NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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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
12-15-17

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; tbrewer@leg.ne.gov. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.

12-01-2017 Weekly Update

February 14th, 2018

Senator Tom Brewer
43rd District
12-01-17

This week I’m going to give the subject of the University behaving poorly a rest. I’m sure in the weeks ahead that topic will generate more news all by itself. I’m not going to talk about Property Taxes this week either because my good friend and colleague Sen. Tom Briese wrote such a great op-ed in the Omaha World Herald on that topic this week. I hope you check that out. You can find it here:

http://www.omaha.com/opinion/tom-briese-it-s-time-the-legislature-delivers-property-tax/article_66e33d56-0717-5f66-b77f-468e6bd22ee6.html

This week I want to talk about something exceptionally rare; something that is good for State government and is also something good for the citizens AT THE SAME TIME.

A few weeks ago I mentioned how my constituents gave me great ideas for new bills. One of our constituents called the office not long ago and said,

“How come it costs a hundred bucks to go fishing in Nebraska?”

That got my attention so I looked into it. A resident fishing license is $29.50. A Park Permit is $30, and the Aquatic Habitat Stamp is $15. Now when you throw in some bait, a tank of fuel, some sandwiches and a cooler full of your favorite beverage, a person can easily spend over a $100 just to go fishing. That’s just nuts.

President Reagan said there was nothing quite so permanent as a Government program, so I know changing the math here is going to be tough. What’s more, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is a lot like many other agencies of State government – they don’t get a penny of money appropriated to them by the Legislature. Their entire budget is derived from licenses, permits and fees they sell. They are 100% self-funded and don’t cost the tax payers any sales or income tax revenue.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said the many States were great “laboratories of democracy” so it didn’t take long to find a good example of one of our neighbors reducing some of these costs. In 2012 Kansas implemented a program to sell park permits for half-price ($15) when a person renews their license plates for their vehicle. They are the same as Nebraska. They sell Park Permits for $30 over-the-counter at a number of different vendors. This idea gives a person the chance to get a small sticker on their license plate indicating they have a Park Permit valid for the same time period their license plates are valid.

My staff has talked to the Kansas version of Game and Parks and they said they dramatically increased the revenue derived from selling park permits at a 50% discount because it gave a much larger audience of people who wouldn’t ordinarily buy a park permit the chance to get one at half-off.

Citizens get a 50% discount on a Park Permit and the self-funded State Agency that survives on just the money it raises from licenses, permits and fees gets a boost in revenue. Talk about a win-win scenario! Now I know better than to make any predictions about the chances of this bill passing, but we have talked to our Game and Parks Department and they are excited about this idea and will likely come testify at the bill’s hearing in support of it. Stand by for news!

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; tbrewer@leg.ne.gov. 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
Email: tbrewer@leg.ne.gov
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