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May is budget month in the Nebraska Legislature. Because we use a biennial calendar, the Legislature has a 90 day session, instead of the shorter 60 day session, on odd numbered years in order to pass a budget. Because Nebraska legislators have to pass a balanced budget, extra time is needed to debate the budget on the floor of the Legislature.
I serve on the Appropriations Committee. The Appropriations Committee decides how the money gets spent. The Appropriations Committee is not supposed to appropriate any more money in the budget than what the Forecasting Board projects the State’s income to be. Generally speaking, this is how we balance the budget. However, more requests come in for money than what the State has to spend. So, the Appropriations Committee decides what to fund based upon who convinces the committee to support their ideas the most.
Together with Sen. Robert Clements, who also serves on the Appropriations Committee, we tried to reduce spending in the budget. We believe the State should spend less than what the Forecasting Board projects the State’s income to be. Only by spending less can we replenish the State’s cash reserves fund, provide for property tax relief, and live within our means. However, every time Sen. Clements and I tried to reduce spending in the budget, we were outvoted 7-2.
Forecasting the State’s income is very difficult to do. During the last biennium, for example, the Forecasting Board had to lower their predictions several times due to the falling revenues. By setting our budget to match the Forecasting Board’s predictions, I believe we are on shaky ground. The Appropriations Committee has learned nothing from the last biennium, and we are neglecting our duties to replenish the States cash reserves and to give our citizens much needed property tax relief.
LB294 is the Appropriations Committee’s biennium budget. LB294 includes a 3.2 percent increase in State spending. The Governor’s budget that he submitted to the Appropriations Committee had recommended at 3.1 percent increase in State spending. But, why are we spending more money than what we know we can get? I voted against LB294 because it increased spending by 3.2 percent.
Another bill, LB289, is the Revenue Committee’s bill to provide for property tax relief. This bill is very complex and convoluted. The bill was written to grant property tax relief, but it makes up the difference by eliminating various tax exemptions, such as services provided by plumbers, electricians and dry cleaners, and grocery store items such as candy, pop and bottled water. The bill also raises the cigarette tax, and it increases the sales tax from 5.5 percent to 6 percent. In my opinion, the State needs to cut spending from the budget first before shifting the tax burden to other kinds of taxes.
LB289 did not pass on the first round of debate on General File. In order for the bill to come back, it will need 33 votes. Instead of raising taxes in order to pay for property tax relief, the Legislature should have moved to cut spending first, and then shifted the property tax burden to sales taxes.
Gov. Ricketts is also opposed to LB289. But, the Governor’s reasoning is backwards. Gov. Ricketts opposes LB289 because he says it raises taxes. He’s right! It does just that. But, the Governor’s budget increased spending by 3.1 percent. He justified his increase in spending by saying, “I have to decrease the amount of increase.” The Governor cannot have it both ways. He cannot oppose tax increases and propose increases in State spending at the same time.
The bottom line is that the Legislature needs a healthy dose of common sense. No responsible family would operate their household budget in the way the Legislature runs theirs. It makes no sense to spend money that you think you might get. To the contrary, the wise person budgets for less money than he or she expects to get.
My highest priority in the Nebraska Legislature is to reduce property taxes. For this very reason I introduced LR3CA in January, which is a Legislative Resolution to put a measure on the 2020 ballot, which allows the registered voters of the State to vote on a constitutional amendment for receiving 35 percent of their property tax bill back every year in the form of a credit or refund on their Nebraska State Income Tax Return. This measure has been appropriately nicknamed “The 35 Percent Solution”.
LR3CA is going nowhere. Because LR3CA remains stuck in the Legislature’s Revenue Committee, it won’t become law this year. I anticipated that this would happen, because it has happened every year that I have introduced a bill or a resolution for significant property tax relief. The bottom line is that the Legislature lacks the intestinal fortitude to grant the property owners of our State the significant property tax relief they so desperately need. Therefore, we will have to do it another way.
There is hope for the future. Because I anticipated that LR3CA would die in committee, last year I began working with a group of concerned citizens to launch a petition drive to put the same measure on the 2020 ballot. Ballot initiatives of this kind allow the citizens of Nebraska to act as the second House of the State Legislature. When Senators in the Nebraska State Legislature fail to listen to their own constituency and to take appropriate action, it becomes incumbent upon the citizens of our State to take their concerns into their own hands and to act.
TRUE Nebraska LLC was formed by a group of concerned citizens in order to oversee the petition drive to put a measure with the same language as LR3CA on the 2020 ballot. The TRUE in TRUE Nebraska stands for “Tax Relief Unites Everyone”. Last Wednesday TRUE Nebraska held a rally on the north steps of the Capitol in Lincoln to kick start their summer petition drive. TRUE Nebraska already has more than 200 people working across the state collecting signatures for the petition drive. However, TRUE Nebraska still needs more workers. So, if you would like to know more about the petition drive, if you would like to view the rally, or if you would like to get involved, please visit their website at www.truenebraskans.com.
According to Wallethub.com, Nebraska currently ranks as the seventh highest state for property taxes in the nation, including Washington, D.C. Our property taxes are higher than other high property tax states, such as New York, Rhode Island and Michigan. Moreover, Nebraska has higher property taxes than each of our surrounding states. Our high property taxes are preventing people from moving to our state and they are causing good people to leave our state.
Nebraska’s high property taxes have reached the level of a crisis. As Sen. Tom Brewer, who represents Legislative District 43 in the Unicameral, recently said, “When a tax reaches the point it causes people to move, it is no longer just a tax. It is no longer just a ‘problem’. It’s a crisis and it’s immoral.” The property tax crisis we face in our state is now comparable to the burden that our Founding Fathers faced under the tyrannical rule of King George III of Great Britain when he put a tax on their cup of tea.
Sometimes working in the State Legislature is like trying to give a dog a bath. You know the dog needs it because he stinks, but the dog only wants to jump out of the tub. In a similar way, sometimes in the State Legislature you need to kill a bad bill because it stinks, but others insist that the odor isn’t so bad.
Such is the case with just about any bill in the State Legislature which contains a sunset clause. Killing a bill with a sunset clause is like trying to give a dog a bath. State Senators seldom ever allow a bill to sunset. Instead, lobbyists working for that organization are very skillful at convincing lawmakers to extend the date.
Such has been the case with LB177. LB177 is a bill which extends the date for the bonding authority of the Papio Missouri River Natural Resource District (NRD) out to December 31, 2024. Back in 2009 the Legislature set the bonding authority for this NRD to sunset at the end of 2019. Instead of allowing their bonding authority to sunset, though, Senators in the State Legislature are insisting on extending it out for yet another five years. Consider that a 30 year bond issued in 2024 would bind taxpayers until the year 2054.
I am not against NRDs. We need the NRDs to manage our natural resources for us, and for the most part they do a very fine job. However, allowing the bonding authority to sunset for the Papio Missouri River NRD would have no adverse effects. This NRD would retain its right to raise its mill levy to as much as 4.5 cents when needed. However, just like all other departments in the state government, the Papio Missouri River NRD needs to learn how to live within its means.
The Papio Missouri River NRD includes Douglas, Sarpy, Thurston, and Washington counties. Altogether there are 23 NRDs in the state, but 33 percent of all property taxes collected by these NRDs goes to the Papio Missouri River NRD. The Papio Missouri River NRD increases their revenues by four to seven percent every year mostly because their property values continue to go up every year. When those running the Papio Missouri River NRD brag about not raising their mill levy, they conveniently leave out the fact that their mill levy has remained steady at 3.794 cents for several years and that their valuations keep going up. In their twisted way of thinking, taxing residents at the same exorbitant rate they have for years somehow means they are not over-taxing the people.
The Papio Missouri River NRD is also the most mismanaged NRD in the State. For instance, a dam they once built for flood control has no stream, creek or river running into it, and they have to pump water into the reservoir in order to keep it full. Moreover, they have sold lots around this same dam ranging from $90,000 – $600,000. Finally, when the manager of the Papio Missouri River NRD applied for disaster relief from FEMA, he never bothered to ask all of the board members for approval. Instead, he only asked six out of the eleven board members for approval.
As you can see, it is difficult for me as a lawmaker to support the idea of extending the bonding authority of the Papio Missouri River NRD when it is so poorly managed. Furthermore, two of the board members of the Papio Missouri River NRD have admitted openly that they would have plenty of money to run the NRD if their bonding authority was allowed to sunset this year.
So, when LB177 came up on the floor for debate, I tried to kill it with amendments and a bracket motion. However, no matter how hard I tried to keep that puppy in the tub, I could never get more than nine votes to do so. For some strange reason, not enough Senators in the Norris Chamber that day could smell what I was smelling. So, they advanced the bill to Final Reading by a vote of 34-9.
The population of Nebraska continues to shift eastward, especially towards the urban centers of the state. The latest population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau only confirm this trend. Nebraska’s urban centers continue to grow while the rural areas of the state continue to decline in population.
According to David Drozd, who works as a research coordinator for the Center for Public Affairs at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Douglas, Lancaster, and Sarpy counties taken together added more than 12,000 people to their census rolls in the past year.
Drozd’s findings also confirm that the Panhandle of Nebraska is experiencing the greatest loss in population. For instance, Dawes, Duel, Cheyenne, Garden, Kimball, Morrill, Sheridan, and Sioux counties have all experienced population declines of five percent or more since 2010. Box Butte and Scottsbluff counties have declined in the range of two and a half percent to five percent. Arthur County remains the smallest county in Nebraska with only 465 people, but Banner County actually grew. Banner County has experienced growth by more than five percent since 2010.
These findings concern me as a lawmaker representing ten counties in the Panhandle of Nebraska. In 2020 legislators at the Capitol in Lincoln will redraw the legislative district lines. Currently, each Nebraska State Senator represents a population of 37,000 people. So, when these legislative district lines get redrawn in 2020, we should expect to see the urban areas of the state gain more representation while the rural areas of the state will lose some representation. This won’t be good for folks living in Western Nebraska.
This population shift from rural Nebraska to the urban population centers continues to challenge the wisdom of former State Senator, George Norris, who led the state to adopt the unicameral system back in 1937 and which remains in use today. It is evident and clear that the current unicameral system which draws district lines based upon population favors the population centers of the state. Conversely, a second state house with districts drawn on purely geographical lines would favor the rural parts of the state. Therefore, the time has come to discuss moving back to a bicameral system. Nebraska remains the only state in the union which uses a unicameral system.
So, why does rural Nebraska continue to lose population? The primary reason the population of Western Nebraska continues to decline is because farming and ranching has become increasingly more and more difficult. Low crop prices, high property taxes and unfair agricultural land valuations are causing more and more farmers and ranchers to go out of business.
Folks living in Lincoln and Omaha do not understand the plight of the farmer and the rancher living in Western Nebraska, nor do they feel the pain of our low crop prices, high property taxes, and unfair agricultural land valuations. Consequently, the thought of redistricting can only give folks living in Western Nebraska cause for concern. The sad news that I am reporting today is that in the coming years, folks living in Western Nebraska will have less representation in their State Legislature.
Perhaps the most important bill I introduced this year turned out to be LB482, which is my destroyed property bill. LB482 prorates the property taxes of those landowners whose homes or buildings have been destroyed by a fire or a natural disaster to the date of its destruction for that tax year. Those who have lost their homes due to a fire or a natural disaster, such as a flood or a tornado, should not be burdened with having to pay their property taxes. When I first introduced this bill back in January I had no idea that Nebraska would soon be experiencing the worst year of natural disasters to ever hit the state and that the bill would be so timely.
LB482 now has a new legislative number. After three hours of rigorous debate on the floor of the Legislature, I was finally able to successfully amend the contents of LB482 into LB512, which is the Revenue Committee’s clean-up bill. After facing a three hour filibuster by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, LB512 advanced to Select File along with my amendment.
The bottom line is that many Nebraskans with destroyed property, especially from the recent floods and blizzards, need this kind of property tax relief this year. Nobody should ever have to pay property taxes on the ghost of a house or a barn which no longer exists. 27 counties across Nebraska have now been included in the disaster declaration. So, the need is great. Therefore, my amendment has been written to make property tax relief for all of these victims retroactive to January 1, 2019.
My amendment to LB512 has widespread bipartisan support in the Legislature. The bill passed with a vote of 42-0. This kind of a vote tells me that both Democrats and Republicans recognize the need to give our disaster victims some much needed relief this year. Hopefully, the bill will continue to receive such widespread support as the bill advances on to a second round of debate.
The needs of individuals should be our highest priority. Even in rare cases when most of a town or a village is destroyed, I believe the needs of the people should still take highest priority. After these folks have the chance to rebuild, their homes and buildings will be worth more than they were before the disaster occurred, and the community will be able to collect even more revenue in property taxes than they did before. So, it really is a win-win situation for everyone involved.
When I introduced LB482 in the Legislature back in January, I did not realize back then how timely this piece of legislation would be. LB482 is my destroyed property bill. The bill would prorate the property taxes on a person’s real property from the date of its destruction by way of a fire or a natural disaster. Because of the March blizzard and the floods in Eastern Nebraska, LB482 could not have been timed any better. If we can make this bill retroactive, those with damaged property could get some much needed relief. To me, it just makes sense that those who have had their property damaged by the storms or who have lost everything in the floods should not have to pay any property taxes until their property is restored or they can rebuild.
But, not everybody supports LB482. Some do not want this bill to ever become a law in Nebraska. LB482 has had some opposition, especially from the Nebraska Association of County Officials (NACO) and some county assessors.
Those who represent these two groups seldom ever consider the plight of the taxpayer. Instead, they tend to think only of the taxes they collect and less work for themselves.
Whenever a lobbyist represents a group or an organization, they get paid a lot of money to bring more money into that group or organization from the State.
We now have preliminary reports of the damages from the storm and the flood. The preliminary reports of the damage show that 77 counties have filed emergency declarations covering more than 80 percent of the State. Some of these counties were hit much harder than others. For instance, Nance County was hit the hardest with damages totaling $232,795,400 for roads, bridges and real estate, while damages in Brown County totaled only $5,000.
In most cases, property taxes lost by LB482 would not have a debilitating effect on county budgets in 2019. The reason is two-fold. First, most counties did not suffer enough damage to make a sizeable dent in their revenues, such as Brown County. Nance and Sarpy counties may be the only two exceptions to this rule. These two counties likely suffered enough damage to affect their county’s revenues in a significant way. But, counties have another way to deal with these kinds of a situations.
The second reason why LB482 should not affect county budgets in a debilitating kind of way is that property taxes are always paid in arrears. Any loss in revenues would not be felt until 2020. However, counties will set their budgets in September of this year. At that time, they may adjust their levies to make up for some of the anticipated losses in revenues. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect local units of government, such as county governments, to work with a revenue shortfall just as property taxpayers do when they experience a decrease in personal income.
There is always hope for the future. Once properties have been restored or rebuilt, property values would likely go up, and counties would receive even more revenue than before. In the meantime, I believe those suffering from property damage or the loss of their property should be relieved from having to pay property taxes until they can get back on their feet. So, LB482 is common sense legislation which benefits the people who need property tax relief the most.
Flooding at Camp Ashland
Unclaimed property comes in many different shapes and sizes. It could be an un-cashed paycheck, stocks left in a safe deposit box, or expensive jewelry from a deceased and distant relative’s last Will and Testament.
The 2019 Unclaimed Property Report lists all of the properties received by the State Treasurer during the last year worth $25 or more.
You may check to see if your name is listed in the report by visiting the State Treasurer’s website by clicking on the following link Nebraska State Treasurer and then clicking on the link for the 2019 Unclaimed Property Report.
There are three ways to file your claim: 1) Complete a paper claim form and mail it to: Property Division – 809 P Street – Lincoln, NE 68508, 2) Stop by the State Treasurer’s Office at the State Capitol Building in Lincoln, or 3) Go to the State Treasurer’s website and click on “submit claim.”
If you would like more information, please call the Unclaimed Property Division at (402) 471-8497 or toll-free at 1-(877)-572-9688, or call my office at (402) 471-2616.
Good luck with your search, and may you find your pot of gold.
God has an amazing ability to bring good out of evil. When Amanda Gailey and Courtney Lawton shut down a seemingly insignificant college sophomore as she tabled for Turning Point USA at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln more than two years ago, Kaitlyn Mullen suddenly found herself being escorted home by a police officer. That event was evil, because Gailey and Lawton violated Mullen’s God-given right to free speech on campus by demonstrating directly in front of and blocking access to her recruitment table.
Little did Kaitlyn Mullen know at the time that what happened to her on that dark day would spark a new movement to bring free speech back to our college campuses all across the nation. She has now been propelled to the forefront of a new movement to end harassment against conservative students by extremist, Left-wing activist professors on college campuses.
Mullen was harassed by these two university professors on August 25, 2017. A couple of days later I decided to contact President Hank Bounds and Chancellor Ronnie Green to talk to them about this incident. They ignored several phone calls I made to them. So, after a week of waiting for them to call me back, I decided to write a story for the newspaper about this incident. But, before I published it, I called each of them one more time and told them that if I did not hear back from them that morning, I would go public with the story that afternoon. Once again, they ignored my phone calls. So, I sent out my first newspaper story on this incident on September 1, 2017. Since this time, I have written additional stories for the newspaper, some even co-signed by other State Senators, but Bounds and Green have refused to fix the problem of free speech and the harassment of conservative students on campus by these extremist, Left-wing activist professors.
This problem has not gone away. At least one activist professor has been arrested numerous times for vandalism in both Virginia as well as in Nebraska, and the administration continues to turn a blind eye to the problem. In order to help you see the double standard which now exists at the University of Nebraska, consider what coach Scott Frost said to football player, Maurice Washington, after a judge in California signed a warrant for his arrest: “I will say our guys at Nebraska need to understand they don’t just represent themselves, they represent their team, and the athletic department, and the University of Nebraska.” But, after Assistant Sociology Professor, Patricia A. Wonch-Hill was arrested for vandalism, the administration turned a blind eye to the incident and said “the activities were done on her own time,” and that they were leaving the matter to local law enforcement. So, the students represent the University of Nebraska, but the professors don’t.
All of this academic nonsense is now changing. Last week President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order tying university research funding to free speech. After referring to his signing of the executive order as historic, Trump went on to say, “Every year the federal government provides educational institutions with more than thirty-five billion dollars in research funding. All of that money is now at stake. That’s a lot of money. They’re going to have to not like your views a lot.”
Standing next to President Trump as he spoke from his podium at the White House was Kaitlyn Mullen. President Trump even invited her to speak. Here is some of what she said: “As the future of America, it’s important that our universities are a place where we can speak freely and have healthy, respectful dialog on campus.” She also went on to say, “No other student should ever have to go through what I went through.” And, I agree.
Sen. Steve Erdman invites high school students from the Panhandle to participate in the Unicameral Youth Legislature. High school students are invited to take on the role of a state senator at the Unicameral’s Youth Legislature June 9-12. At the State Capitol in Lincoln, student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation, and discover the process of how a bill becomes a law in the nation’s only Unicameral Legislature.
The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives behind-the-scenes access to students who have an interest in debate, government, law, politics, public office, public policy, and public speaking. Students will learn about the inner workings of the Legislature directly from senators and staff.
Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers the full cost of admission. Applicants must submit a short essay. Other $100 scholarships are also available.
The Office of the Clerk of the Nebraska Legislature coordinates the Unicameral Youth Legislature. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Extension 4-H Youth Development Office coordinates housing and other recreational activities as part of the Big Red Summer Camps program.
To learn more about the program or about how to apply, please call (402) 471-2788. The deadline for registration is May 15, 2019.
The winter of 2019 will long be remembered in Nebraska for its historic harshness and brutality. In Western Nebraska residents are digging out of the snow and praying for warmer temperatures; in Eastern Nebraska they are filling sandbags and praying for the flood waters to subside. In Western Nebraska calves are being birthed on a bed of snow; in Eastern Nebraska residents are being rescued from flood waters. In Western Nebraska residents remain held up inside their homes; in Eastern Nebraska residents are evacuating their homes.
We have a new tourism motto in Nebraska this year, which says, “Nebraska is not for everyone.” Indeed, few people would ever choose to live in a land with such extreme weather conditions. But, it is precisely those who know how to weather these extreme conditions and who help others get through them who set our state apart from other parts of the country.
The true colors of Nebraskans shine most brightly during these times of disaster and extreme weather conditions. Nebraskans come together during these tough times of deep stress and put the needs of their neighbors ahead of their own personal and private interests. We will help our neighbors dig out of the snow, help them round up their cattle, help them fill sandbags, and we will even open up our homes to those who have lost theirs in a flood. These are the values we all share as Nebraskans, and these are the values which make Nebraska great. So, Nebraska may not be for everyone, because not everyone shares our values.
Besides displaying generosity and hospitality towards our neighbors, Nebraskans are also an inherently grateful people. We deeply appreciate and honor our fire departments, and the linemen who restore our power, the plowmen who clear our roads, the National Guardsmen and first responders who come to our rescue, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who supply us with sandbags, and the sheriffs and patrolmen who keep our streets safe. We also appreciate the many churches who have opened up their doors so that their buildings can be used as shelters for those who have been displaced, and we appreciate the many Red Cross volunteers who greet these victims of the weather with a cup of cold water or a hot cup of coffee. To all of these people and more, we say, “Thank you.”
Governor Ricketts has filed the paperwork and made the request for federal relief aid, and Congressman Adrian Smith has been assisting by assessing Nebraska’s needs for federal aid. However, an official survey and assessment of damages will be completed by the Nebraska Emergency Management Association (NEMA) to see if Nebraska qualifies for federal disaster relief dollars. While I am confident that Nebraska will meet these federal eligibility requirements, NEMA’s surveys will determine which areas of Nebraska get this relief aid. In the meantime, those in affected areas should contact their County’s Emergency Manager to report their need for assistance.
As the snow melts, please let me remind you about a few safety procedures. Please be wary of flooded roads and remember not to drive on or across any flooded roads, especially when you don’t know the depth of the water level. If you see someone in danger, don’t try to help them yourself; seek assistance first. If you are in danger or need emergency medical services, please dial 911. If you need assistance with food, shelter, clothing, or anything else, please call 211. Before you travel, remember to check road conditions at: www.511.nebraska.gov. You can also download their convenient APP on your phone, so that you can keep an eye on our ever changing weather patterns and road conditions throughout the trip. Finally, drive safe, buckle up, obey the rules of the road, and always drive sober.