A number of large proposals have come before the Legislature in the last two weeks. Certainly the budget has been, and will continue to be, the major defining issue of the session. LB 457, my bill which would have brought voluntary termination agreements with school districts back inside of the levy lid and budget limit was amended into LB 512. That bill passed to final reading with an amendment which, while not bringing voluntary termination agreement spending entirely back inside the lid as we had originally envisioned, still substantially reduces the amount of monies for such agreements which can come from outside the lid, thanks to a compromise. While not ideal, this is a step forward and signals that the legislature is serious about working to reduce local spending as part of the larger effort to bring meaningful tax relief to all Nebraskans.
Another key proposal debated last week was the governor’s LB 461, which was billed as comprehensive tax relief. Because LB 461 prioritized income tax relief over property tax relief, I could not support it in its current form. As I told my colleagues, I believe that LB 461 would add to the imbalance in our tax structure, and would eventually increase our reliance on property taxes in Nebraska. We simply cannot ignore the crisis of property taxes which is happening all across our state. There are farmers who are on the verge of bankruptcy because of high property taxes; there are young people putting off the purchase of their first home because property taxes will push their monthly payment out of their budget; there are older Nebraskans on fixed incomes who can no longer afford to make the property tax payments on the homes they paid off decades ago. It is because of this that I will continue to advocate for tax relief, but only if it includes substantial property tax relief.
This week, we will continue to debate the budget. Currently, our budget increases overall spending by 1% from the current biennium. To do so, we are reducing the rainy day fund below $400 million, and doing a one-time sweep from various cash funds of state agencies and programs. I am concerned about the sustainability of such an approach, and I also am concerned that revenue projections going forward are too optimistic. As a result, I will support additional responsible spending reductions.