NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42

We named LB595 as our Senator Priority Bill authorizing teachers and administrators to use physical force or restraint on violent students and gives limited immunity for those employees from legal and administrative discipline. It also gives teachers the authority to have repeatedly disruptive students removed from the classroom and it sets up a process involving the teacher and parents as to when the principal can have the student returned to the classroom.  The Education Committee voted the bill out of committee, meaning it will be debated on the floor of the Legislature.

LB478 allows productive citizens who have been convicted of a felony in their past to possess archery equipment. The Game and Parks Department has had a policy of issuing archery hunting permits to individuals who have a past felony conviction. A recent Nebraska Supreme Court case cast doubts on the legality of felons owning bows and arrows and using a knife with a blade over 3 ½” long to process game. LB478 also allows felons to own hunting knives if they possess a hunting license. The bill came out of committee and was selected to be one of the Speaker’s 25 priority bills.

LB640, our property tax relief bill, was picked up by Senator Friesen as his priority bill. The bill would set 60% as the maximum amount that property taxes could generate for a local public school’s budget, the remainder would come from increased state aid along with present federal, state, and miscellaneous local funding (speeding tickets etc.) It would also lower the maximum property tax rate schools can levy from 1.05 to 1.00. We would designate the appropriated funds presently in the Property Tax Relief Fund to pay for the shift of school funding back to the state. It is presently still in Revenue Committee and may be used as the base for the property tax relief portion of a comprehensive income tax bill. Either way, I believe Senator Friesen and I have the votes to get the bill on to the floor for debate.

LB594 requires a limited liability company (LLC) seeking a tax benefit to file an amended certificate of organization with the Secretary of State disclosing the members of the LLC. It has been the policy of our democracy that when you receive the direct benefits of tax dollars you lose your right to privacy, no one should be able to hide behind a front company. The hearing was last Monday. The Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee has not acted on the bill as yet. Since no one testified against the bill. It should have a good chance to make it to the floor.

Sometimes government can over-regulate to the point that it can deny consumers access to services they wish to use. An example of this was equine (horse) massage therapy. The Department of Health and Human Services regulates animal health issues including issuing licenses for veterinary medicine. We were approached by Karen Hough from Arnold, Nebraska about the issue. She wished to practice equine massage therapy as a sideline business. Although she had taken training and had practical experience, she was denied a license due to the requirements set by the state. We discovered that in the world of horse enthusiasts, horse massage is a common practice to keep competitive livestock at the top of their game, no different than a professional athlete. Texas, Montana, South Dakota, and many other western states do not require a license to be a horse massage therapist. I was informed that it is practiced in Nebraska, but it is being done illegally without a license. We found that because of the onerous requirements Nebraska has set, there is not one single licensed equine therapist in Nebraska. We introduced LB596 to exempt equine massage therapy from the list of animal therapies that must be licensed under the Veterinary Medicine and Surgery Practice Act. We had the hearing last week in the Health and Human Services Committee. I think it has a good chance to be voted out of committee. I have found no better example than this issue to show the public’s sometimes frustration of government becoming a “nanny state”.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

We are at a point in the session where committee hearings are wrapping up and floor debate on Senator and committee priority bills are in full swing. We have also reached the time where we start meeting 4 instead of 5 days a week; it comes just in time to save friendships, avoid fistfights, and maintain good governing. Legislation comes fast to the body when action is constant; time is lacking to inform oneself on upcoming legislation, work on your own bills with your colleagues, and have time to go back home where sanity prevails. It is not that work is not done on the fifth day, it is just common sense that if one can have time to study issues a couple of days a week, it can avoid bad legislation caused by uninformed votes or worse by votes given due to political friendships or persuasion by the lobby.

This week we had the education hearing on LB409, legislation to adjust the State Aid to Education formula (TEEOSA) to match the Appropriations Committee’s proposed $1 billion State Aid to public schools. Although it is an increase of $20 million over last year, it is below the formula’s expected $67 million increases. It is not a simple task to fairly adjust a flawed TEEOSA formula. Since no proponents but many opponents testified on the bill, it was apparent LB409 was fair to all; it will lower funding to all sizes of districts.

LB98 extends the sunset date on an additional 3 cent taxing authority per hundred dollars of valuation for 8 out of 23 Natural Resource Districts (NRD) that are designated over or fully appropriated on groundwater. The extension would be from 2017 to 2026.  All NRDs have a base taxing authority of 4.5 cents.  NRDs have been a beneficiary of the massive valuation increases in property valuations, taxing revenues have increased 77% over the last 10 years. Another factor is the 2009 State Supreme Court case Garey vs. Nebraska Dept. of Natural Resources which reaffirmed our State Constitution’s mandate that property taxes can’t be used for state purposes. They can’t be used to build pipelines or maintain property or infrastructure whose purpose is to satisfy state surface water agreements with another state, such as the Republican River compact or the Platte River Agreement.  Eliminating the tax would give Lincoln County residents $45 of tax relief on a home valued at $150,000 or $250 on an average quarter of farm ground.

LB496 would add new housing projects designated for workforce purposes (regardless of building site) to what is allowable under TIF projects. If this passes it will put small housing contractors out of business or it would be foolish of anybody to build a house unless they would be granted TIF. If enacted it will cause a huge property tax shift to hardworking small businesses, home owners, and agriculture land. After all, someone must pay the taxes to afford public safety, good schools, and maintain government infrastructure.  It has been prioritized so it has a good chance to become law.

I have introduced LB599 which would consider all new development infrastructure and building construction as business inventory until occupied, leased, or sold. To a contractor, new development is business inventory, not unlike an automobile on a dealer’s lot, where property taxes are not charged until the vehicle is retailed. I believe LB599 would be a fairer method to aid home construction and would eliminate government picking winners and losers in tax relief. The hearing on the bill is this Thursday in the Revenue Committee.

March 9

LB596 allows for an exemption from licensing by the Department of Health and Human Services for those in the profession of Horse Massage Therapy.  Presently, there have been no licenses for horse massage therapists issued by DHHS.  There are Nebraska citizens that have experience to do this and current regulations keep them from aiding horse owners.

March 13

LB594 provides for limited liability companies applying for economic development programs to file amended certificates of organization.  This will allow for transparency about those that are applying for economic development programs.  The bill provides for transparency to the public about who is receiving tax incentives.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

I have not been able to get columns out weekly due to being extremely busy with legislative business over the last month. I will continue to be heading into March.

We wish to thank the Lincoln County Farm Bureau for sponsoring the town hall meeting on Feb. 18. We had a good turnout and even had some eastern Nebraska folks show up who had concerns that I was chairman of the Education Committee.

We had to explain to them that America is not an authoritarian form of government based on educational elitism instead, we are a democracy where we tell all our children they can grow up to be president. One would assume they can also be elected to a school board, or be elected a county commissioner or perhaps a state senator who is elected by his peers to be the chair of the Education Committee.

I believe a major detriment to an advanced free society is a form of occupational arrogance, displayed by some, that comes along with higher levels of education. Education accompanied by wisdom is a blessing to society; education unchecked by wisdom is not. Wisdom advises; educational elitism dictates.

This week, the state revenue forecasting board lowered expected state tax revenues by another $158 million. State funding for public schools (TEEOSA) was expected to go up 6.9 percent or $67.6 million; the expected increases will be lowered to somewhere around 2.1 percent or $20.5 million. The Appropriations Committee will decide what the final dollar amount is, and then we in the Education Committee will decide how the reductions in expected funding will be shared by all school districts.

I have introduced Legislative Bill 409 as the shell bill that we will use to fairly administer the slowdown in educational spending proportionally to each district. The hearing on the bill will be next Monday.

On Feb. 15, the Natural Resources Committee heard LB 218, our attempt to force the sale of the 19,500 acres of N-CORPE land in order to put it back on the tax rolls and to eliminate most of the operating cost.

During the debate, never once was a good reason given why the citizens of four natural resource districts involved in N-CORPE needed to have a government entity own the land. It became obvious during the hearing that influences outside Lincoln County are running the show at N-CORPE. I believe we have been able to stop outsiders from influencing the members of the committee to kill the legislation by indefinitely postponing the bill.

Sometimes, I feel like I am in the Old West, where cattle barons believed the open range was theirs, and by God, no farmer was going to put up fences. It seems that we have some that believe the groundwater is theirs and no one is going to tell them otherwise. Thankfully, most of us associated with irrigated farming know different and we wish to be stewards of our groundwater so we can pass on irrigated farming to future generations.

There is talk of plans by N-CORPE’s board (most are not Lincoln County citizens) to sign a contract to allow 140 electric generation windmills on our government-owned Lincoln County land. You might consider attending N-CORPE’s next meeting.

Since our last column, we introduced our proposed TIF bills before public hearings:

» LB 262, to restrict open land use

» LB 489, to strike permissions for use of TIF language from existing law and

» LB 597, to give Nebraska’s Department of Revenue oversight over proper use of tax increment financing.

We are making headway in convincing fellow senators of the drain to local property tax bases that TIF is causing. The Revenue Department has recently released its 2016 TIF report. Property tax dollars lost to TIF have gone from $37 million annually to $70 million over the last 10 years. Have your property taxes gone down over that period? Proponents of TIF’s use as economic development claim they should have.

Eventually we will get something accomplished. There is a lot of money involved; it is not easy to take tax dollars away from those who profit from them.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

Home District Column 2/9/2017

February 10th, 2017

Tuesday, we presented LB595 to allow teachers’ disciplinary control of their classrooms. Discipline in the classroom to allow students to focus and learn and teachers to effectively communicate to the entire class is the purpose of LB595. The present Student Discipline Act outlines what student behavior may lead to discipline and empower school boards to adopt additional conduct policies. The Act authorizes short and long term suspension, expulsion, and mandatory reassignment as well as describes the student’s due process rights.

There is a gap, however, as to what actions teachers and administrators may take to contain a violent incident by an unruly student. LB595 fills in this gap, it allows teachers and administrators to use necessary force or physical restraint to subdue the student until such student no longer presents a danger to him or herself, other students, the teacher or administrator, or school property. The bill also allows teachers to remove a student who repeatedly interfered with the teacher’s ability to teach, or whose behavior is so disruptive that it seriously interferes with the class’ ability to learn. The administration can then place the student in another classroom, in-school suspension, or into alternative education programs. The student cannot be returned to the original classroom without the teacher’s permission.

This bill will give teachers and administrators the assurance that they have control of their classroom without fear of legal action or administrative discipline if they acted in a reasonable manner.

I have gained a higher respect for teachers after receiving a multitude of correspondence as to the violence they are experiencing in Nebraska classrooms. The Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA) testified in favor of the bill citing an email survey they conducted on the issue last Sunday. They had the largest response they have ever had to a member survey; overwhelmingly, teachers said there is a growing discipline problem in our schools. 80% said classroom violence is increasing, 80% said they want more control of their classroom.  I now understand that when I ask a former teacher why they retired early, they simply say in some form or another: deterioration on classroom discipline.

LB595 enforces learning in a classroom; not only does it allow learning to happen, it allows teachers to instruct students that there are behavior boundaries that all citizens should follow.  It’s a common-sense approach.  We’re working with all parties to make this work for everyone involved.

You may have noticed recently that there has been a concerted attack on debate points I have made in private conversations. I am undaunted, I take solace in a quote from Mother Teresa “Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable, be honest and transparent anyway”

Upcoming hearing dates:

February 15th Wednesday afternoon in the Natural Resources Committee

LB218 – N-CORPE shall sell land while retaining water rights and requiring review of project with public hearing.

LB488 – Department of Natural Resources creates voluntary irrigation water conservation grants to farm irrigated land as dry land on annual basis. LB488 will give a common-sense alternative for farmers to conserve groundwater instead of mining it and pumping it into a creek.

February 16th Thursday afternoon in the Revenue Committee

LB640 – Cap individual school districts property taxes at 60% of total revenue. Lowers maximum tax rate to 1.00

This bill is meant to work on property taxes and school finance in a more straightforward way.  It restores equity funding to districts who didn’t get it.  It will take out some of the variables that allowed for property taxes to grow in each district without approval of the local board.

Feb 21st Tuesday afternoon in the Urban Affairs Committee

LB 262 – Limits the use of open land for Tax Increment Financing (TIF)

LB489 – Removes ambiguous language from TIF statutes

LB597 – Provides oversight by the Department of Revenue for TIF programs

The three TIF legislation proposals will give state oversight, remove ambiguous language and clarify the definition of open land in its use in TIF projects.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

Home District Column 2/1/2017

February 3rd, 2017

Nebraska is unique in how state government is operated. The one house Unicameral allows for more citizen involvement than the other 49 states with the two body system of a representative house and a senate.

George Norris, the creator of the Unicameral, convinced the voters of Nebraska to approve the system by ballot initiative in 1934.  One of the main selling points he stressed was that citizens of the state were to be the “second house”.

This session there were 667 bills introduced, every single one of those bills will have a public hearing where citizens can sit in front of legislative committees and share their knowledge and opinions with their elected officials. Not only are they given adequate time to speak, they are also very often given respect for their knowledge by being asked questions by state senators.  Hearings have and will go late into the evening, no one is denied their right to address their elected officials. It is a rather amazing sight to see; in that hearing room there is an air of equality very seldom seen in federal, state, or local governments. These hearings are usually scheduled each afternoon during the first half of the 60 or 90-day legislative session. In order to make sure that these hearings are done in an orderly fashion, 14 Committees were set up around specific subject matter: Agriculture; Appropriations; Banking, Commerce and Insurance; Business and Labor; Education; General Affairs; Government, Military and Veteran Affairs;  Health and Human Services;  Judiciary;  Natural Resources;  Retirement; Revenue; Transportation & Telecommunications; and Urban Affairs.

Tuesday our LB404 requiring, for safety purposes, a 2 man crew on trains operating in Nebraska had its hearing.  Support for the bill was overwhelming. Congressman Don Bacon, the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighters Association, and the Nebraska Association of County Officials were among those who showed support along with many individual train personnel who provided personal work experiences.  Those strong testimonies led one senator to change their view and support the legislation. Besides the paramount issue of safety, we made the argument that the railroad has been part of our region before there was a state of Nebraska; management and ownership may come and go but the railroad’s working heritage that runs through generations of families in North Platte, McCook, Alliance, etc. is part of the foundation of our state.

Upcoming hearing dates:

February 7th Tuesday afternoon in the Education Committee.  LB595 allows teachers to have disciplinary control of their classrooms. Response has been good from the public education community to the bill.  There is a sense that we need to give guidance and protection to teachers and administrators as to how they may use common sense reactions to students who have had few boundaries set in their personal lives.

February 15th Wednesday afternoon in the Natural Resources Committee

LB218 – N-CORPE shall sell land while retaining water rights and requiring review of project with public hearing

LB488 – Department of Natural Resources creates voluntary irrigation water conservation grants to farm irrigated land as dry land on annual basis

February 16th Thursday afternoon in the Revenue Committee

LB640 – Cap individual school districts property taxes at 60% of total revenue. Lowers maximum tax rate to 1.00

Feb 21st Tuesday afternoon in the Urban Affairs Committee

LB 262 – Limits the use of open land for Tax Increment Financing (TIF)

LB489 – Removes ambiguous language from TIF statutes

LB597 – Provides oversight by the Department of Revenue for TIF programs

The NCORPE legislation is basic to the future of how we manage our ground water resources for future generations. LB218 asks the question: Do we allow the same government entities that we assign to manage our common resources to also own those resources? LB488 will give a common-sense alternative for farmers to conserve groundwater instead of mining it and pumping it into a creek.

The three TIF legislation proposals will give state oversight, remove ambiguous language and clarify the definition of open land in its use in TIF projects.

If you have been waiting for an opportunity to influence these issues, now is your opportunity. Show up and testify at the hearings.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

Home District Column 1/26/16

January 27th, 2017

LB640 is the legislation we have introduced to address Nebraska’s property tax inflation problem.  It is directed towards the largest cause of property tax increases, the way we fund public education. The state aid to education formula, TEEOSA, dictates that local property taxes come first in the equation of how we pay for public schools. It does not take into consideration the ability of a community to pay those taxes.

Property tax makes up 48% of total taxes collected in the state.  The heaviest burden of property taxes statewide is levied to the school districts.  Per the 2016 Department of Revenue report, 60% is levied to the schools statewide. In our District 42, it is nearly 63.

Funding schools comes from three major sources, property taxes, State aid (generated from income and sales taxes), and federal aid.  Since property taxes are accounted for first, when property valuations go up, state aid goes down.  Currently, 175 out of 245 school districts receive no portion of their income and sales taxes back to them through Equalized State Aid to Schools.  District 42 schools Hershey, Brady, Maxwell, and Wallace are included in the non-equalized districts.

The 1990 authors of the TEEOSA formula believed if we limited the tax rate, a school district could levy to 1.05 and it would keep property tax increases to a reasonable inflationary factor. Apparently, they were not good math students in school; controlling only one variable in an equation is like building a fence with only three sides. The intent of LB640 is to close the fence, instead of controlling the variables we put a limit on the answer of the equation.  It caps the maximum local effort (property tax contribution) at 60% in any district of all revenue sources, including all forms of state aid, federal money and even speeding ticket revenues. For those districts that are not at the 60% threshold, such as North Platte Public Schools, LB640 also lowers the max levy rate to 1.00, thus giving all citizens a tax cut.

Here is an example: If a school district has $100,000 total funding (property taxes, federal funding and state aid), the property tax portion would be capped at $60,000.   Wallace school district, for example, in 2015 received no equalized state aid and funded 72% ($72,000 in the example) of their school with property taxes. Of the $12,000 difference, they would receive 75% ($9,000) from the state. Some or all of the remaining amount could be recaptured by a two-thirds majority vote of the school board after holding a public hearing.

How do we pay for it: we earmark that the first dollars in the Property Tax Credit Fund (proposed $204 million annually) will go to fund the Public School Property Tax Relief Act.  LB640 will put property tax relief in statute, where it cannot be easily raided.

LB640 will give long range tax equity in school funding. It eliminates the effect of valuation inflation, it puts local control into local school funding by making local school boards justify any additional property tax asking to fill the gap above the 75% factor.  It will also eliminate some of the shielding effect that the property tax credit gives local government entities that raise your taxes by not lowering your tax rates in the face of rising valuations.

There are other property tax proposals by other senators, we will see which combination of proposals can make it into law.

LB640 is tentatively scheduled for public hearing on February 16th.  Below is a partial list of our upcoming public bill hearings.

1/26:

LB479 – Change public hearings provisions and redefine a term under the Nebraska budget Act

1/31:

LB404 – Require a train crew of at least 2 individuals

2/7:

LB595 – Student Discipline Act

2/15:

LB218 – Provide for installation of ground water pumps by public entities

LB488 – Water Conservation Grant Act

We need your input in Lincoln and welcome your testimony at the hearings.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

Home District Column 1/18/2017

January 19th, 2017

Wednesday was the last day for Senators to introduce legislative bills. I have introduced 22 bills this year.  Fifteen bills on various topics related to District 42 and seven education bills as chairman of the Education committee.

The entire list of introduced bills are on the Legislature’s website (www.nebraskalegislature.gov).  All of these bills are important, but a few of them, should provide a greater amount of interest in the district. It is critical that people from the district show up in Lincoln to testify at the hearings in favor of the proposed legislation.  This is one of the ways that you can show others in the state what is important to us.

LB 218 provides that the NRDs involved in the NCORPE shall sell the land associated with the project, while retaining water rights and easements. Proceeds of the sale must be used to pay down related indebtedness.  Every five years, NCORPE must present a report for the continued need of the project at a public hearing. Selling the land should allow for the elimination of the NCORPE office and its over million dollar budget, plus by paying down the debt the NRDs should be able to drastically lower the present $10/acre occupation tax on irrigated land. This is a common sense approach to the NCORPE fiasco. It is not a new approach, Colorado also has a water mining project to satisfy its obligation to Kansas in the Republican River compact.  They have acquired the water rights to 55 irrigation wells in eastern Colorado from a farmer. The farmer remained the owner of the land. Colorado has no project manager or offices, they have one employee that maintains the well sites and turns them on and off.

LB488 is another NCORPE bill that would attempt to satisfy Kansas by voluntarily reducing irrigation water consumption by paying farmers that are in the riparian area within five miles of the Republican River or its tributaries $50/acre plus exempt them from the occupation tax for a year, if they agree to farm their land dryland for the year. The program would be controlled by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources and the funding for the program would come from the already annually appropriated $11 million to the existing Water Sustainable Fund. The bill earmarks $3 million to the new Water Conservation Grant Act.  That amount could generate nearly 60,000 acre feet of water conservation, to be used to satisfy Kansas’s demands. Kansas has recently showed a desire to work with Nebraska on alternative settlement practice. There will be those who directly benefit from the NCORPE project who will not like changes to the project and will testify against changes to the program, but it will be those who do not live in Lincoln or Red Willow counties where the NCORPE project directly effects our natural resources and our tax base.  We need local citizens to testify at the hearings.

We also introduced three bills related to the abuse of TIF and have tailored the bills to address the concerns the State Auditor  recent audit had on the use of TIF by cities and towns.

LB489 – Eliminate ambiguous language in allowable expenses paid by TIF Proceeds

LB262 – Clarify TIF not allowed on undeveloped vacant land outside city limits or within city limits for less than 40 years.

LB 597 (not yet assigned a number) Give State Revenue Department oversight of statewide TIF projects.

Other bills we have introduced to address concerns of local constituents;

LB 478 to provide possession of archery equipment for recreational purposes by ex-felons

LB 404 to provide 2 person crews on certain train crews

LB 217 Add requirements to increase transparency to open meeting act.

LB 596 Allow for Equine Horse Massage without state licensing.

We will attempt to keep you informed on hearing dates for these bills.

We are also presenting major legislation to address property tax concerns.  We are finishing up the language of the bill as I write this column. I will address the proposed legislation in next week’s column.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

Home District Column 1/12/2017

January 13th, 2017

On the first day of the 105th Legislature, we started with leadership elections of Speaker and Committee Chairmen, followed by senators’ appointments to committees.  Newly elected chairs moved into their committee offices, more senior senators got to pick from remaining offices and eventually, the freshman drew out of a hat for their offices. By the end of the third day, senators are close to being settled in. Within ten legislative days, we must have all proposed legislation handed into the Clerk. It happens fast.

As you are probably aware, I was greatly honored to be elected by my peers to the Chairmanship of the Education Committee. Those of you that have contacted my office will be glad to hear that my existing staff followed me; Charles Garman became a Committee Council and Kristina McGovern accepted the position of Committee Clerk. Existing Committee Council LaMont Rainey agreed to stay and fill the position of Lead Council and we added Tim Erickson as Legislative Aide.  Daily, I have never been around so many lawyers. I have told them I appreciate the value of law degrees, but it might take me a while to warm up to their way of communicating.

I ran for the Education Chairmanship to have a front row seat on addressing the inequities in how we fund our public schools through the “Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act” (TEEOSA).  What I have experienced over the last two years on the Committee is a split between rural and urban citizens. Rural school districts are mostly funded by property taxes and larger urban districts are funded about 50-50% property taxes and state aid. The inequity has split school districts into at least four lobbying organizations, depending on where they are in the TEEOSA formula. The larger districts also have their own paid lobbyists to represent their interest at the State Capitol. If you hang around down here long enough, you might start believing with enough money, we could just buy an education without much effort from the student or the teacher.

I will be introducing legislation to put “Tax Equity” back into the TEEOSA formula. The short version is we cap local property tax inputs at 60% of total funding of federal, state, and local sources. The cap would stabilize state aid for Brady, Hershey, Maxwell, Sutherland, and Wallace while giving tax relief to property owners. Another benefit is that it would minimize the effect of ever increasing property valuations. But how do we help stabilize funding for large school districts like North Platte? To help those taxpayers for now, our legislation would lower the TEEOSA factor calculating local effort from property taxes from $1.00 per $100 of value to 95 cents and lowering maximum levy rate to 1.00.

Correcting the injustice of the annual tax shift that puts more and more of school funding on local tax payers must be remedied by shifting an equitable portion back to the State.  I have never liked the concept of the Property Tax Credit Fund, that minimal credit you see on your tax statements. It is by definition a tax shift; we overcharge on income and sales taxes to fix an overcharge to property taxes. The effect is we allow local taxing entities to continue to raise their spending as they hide their tax increases behind the credit. Overall, I believe the tax credit has added to the inequities in taxation in our state instead of helping the situation.

Because of the present budget crisis, we are in danger of losing the tax credit altogether, the present $204 million credit is not guaranteed in law. We believe the best way to start protecting property tax relief is to guarantee it through education funding statutes.

It won’t be easy to achieve, we are dealing with politicians and special interest groups. Some wish to protect what they have, some are worried about public perception of spending versus good fiscal management.  Some would prefer to manipulate the numbers to show that we did not increase state spending. But as citizens we do not consider one government budget over another, we just know we want equity on how we fund the whole of government.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

 

Home District Column 12/28/2016

December 30th, 2016

It will never be said that a Democratic–Republic form of government is a static, boring endeavor. The 90 day 2017 Legislative Session begins next Wednesday January 4th and ends June 2nd. Since a speaker will have not yet been elected, the first day of Session will be led by Lieutenant Governor Foley. The proceedings begin with Chief Justice Heavican swearing in to office the 17 new and 8 reelected senators.

 
The other major business of the day is the election of leadership positions in the Legislature. But before that can occur, a majority of senators must approve the temporary rules (those of the previous Session) that govern the legislative process. New rule changes are normally done a few days later through recommendations by the Rules Committee and approved by the body before floor debate begins.

 
There is one continuous issue that may cause a rejection of the temporary rules: the practice, began in the 1970s, of secret ballots for leadership. It’s the only vote taken by senators that is kept from the public. There may be an attempt to amend the rules to change this policy. The problem is that to do so means there will be no rules on the floor of the legislature until the temporary rules are accepted. Chaos could ensue.

 
I am for public votes; you should know who I support for leadership. In fact, that this is even an issue amazes me. How can anyone be against transparency in the action of elected officials? There is not a senator in the body who does not know who I support for leadership positions. But that is not true of all, it only takes a few power hungry individuals who will attempt to garner support for chairmanships by purposely telling two colleagues running for another committee chair that they will support them, but in secret can hide the truth from one of them. Human nature does not change with elected office, if anybody needs the guidance of transparency, it is a politician. If an attempt is made, I will vote for transparency, but I would much prefer that we do it through the Rules Committee process. Secret government actions breed suspicion, not trust. Either way, we will post our leadership votes on our legislative website.

 
First, the Speaker of the Legislature is elected, then comes the election of 17 committee chairs in alphabetic order starting with Agriculture and ending with Urban Affairs. I am running for the Chairmanship of Education. I believe because of my colleagues, who have offered their support, we will have more than the 25 votes needed. The old joke on first day is: it’s the only day of Session when there are not 49 senators but instead 50, since every candidate has been told they have the support of 25.

 
Things going forward will move fast. First, we will address the Governor’s recommendation on the budget shortfall for the remaining fiscal year through June. Within 10 days, senators must submit their legislative bills. I will submit bills dealing with NCORPE, TIF, parental rights, property taxes, oversight of the State’s Tourism Commission, and add clarification to transparency and public notification requirements of laws governing elected local boards. As the session begins there will be others as constituents bring issues forward.

 

I was recently asked by a member of the press: Is it not odd that a State Senator is in conflict with local leaders of the community? He was referring to the use of TIF. My reply was simple; what is your definition of local leaders? Mine includes local elected officials. As of yet, I have not had a county commissioner, city councilman, school board member, or any other elected official confront my position on TIF, or for that matter, NCORPE. I assume as good public servants they govern using present law, but do not oppose enactment of better law. Other leaders are the business owners who pay their property taxes in support of their community, farmers who are stewards of our groundwater, religious leaders whose concern is morality, and parents who lead their families. Those are the local leaders whose advice I take into account.

 

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

Home District Column 12/21/2016

December 23rd, 2016

The 2015 Legislature enacted legislation that allowed the State Auditor’s Office to audit Community Redevelopment Authorities (CRA). Prior to that taking place there was absolutely no regulatory oversight of municipalities’ use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF).

 
This week, State Auditor Charlie Janssen released an audit of a sampling of 22 TIF projects across the state. The link to the entire audit can be reached by visiting the State Auditor’s website, www.auditors.nebraska.gov or by clicking HERE. The results should be concerning to all tax payers. The audit disclosed shoddy record keeping and TIF being used in areas that a reasonable person might doubt as being blighted and substandard. Their findings also pointed out that the laws created by the Legislature putting into practice the voter approved 1978 constitutional amendment that enabled TIF are ambiguous to the point that they are useless.

 
The Auditor looked at three projects in North Platte. The CRA of North Platte could not show documentation of invoices that the TIF proceeds actually were used to pay proper costs related to the projects. The Auditor also questioned the CRA’s creation of a Community Redevelopment Authority Redevelopment Fund (CRARF) and funding it with 25% of the proceeds from TIF bond sales for the purpose of funding smaller non-TIF projects, stating “…Gives rise to the question of whether the intent of the Community Development Law is to allow cities to use TIF revenues to operate loan programs for non-TIF use.”

 
The Auditor recommended that language in present TIF law be cleared up. For example, in section 18-2103(12) the auditor states “the law is so broad and generic in nature that it undermines significantly any attempt to place parameters around the use of TIF.” After first precisely describing the “work or undertaking” costs that TIF monies may be expended on, the statute then negates itself by ending with “or other improvements in accordance with the redevelopment plan”. They recommended that the Legislature make clear definitions of the terms, blighted and substandard. Their comment on the present law’s definition: “Such ambiguity contributes to uncertainty at best and the potential for the willful abuse of TIF at worst.”

 
Finally, the Auditor ends with the recommendation that “Overall, TIF is subject to remarkably little monitoring and oversight.… The Legislature may wish to consider whether the Community Development Law is being utilized effectively, and municipalities are interpreting and implementing its provisions in an appropriate fashion”. Going on to recommend that the Legislature may wish to create a state oversight committee or authority “… thereby protecting the interests of both the taxpayers and their communities as a whole.”

 
This Senator agrees wholeheartedly with the Auditor’s findings and plans to be a part of the fix needed to put a good urban renewal program, TIF, back on the right path. MY reasons:

 
1) Citizens and their local elected officials need to be assured TIF is being used correctly for urban renewal of blighted and substandard areas of a community. Local elected officials and taxpayers need to have a source to go to at the state government level to verify the claims made by those wishing to profit from the use of TIF. Presently, your mayor and city council members have no state authority to address their questions or concerns.

 
2) TIF allows cities to unilaterally confiscate the tax dollars of your local schools, county, Natural Resources District, community college, etc, without input from those government entities. Those elected officials should also be able to check for the accuracy of TIF use. They are the ones who have to raise your tax rates in order to offset the revenue lost by TIF.

 
3) There’s reason we all pay property taxes, we want good schools and public services. If we arbitrarily allow some property owners to not contribute tax dollars to those purposes for 15 years, the rest of us must pay more to pick up the slack.

 
I believe you sent me to Lincoln to champion GOOD government; protect the rule of law, the glue that holds our freedoms together; and to make sure all taxpayers and citizens are treated equally. The present abuse of TIF in our state offends all of those principles and it must be corrected.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42
Room #1107
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2729
Email: mgroene@leg.ne.gov
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