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Sen. Tom Brewer

Sen. Tom Brewer

District 43

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12-15-2017 Weekly Update

February 14th, 2018

Senator Tom Brewer
43rd District

As many readers of this weekly update know, I’ve spoken about the property tax crisis in Nebraska many times. Lively debate on the subject continues in op-ed pages of newspapers across the state and social media sites. As we approach the second session of the 105th legislature, this debate will intensify. Two camps seem to be forming; those in favor of the “50/50” property tax idea, and those opposed. I am in favor of the 50/50 idea.

I’ll not recite the list of depressing statistics again. Suffice to say property taxes aren’t just too high in Nebraska. They have reached the point of being immoral. They are hurting people every day. It’s the only tax people and businesses cannot avoid. We’re 5th highest in the country and are getting worse.

If you want to reduce property taxes, there are only two possible courses of action. The legislature can pay for it by raising sales or income taxes and/or shifting existing spending from Peter to pay Paul, like ending a program and using the savings, etc. The other way is to make the Local Units of Governments (LUG) pay for it (like school districts, counties, natural resource districts, etc.) This is done by limiting how much a LUG can levy and/or limiting how much they can assess in property value. There are about six hundred and fifty LUGs in Nebraska that depend entirely on property taxes to function. The 50/50 idea requires the legislature to pay for it. One of the many reasons for this decision is the Nebraska constitution requires “…the legislature to provide for the free instruction in the common schools.”

It is important to remember at this point that government will not reform itself. It must be compelled to act.

The argument against the 50/50 property tax reform idea says its bad idea because no one can explain “how it will be paid for.” When you hear this argument – and you will – consider the flaw in reasoning going on here. By this rational, ANY idea which forces the legislature to appropriate money for something is therefore a bad idea. No idea which forces the legislature to appropriate money comes with a gift-wrapped “how to pay for it” explanation, and there is a good reason for this.

There are actually 49 different ways (Senator’s opinions) to pay for something. This is why we have a Revenue and an Appropriations Committee (and why we should explore creating a Ways and Means Committee like other States have). Figuring out the “how to” pay for something is why we have hearings in these Committees. This is why we have motions and amendments during the three different stages of debate for bills on the floor of the legislature. These are the ways “how to” pay for something are developed and created.

“What” must come before “how.” It’s important to remember that NONE of the aforementioned process will happen unless the legislature is forced to act. You cannot pass an appropriations bill (how) until the legislature first debates a bill to do something (what.) Why on Earth would you have an argument about how to pay for something, unless you first had something to pay for? Expecting the author of an idea to show up with the “how to pay for” accompanying the idea, and then condemning the idea when objections are raised about some aspect of the “how to” concept is a political dodging tactic that provides a great excuse for the legislature not to do anything and let the problem persist.

It’s no surprise we’re in the mess we’re in. This tactic has been used with the property tax problem for fifty years. Look where using that reasoning has got us. It has to stop. I urge readers to reject this tactic when they hear it. I hope my colleagues finally “do” something about the property tax problem and pass the 50/50 idea. I welcome the fight about how to pay for it. I say so what if we have to stay late and have food catered in for midnight sessions. So what if we face gridlock for weeks on end. I don’t care if we’re forced into a special session to solve this. The plain truth is, the people being made to suffer out-of-control property taxes in Nebraska are hurting far more than a handful of politicians being made to argue with one another.

I believe the people will put the 50/50 property tax idea on the ballot in November 2018. The legislature can face this reality in the second session of the 105th legislature in a few weeks. They can listen to the people, avoid the heartache created by a ballot initiative, and pass Sen. Erdman’s 50/50 bill during this session. The other option is to hide behind the flawed “there’s no way to pay for it” argument and wait for the political earthquake. When the people pass the ballot initiative, they can begin the first session of the 106th legislature in January 2019 with a $1.1B hole to fill. From what I’ve seen of this place so far, my money is on the latter.

I’m promised to talk about poverty this week, and then the story broke about the 50/50 plan, so I’ll talk about poverty next week. I want to talk about poverty because we have a moral duty to raise people out of poverty, plus we can dramatically shrink the size of State government if we reduce poverty in Nebraska. Instead of making it less miserable, I think we should focus on making it more escapable.

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.

Sen. Tom Brewer

District 43
Room #1202
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2628
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