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Committee Hearings wrapped up last week and this week we began full day debate on the floor of the legislature.
LB640, our property tax relief proposal was voted out of the Revenue Committee. Senator Friesen selected it as his priority bill, so it will be debated this year. The goal of LB640 is to put tax equity back into the “Tax Equity and Education Opportunity Support Act” (TEEOSA). The final amended version of the bill will cap local property tax support of school districts at 55% and lowers the maximum school general fund levy from 1.05 to .987. Rapid increases in property values in rural Nebraska has caused 174 school districts out of 245 to receive no state equalization aid, which is the main source of state aid. Brady, Hershey, Maxwell, and Wallace are among those schools; Sutherland is on the cusp of losing the small amount they now receive. Those schools will gain property tax relief because of the 55% limit. North Platte Schools is an equalized district and is scheduled to receive over $10 million in aid next year. Taxpayers in the North Platte district will receive tax relief by the lowering of the maximum levy, which will be offset with an additional $1.4 million in state aid. LB640 does not reduce total needs calculated for a district, it keeps districts funded; what it does is shift back to the state its constitutional responsibility to financially support public schools. Because LB640 caps the local property tax effort at 55% of revenues, it will take away the negative effect property valuation increases have had on your property taxes due to the injustice in the present TEEOSA formula. There is no better way to encourage rural communities to grow than to lower the property tax burden on all homeowners and businesses, LB640 is a step in that direction.
Senator Chambers’ LB447 removes mandatory minimum sentences for felony convictions. I was in opposition to the original bill, but Senator Linehan dropped an amendment to only include non-violent drug offenses. I supported her amendment and helped advance the bill to select file. Why? Because we have a prison overcrowding problem and it needs to be addressed. Either we lock people up for extended periods, spend millions we do not have to build new prisons and staff them, or we figure out a way to rehabilitate criminals back into society. Probation and rehabilitation programs are less expensive. After being informed by law enforcement officials that LB447 would not only reduce sentences for nonviolent drug-users, but also career drug dealers and manufacturers, I have decided not to support LB447 on select file. Protecting society is the top concern, but as a fiscal conservative, I do not want to build and staff new prisons. There has got to be a better way.
LB518 creates “The Rural Workforce Housing Act” by transferring $7.3 million in seed money from the “Affordable Housing Trust Fund” which presently generates its funds from real estate document fees. Competitive grants would be awarded to nonprofit development organizations in areas with demonstrated housing needs, low unemployment, and the ability to complete projects within 2 years. The program will require a local one to one match of the grant program. I voted for the bill because it does not take new housing projects off the local property tax rolls and it allows local entities, such as a non-profit hospital, who believe there is a housing shortage, to donate funds to the program. I will not support another so-called workforce housing bill, LB496, which would allow housing projects to use Tax Increment Financing (TIF). We can’t continue to complain about property taxes and then turn around and take property taxes away from our schools with abuses of TIF.
LB98 extended a sunset-date for over or fully appropriated Natural Resource Districts to levy an additional three-cents ($45 on an average $150,000 home) to FY 2025-26. It was in existence for 12 years, plenty of time to accomplish its purpose. I helped stop it from advancing. Either we want property tax relief or we don’t.
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