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As you all know the legislature has adjourned for the year. I am as disappointed as you, that we were unable to provide any tax relief. I have always stated that property taxes, especially agricultural and real estate taxes are way out of line. I was one of the thirteen senators who signed a letter to the secretary of state asking for a special session to deal with all property taxes. Unfortunately, I do not believe there are another twenty of my colleagues who are willing to join the call for a special session.
We have a situation today in Nebraska where our tax collections are out of balance and a majority of my fellow senators have no incentive to make a change with the current situation, because it is working to their advantage. Several of them have sympathy for the property tax issue but when it comes right down to it, the status quo is preferable to making some tough decisions.
We have three main sources of revenue to fund our government in Nebraska: income tax, sales tax, and property tax. For several years each of these revenue streams contributed about one-third of the funds necessary to pay for the needs of our citizens. From roads to K-12 education to welfare to prisons to post-secondary education, the citizens of Nebraska pay for the things we demand through taxes. Over the last forty years, we have been shortening the leg of the stool that represents sales tax receipts by exempting certain categories. Lately, online shopping has accelerated that revenue stream depletion as well.
In the past when the state ran short of money it was relatively easy to cut state aid to counties and schools in order to balance the state’s budget. The local property taxpayers then had to make up the difference. When we talk about tax relief in the legislature the governor, several of my colleagues and the chambers of commerce cry, “we cannot allow a tax shift”. That statement rings pretty hollow since the shift has already occurred from sales to property, especially over the last ten years. Where was the cry then? It only came from those of us in agriculture who were paying an ever increasing percentage of the bill.
There is always room for efficiencies in government, and if the government is run like a business, when revenue is short, you prioritize your spending. Property taxes are state taxes, but our local school boards and county boards are the ultimate deciders of how those dollars are spent. The budgets for our schools and counties are being developed and finalized as we speak. We have elected our neighbors to make those decisions for us and I know they always welcome input from their constituents on the budget. I encourage everyone to go to the school board meeting and the county commissioners or supervisors meeting and learn where the money is spent and then make suggestions where money can be saved. Learn the facts about our local budgets, offer constructive suggestions, and you may be surprised by your efforts.