NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Dan Hughes

Sen. Dan Hughes

District 44

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This week the Unicameral agenda is starting to take its final shape. With today being the last day to introduce bills, we will have an idea of which bills the members of the legislature feel need to be addressed this session. This week two of my bills, LB 760, and LB 819, will be heard in different committees. The following is just a short explanation of each of these bills, as well as, an amendment I will be introducing to LB 758.

As introduced, LB 758 requires natural resources districts that develop streamflow augmentation projects to work with the county where the project is located to reduce impacts to that county’s property tax base. The hearing on this bill was Wednesday, January 17. The change I will propose as an amendment at the hearing will expand on the idea and provide more detail.

The amendment would authorize the NRDs that own NCORPE and Rock Creek to make payments in lieu of taxes to Lincoln County and Dundy County where those projects are located.  Payments would equal the property taxes the NRDs are currently paying.  The amendment would also authorize such NRDs to waive repayment of property taxes paid under protest, and require public notice and accountability provisions. It’s my intention that this will be the first step in addressing several of the issues surrounding the streamflow augmentation projects currently in place to keep Nebraska in compliance with the Republican River Compact and the Platte Basin Enhancement project.

In 2016, LB 886 was passed by the Nebraska Legislature. That bill created the Volunteer Emergency Responders Incentive Act which provides an income tax credit for qualified active volunteer emergency responders, rescue squad members, and firefighters that serve a city, village, or rural or suburban fire protection district. This bill inadvertently left out volunteers serving a county. LB 760 would include volunteers serving a county and provides a mechanism for them to apply for the income tax credit that was originally intended in LB 886. LB 760 is just a thank you from the state for all our volunteers’ hard work and dedication.

LB 819 expands the allowable uses of the Department of Correctional Services Inmate Welfare and Club Accounts Fund to include programs which teach inmates skills to prepare them for reentry into the community and family friendly visitation activities. This will allow the department to provide additional opportunities for inmates to interact with their families in prosocial activities and to acquire skills which will assist them in preparing for release. Currently, inmate welfare funds may only be used for recreational activities and equipment. The welfare fund receives income from pop and canteen sales within the correctional institutions.

This year’s Legislative Session is now a week underway. As of last week, I have introduced ten new bills and a legislative resolution. Some of these bills will have a direct impact on the people of the 44th district. A couple of the important bills are: LB 758, and LB 761. The Legislative Resolution, LR 266, will also directly impact Southwestern Nebraska.

Legislative Resolution 266 asks Congress to require the Bureau of Reclamation to allow transferability of permits for lots around Hugh Butler Lake, Harry Strunk Lake and Swanson Lake all located in Southwestern Nebraska. The Bureau of Reclamation has mandated that trailer home owners at these lakes vacate by 2020. Many of you have had conversations with me about your concerns with how the Bureau of Reclamation and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is handling this issue.

LB 758 would authorize the four NRD’s that own the N-CORPE project and the Upper Republican NRD that owns the Rock Creek Project to make payments to the county to make up for lost property taxes on the land they own. They currently have been paying these property taxes, but under protest, because the state constitution says a government entity cannot pay property taxes on property being used for a public purpose. The matter went to the Tax Equalization and Review Commission (TERC) which ruled in favor of the NRDs. The counties are currently appealing this ruling.

LB 758 will make it clear that the NRDs will be allowed to make up those property taxes. The counties and school districts have been getting the money and have been spending that money. This just assures the NRDs that they are legally allowed to pay the taxes and will not be sued for doing just that. One aspect that we may look at while in committee would be allowing the money that has been paid to the counties for property taxes to not be required to be paid back. This is one option that may be looked at for this bill.

LB 761 would allow an increase in the per diem for the individuals who serve on the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Currently, Hitchcock County is the largest oil producing county in Nebraska. We are fortunate to have an individual from Trenton who is on the commission. Currently, the maximum per diem per day is $50. This has not been raised since 1959. LB 761 would raise that per diem to $300. This money comes from the fees that are collected from oil producers. So no state tax dollars would be used for this purpose.

I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

The second session of the 105th Legislature started on Wednesday, January 3rd and will finish with our sixtieth working day on April 18th. This was my fourth opening day and I am always reminded of a statement by a senior senator on my first opening day. “This is one of only two days each session we all like each other”. Of course, the other day is closing day. That is a very true statement. Each senator works hard and is passionate about doing what they feel is right for their constituents and the state. But we have different opinions and personal priorities about how and when we need to get things done.

This year as with every year my main priority will be property tax relief. I know this might come as a shock to most of you, but I get criticism from a few every time I talk about property tax relief in my articles. This is good because it forces me to keep looking for new ways to make the point to my colleagues in Lincoln.  Recently, I have looked at the amount of tax dollars collected in Nebraska and came up with some astounding numbers as to why farmers and ranchers, in particular, are complaining loudly about their property tax burden. I looked at the amount of dollars collected by category of tax to fund government across the state. These are dollars used by government of all levels in Nebraska to provide services to us the citizens.  In this comparison, I am using only the amount of DOLLARS collected by each category of tax and comparing what we collected ten years ago to what we collect today. Sales tax dollars collected, up 17.64% in ten years. Individual Income tax dollars collected, up 32.78% in ten years. Corporate Income tax dollars collected, up 40.55% in ten years. Residential Real Estate tax dollars collected, up 26.86% in ten years. Agricultural Real Estate tax dollars collected up, 102.44% in ten years. We all know the cost of living and providing services goes up every year. But these numbers clearly show one sector of our economy is being forced to shoulder an ever larger burden of our government costs. K-12 education is the largest recipient of property tax dollars in Nebraska. It is the State of Nebraska’s responsibility to educate our children, not the local property tax payer. Property tax is not a local tax. There has been a tremendous shift of tax revenue used to fund K-12 education from sales and income tax dollars to Ag real estate taxes. That is a shift that is unfair and unsustainable, especially with the current slump in the agriculture industry.  There will be several ideas and bills brought before the Legislature this year to try and re-balance the tax playing field. As with any issue, there are numerous sides and the ripple effect of any legislation needs to be carefully considered before passage.

I will be putting together an article each week throughout the legislative session to give everyone in the 44th District additional information about the progress of the legislature. As always, I appreciate your feedback. Happy New Year!

Sen. Dan Hughes

District 44
Room #1210
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2805
Email: dhughes@leg.ne.gov
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