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Taxes and spending: for some in government those two terms have a complete disconnect. Tuesday, we debated LB461, the Governor’s and Revenue Committee’s comprehensive tax plan. As a Revenue Committee member I helped vote the bill out of committee with the caveat that I could only support it going forward if either our LB640 to cap local property tax funding for public education advanced or changes were made to the bill that protected present and future property tax relief. During debate, there was a rumor that a compromise was being cooked up, past unfulfilled promises on legislation has taught me not to decide my vote on rumors. I did not vote to advance the bill.
The bill had two major components. Starting next year, ag-land valuation would be lowered from 75% to 65% which sounds great until you realize that a large majority of Lincoln County farmland is in non-equalized school districts. The effect of the changes would cause all taxing entities to raise their tax rates to make up for the lost valuations. The little tax relief for agriculture would have shifted to home and business owners. There are two ways to gain property tax relief: replace local property taxes with state income and sales taxes through state aid to education and simultaneously control local government spending. The other aspect of the bill was income tax cuts, another sure-fire vote getter for politicians. Small cuts would have been given starting in 2019 by adjusting the tax brackets, but at the earliest, the larger tax breaks would have taken effect no earlier than 2020 and only if revenues increased by 3.5% or more. I could not support a bill that gave a false impression that it was property tax relief and at the same time took away the source of future property tax relief–increased state revenues. A politician would have voted for LB461 and claimed it was middle class tax relief: I am not a politician. There was not a single farm, ranch, or educational group who supported the bill. The proponents of LB461 had good intentions, but the resulting bill was not good for Lincoln County.
LB98: 10-year extension (tax increase) of a sunset date of a 3-cent property tax levy for over and fully appropriated Natural Resource Districts which includes all of Lincoln county. Senator Erdman and I filibustered the bill and garnered enough support to stop its advancement. During the first 3 hours of debate a month ago, I opposed it. I have since not received correspondence from farmers or homeowners criticizing my stance but I continue to receive daily concerns about burdensome property taxes. I believe a message needed to be sent to local government officials that we are serious about property tax relief. The levy is still in effect next year, giving us the interim between sessions to come up with a compromise. What must be in the fix is a sunset extension of less than 5 years, lowering the levy to take into consideration the increases in valuations, and we must demand accountability through budget reporting of how the money was spent to alleviate the over use of our groundwater resources.
LB327: the almost $11 billion mainline budget bill. The first three hours of debate was not spent on spending, but instead a small provision in the bill that would have altered which women’s health clinics could receive Nebraska’s $1.9 million share of federal Title X funding. It is an attempt to defund clinics that perform abortions or encourage them. I agree, I do not want any of my tax dollars funding abortions, but I do want women in Lincoln County to have easy affordable access to preventive early health care testing. The way the bill was written would have denied a local nonprofit clinic from receiving the $120,000 federal funding they received in the past. After no language change could be found to protect rural clinics, Appropriations Chairman Stinner introduced an amendment to remove controversial language. I supported his effort and the budget bill advanced.
Revenue forecast came in another $55 million short. We have more cuts to make in order to balance our already proposed deficit spending budget.