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17 days remain to approve a budget and finalize legislation. The planned 1% increase in the biennium budget is problematic. I don’t believe Nebraska’s economy, and thus tax revenues, will recover quickly, we need to slow down our spending at an even faster pace than the present budget dictates. The budget robs $198 million from cash funds of state government entities, these funds are usually generated from fees charged to taxpayers (such as the fee cattlemen pay the Brand Committee). It also reduces the state’s Cash Reserve Fund by $259 million, which in times like this, is why the fund exists. But no matter how you look at the budget, it is deficit spending. Plainly stated, we have not cut the budget to match expected revenues. I would be willing to wager we will be back next year cutting the budget even further.
LB640: Our attempt to fix the funding inequity in the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA) funding formula was debated Monday for 3 hours. LB640 would fix the overreliance on property taxes. We have the votes to pass it, but presently the political climate in Lincoln, does not allow for the 33 votes needed to overcome a filibuster from senators who are under pressure from urban school administrators who benefit from the present TEEOSA formula. They don’t want to lower the maximum property tax levy by 6.3 cents. Why? Because they know that they have the homeowner by the neck, you may lose your job, your income tax burden may drop but you must come up with your property taxes or lose the roof over your head. This battle is not over, the concept of LB640 and the bill itself is still alive, eventually the citizens will speak loud enough that something will change on this issue.
LB461, the comprehensive tax relief plan: I did vote it out of revenue committee because all forms of high taxation needs discussion, but I do not support the passage of the bill in its present form. First, the income tax cuts are too deep. We need to protect income tax revenues as the source of the present $224 million Property Tax Relief Fund (PTRF). Plus income tax revenues must be part of the answer to correct the TEEOSA formula’s over reliance on property taxes. Second, the property tax portion of LB461 gives very little relief to agriculture landowners in Lincoln County and the little it gives will be shifted to homeowners and businesses. What needs to be done is a compromise which incorporates components of both LB640 and 461 into legislation with the goal to reverse the shift of school funding to property taxes, controls spending, and lowers taxes. When I first got here the issue was dismissed, three years later we got major legislation to the floor; the debate has shifted in our favor.
LB595: school discipline legislation to give teachers more decision-making authority on discipline issues in their classrooms was debated Monday for 3 hours. Common sense does not reign in public education. The bill is about protecting children and school employees from violence and maintaining orderly classroom environments; it became a debate over misbehavior being a mental health issue and was opposed by a few arrogant school administrators (none from western Nebraska or Lincoln County) who believe the schools and some senators belong to them. Again, we have the 25 votes needed for passage, we do not have the super majority of 33 needed to overcome a filibuster.
LB409: Education Committee legislation to match the TEEOSA formula’s 2.3% ($67.9 biennium budget) increase in school funding, about half of what was expected, passed General File. Even with education being buffeted from severe budget cuts, there will be attempts to offset the reductions in expected state funding by adding amendments to the bill that will increase the property tax burden of Nebraska’s citizens. Nebraska is tenth in the nation in per pupil spending, it is evident that Nebraskans support public education. It is time for the few, but vocal, large school districts within the public education establishment to support the taxpayer.
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