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The session is basically over. Monday was the last day to vote on first round General File bills, Tuesday was the last day for Select File bills. Next week Wednesday, we will finish the last bills on Final Reading and the Governor will give a speech. The Legislature will applaud how great we are and how we saved babies (a good thing) and how we wrung our hands about property taxes and did nothing. The lobby behind the glass will mail out their political donations to those who jumped the highest for them. Another year of politics as usual.
I will get right to the point, you will not get a voluntary effort of property tax relief out of this Legislature. Efforts by Senators Erdman, Briese, and Friesen were either blocked or hijacked by the lobby. The Governor and Senator Smith’s LB947 was doomed at the start with a demand from the State Chamber of Commerce for a 15% corporate income tax cut from 8.04 to match the top individual rate of 6.84. The property tax relief portion of the bill was a Washingtonian attempt to claim relief by pushing it out over a 12-year period–an effort that would barely keep up with inflationary factors.
Our LB640 to give long-range property tax relief addressing how we fund our schools and alleviate the overreliance on property taxes had the best chance of passage. In earlier debate, it received positive votes on amendments of 30 and 43 votes. It was being filibustered by a few senators who represent larger school districts; the administrations of those districts do not want to give up property taxing authority in exchange for more state funding. They recognize they have the property taxpayers around the neck who will pay or lose the farm. They justifiably don’t trust the Legislature to fund schools. I had presented to the Speaker a list of 33 senators who said they were willing to consider a cloture vote if it was amended. LB640 was not given that opportunity and it died.
Last Sunday, the Speaker asked the 6 senators who had presented property tax legislation to meet to see if a compromise could be reached. To ease the chances of success, I was willing to leave my LB640 out of the compromise. The state aid to education formula needs to be fixed but it can be done another day. Today, we need immediate property tax relief. We got into this property tax fiasco because past Legislatures shifted school funding to property taxes. The reality is that the fix will have to include a shift back to income and sales taxes. It was a doomed effort when the first thing on the table is not an attempt to raise more state revenues but instead a tax cut for corporations. I sarcastically said that maybe we need to take out of Nebraska’s Constitution the requirement for a balanced budget. Then we could be like Washington: the tax cutters could cut taxes, the spenders could spend and both will go home and get reelected. No compromise was reached.
One last thing. We did pass legislation that will cause your property taxes to go up. Supporters of the Bankers Association’s (who reported record banking profits last year) workforce housing LB496, to allow Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to cover construction cost, defeated a filibuster effort from property tax relief proponents. TIF in the past has been limited to shift property tax dollars intended for schools and other local county taxing entities to pay for public costs of city infrastructure. Private construction covers everything from purchasing the building lot to sodding the yard after construction. LB496 will allow bankers and real estate speculators to recoup as much 30% of their cost over 15 years. If taxes paid by citizens living in TIF’ed housing aren’t going towards schools and public safety, you will pay more! It still amazes me when one observes the legislative influence 30 pieces of silver from lobbyists buys in Lincoln. The Governor could veto LB496 and stop this tax shift to homeowners and ag-landowners but first, he would have to recognize the severity of Nebraskans’ property tax burden.
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729.