We doubt it’ll happen, but state leaders owe rural Nebraska a special Unicameral session.
The next time you hear lawmakers claim they don’t have time to deal with the big issues, remember 2019.
It’s now the year the Legislature adjourned six working days early (a special session takes at least seven) rather than seek further progress toward property tax relief worthy of the name.
The next time you hear a governor call property tax relief a major priority, remember 2019.
And the next time urban politicians seek votes for statewide office with platitudes about ours being a 500-mile state, remember 2019.
This year’s Unicameral session was by no means fruitless for west central Nebraska’s five senators. They made substantial efforts to work with their eastern colleagues while pressing our region’s urgent need for meaningful property tax relief.
On several ticklish subjects, several noteworthy bills they introduced became law. They include:
» Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer’s bill enabling court challenges to the use of eminent domain in alternative energy projects (Legislative Bill 155).
» Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams’ measure beefing up official notifications of coming tax-foreclosure sales (LB 463).
» Venango Sen. Dan Hughes’ clarification of what constitutes a “nuisance” in agricultural operations (LB 227).
» Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman’s timely drive to discount taxable valuations of destroyed property (enacted within LB 512) to help our rural neighbors devastated by March’s “bomb cyclone.”
The bridges regional lawmakers built to pass bills like those may yet yield a filibuster-proof, veto-proof property tax relief bill in time.
District 42 residents and rural Nebraskans especially should thank North Platte Sen. Mike Groene for his tireless work to more fairly balance local and state revenues among property, sales and income taxes.
It’s because Groene focused so strongly on his school-aid-oriented plan that fewer of his own bills became law than those of his regional colleagues.
Though it seems to need more tweaking, the tax-relief effort (LB 289) led by Groene and Omaha Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, respective chairs of the Education and Revenue committees, remains alive for the 2020 session.
So does Erdman’s worthwhile proposal (LB 483) to once more value farm and ranch land by income capacity for tax purposes.
We wish them well as they work during the interim to refine the tax-relief and ag land valuation proposals and persuade more urban colleagues to back them in 2020.
But if you read next year about success for Erdman’s petition drive to force property tax relief through mandatory 35 percent property tax credits ...
Right. Remember 2019.
It would be neither wise nor responsible to hamstring our state’s finances that way — though one supposes our farmers, ranchers and homeowners at least would be better able to make property tax payments they otherwise won’t get any relief from.
If Erdman’s proposal makes the ballot, we regrettably cannot endorse it. But neither would we pretend that we didn’t understand how it happened.
At best, senators forfeited precious time by adjourning the 106th Legislature’s first of two sessions too soon. They could have kept chiseling the Linehan-Groene effort into more acceptable shape and perhaps advance a bill past the first round, even if they left additional work for 2020.
But state leaders have reinforced an old unspoken message to rural Nebraskans through the Legislature’s stalemate and the governor’s obstinate insistence on equating every tax shift with a tax increase.
It goes like this:
Nebraska is not, after all, a 500-mile state. It’s a 50-mile state, radiating from Omaha and encompassing Lincoln.
Our fiscal status quo, particularly in public school financing, favors the east. Income tax and state sales tax revenues belong to the state — er, Omaha and Lincoln.
Except for sales taxes for cities, local governments and most schools “out west” (past Lincoln, that is) get one major revenue source: property taxes.
“You’re on your own.” That’s the message.
Rural senators have ample reason to be frustrated, though it didn’t help that they once again failed to unify behind one tax relief plan on the Unicameral floor.
Yet only steady, patient persuasion — laced with timely doses of plain truth — can hope to change the minds of skeptical senators, if not the governor, over the long run.
Our delegation enjoyed successes this year by pursuing the art of compromise. The relationships they built with urban senators do offer hope for effective tax relief in 2020.
Even so, rural Nebraskans will remember 2019.