NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42

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Column 8/16/2018

August 16th, 2018

The adage “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions” could easily be adapted to the folly of government spending gone astray; perhaps the adapted phrase should say “the road to high taxation is paved with the good intentions of elected officials”.

What brought this to mind is the recent announcement by the county and city to seek a 33% increase in the city’s sales tax rate along with a local paper’s recent story on property taxes pinning most of the blame for their rapid rise on sky-rocketing property valuations. That is partly true, but spending on issues outside of government services and abuse of interlocal agreements by local boards to avoid lid-limits have also played a large part in your excessive tax bill.

The truth of the matter is we do not pay our taxes in valuations or levies, we pay in dollars and every dollar is doled out by those local governments.

The problem is statewide. Some local examples of squandered tax-dollars:

The Iron Eagle Golf Course: it was to be a tourist attraction, bringing golfers to a new destination golf course and their fees would pay off the municipal revenue bonds at no cost to the taxpayers. We all know the history, a broken promise; within three years the taxpayers were put on the hook by the conversion of the revenue bonds to general obligation bonds, 25 years and $11.5 million tax-dollars for bond payments later the taxpayers now own a golf course, but not the land under it. To make sure this scenario never happens again to taxpayers in Nebraska, our LB378 passed in 2015. In the future, any attempt to change the funding source of a voter-approved project must also be placed on the ballot.

The Golden Spike: a well-intended celebration of our heritage. A normally general fund enhancing 2 cent occupation tax on hotel rooms was enacted to pay for the construction of a private organization’s tourism project.  Somehow late in the process, operation costs were added as a use for the new tax revenues. A well-documented million dollars was squandered by mismanagement and $86 thousand disappeared from an account managed by the Lincoln County Community Development Corporation (LCCDC) all before a shovel of dirt was turned. From 1999-2017, $6.9 million of taxes have gone to the privately owned Spike – approximately $2.7 million has gone to pay the USDA loan payments and the remaining $4.2 million has disappeared into the bowels of the Spike. That $4.2 million could have repaired a lot of streets!

The N-CORPE project: a frustrating but necessary tax-dollar-funded NRD groundwater to surface water augmentation project. But $50 million of the $142.5 million bond cost could be eliminated if the ill-informed policy to continue to own, manage and fund the 19,500 acres of ag-land tied to the project was instead sold with deed restrictions and put back on the tax-rolls.

Mid-Plains Community College budget growth: the pride of our local higher education and the path I urge our local youth to take to a rewarding career. According to the State Auditor’s website, since FY2004-05, the mid-point of the recent property valuation run-up, MPCC’s property tax asking has gone from $6.1 to $16 million and state-aid has increased from $5.5 to $9 million. Meanwhile, over the same period, full-time equivalent student enrollment has dropped from 1,642 to 1,441. Apparently, expanded campuses and new buildings do not attract new students.

Elected officials can say NO. Leading by example, during the 2015 session we led a filibuster to kill LB423—a $95 million wind-energy tax credit for windmills. The Legislature was told if we did not give those credits, windmills would not be built in Nebraska. We killed the bill, yet since then Nebraska has become the home to hundreds of new windmills.

The truth is, Nebraska’s third highest national ranking for local and state tax-burden is not caused by property valuations or lack of taxpayers, but instead by government spending on things far from its mission to provide good public infrastructure, educational opportunities and public safety. Some good advice – if you want respect, don’t create dirty laundry!

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729.

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42
Room #1306
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2729
Email: mgroene@leg.ne.gov
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