base, reflecting the local ability to pay, and the needs of the district to perform the functions required by statute. School districts receive equalization aid from the state to make up the difference between the two.

As the value of agricultural land has increased in the past decade, the amount of state equalization aid from the general fund to rural districts has decreased dramatically.  For the 2015-2016 school year, less than one quarter of the districts in the state will receive any of the $860 million in state equalization aid. For rural districts, that represents a dramatic shift in the burden of funding education to locally generated property tax dollars.  Complicating the discussion is the fact the while only a minority of districts receive state equalization aid, the districts that do receive those general fund dollars educate over 80% of the roughly 300,000 students in Nebraska’s public schools. Re-evaluating the equalization process and increasing the amount of foundation aid each school district receives per pupil is a major step in rebalancing the funding of K-12 education between property taxes and general funds.

Furthermore, the expense incurred by counties and cities that are required by state statute or regulation must also be addressed. State general fund support for cities and counties has decreased significantly over the past decade, while operational requirements have increased. A careful examination of the regulatory burden imposed by state agencies and unfunded mandates in statute is underway. Dramatic increases in the tax revenue by community colleges and natural resource districts also stand out as areas of concern. At the core of these policies is the principle of local control of government. Local political subdivisions have the authority to collect property taxes in response to local needs. Granting budget authority to the state using state general funds gives greater authority to the state. If local control is a priority of taxpayers they must engage with their local boards and understand their spending to preserve local control.

The second area of policy concern is how the property tax burden is distributed among taxpayers and classes of property. In rural Nebraska, the inequity that has been created due to the rapid increase of agricultural land values compared to other classifications of property is at the heart of this discussion. One aspect of tax policy is to look at how “regressive” a tax is, or what proportion of an individual’s income is spent on the tax. For example, sales taxes have the potential to be highly regressive when charged against essential items such as food.  A family earning $50,000 annually that spends $600 per month on food would pay a greater percentage of their income on sales tax of food compared to a higher income family earning at $100,000 annual income with the same food budget. Thus, exemptions for sales tax on grocery items are a policy decision to moderate the regressive potential of the sales tax. Conversely, income tax rates that increase as income increases is a “progressive” tax policy.

Since property taxes in Nebraska are based on the value of property, not on income, property taxes can be highly regressive in some instances, such as the tax burden passed through rent charged by property owners to tenants. On the other hand, it is assumed that owners of more expensive homes have higher incomes, so the tax would be more proportional to income. In the case of agricultural land and the improvements involved in agricultural production such as grain facilities, high taxes with decreased earning potential due to low commodity prices are highly regressive, meaning a greater proportion of total income is spent on taxes.

Policy changes to how property is assessed must go hand in hand with redistributing costs between local and state resources to be effective. If the total revenue needs remain the same in rural areas, decreasing valuations alone will likely result in levy increases to generate the revenue required. Most rural states employ a use-value assessment for agricultural land, as opposed to a market value assessment. Additionally, the period of time used to average valuations in many states is longer, which has a leveling effect on the tax burden in the face of volatile commodity markets. Any changes to the valuation process will affect all property taxpayers in varying ways. Carefully analyzing what those impacts will be and helping all taxpayers understand the implications is essential before statutory changes are made to avoid unintended consequences.

Finally, the nature of exemptions for specific classes and types of property from property taxes is also a policy consideration. While exemptions are important to promote certain industries or social priorities, they do shift the burden for funding local political subdivisions on the property owners who are not fortunate enough to receive an exemption. Expanding the tax base reduces the overall burden on all property owners. Accurate data about the economic impact of exemptions is needed to help inform policy decisions regarding their effectiveness and overall effect on local communities.

Nebraska’s property tax system has evolved over a period of decades, as have the economic conditions that have presented the current challenges. Reforming the system is neither a simple nor quick process. Ultimately, the participation of all taxpayers in the establishment of funding priorities and revenue decisions at the local level is critical to a sustainable and equitable property tax system. If you have any questions regarding property tax levies or any other issue across the state, please do not hesitate to contact my office by email at jkuehn@leg.ne.org or 402-471-2732. For daily updates, please follow me on Twitter @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

While the valuation of property subject to taxation by a political subdivision is dictated by market conditions and subject to the Uniformity Clause of the Nebraska Constitution, the amount of tax collected per $100 of valuation, called the tax levy, is set by each political subdivision annually. An examination of your property tax statement lists which political subdivisions you are paying taxes to and the levy rate.  Expressed as a decimal figure, the rate is calculated as a percentage of total valuation collected in taxes.

To illustrate, you own a home with an assessed value of $100,000.  The levy for your public school is .95, your community college is .1125, and your natural resources district is .045.  Annually, you would pay taxes of $950 to your school district, $112.50 to your community college, and $45 to your NRD. If you own an 80 acre parcel of farmground with a market value of $5,000/acre your valuation for taxation purposes would be 75% of market value, or a total of  $300,000. The same rates would apply.  Tax levies are also subject to the Uniformity Clause in the sense that the rate must be uniform throughout the political subdivision, regardless of class of property.

The tax levy is under the sole authority of the political subdivision that charges the tax. The board of a political subdivision will establish its budget for the year, reflecting the revenue it must collect from property taxes.  Using the total value of taxable property from the assessment and equalization process, the local board sets the levy to match revenue to their budget. The levy can be kept the same, lowered, or raised. A common statement is that a subdivision is “levy neutral”, meaning they have not changed their tax levy from year to year.  That does not mean they are collecting and spending the same amount of taxes.

The only control of tax levies at the state level is in the form of limits. Established in state statute, levy caps set a maximum rate a political subdivision can charge. School districts have a levy limit of 1.05, the highest of all political subdivisions. Counties and cities are limited total levy of 0.45, with an additional 0.05 for joint agreements and the option to designate a portion to other agencies within the county or city, such as county fair boards, hospital districts, fire districts. Natural resources districts are authorized to levy up to $0.045, community colleges having a levy limit of $0.1125, and educational service units have a limit of $0.015.

Any political subdivision can exceed the statutory levy limit if approved by a public vote of the people in the subdivision.  Public bonds can be issued by most political subdivisions, subject to a vote of the taxpayers. Property taxes collected to repay bonds are outside of the levy limit. Additionally, some NRDs levy additional taxes to meet compliance with the Nebraska Ground Water Management and Protection Act.

Budgetary management and local authority to set property tax levies is a reflection of the value among Nebraska voters of local control. Locally elected officials with the best knowledge of the needs and challenges of a community control the cost to educate a child, maintain local services, manage ground water, and provide vocational education. Local voters have a direct say in whether to issue bonds for school construction, city infrastructure upgrades, or hospital expansion. Local voters determine what the spending priorities are within each local community. As taxpayers and voters, every Nebraskan has an ability to influence the amount they pay in property taxes by engaging in the budget process with their local governments. I encourage citizens to do so.

There are several policy issues at the state level which can address the fundamental process of the property tax system. Next week I will address the state policy issues and the impact they may have on local control, alternatives to revenue sources based on property, and the state budget.

Your voice is important in these conversations. Examine your property tax statements, understand the needs of local spending, and talk to your local officials about the challenges they face. If you have any questions regarding property tax levies or any other issue across the state, please do not hesitate to contact my office by email at jkuehn@leg.ne.org or 402-471-2732. For daily updates, please follow me on Twitter @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Sen. John Kuehn

District 38
Room #1117
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2732
Email: jkuehn@leg.ne.gov
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