Many times over the past years in this column, I have spoken about the unique system we employ here at the Nebraska Legislature. If a senator sponsors a bill, it is guaranteed a public hearing. Other states do not always offer this courtesy to the constituents. Therefore, by following our rules, I found myself opening on a bill I introduced before the Revenue Committee of the Legislature this past week at 9 p.m. This hearing began at 1:30 p.m. and, including a half-hour break, by the time it was my turn, many of the senators on the committee were worn out, but they hung in there.
This hearing was devoted to the first few bills dealing with the property tax issue and how we might go about slowing the runaway rates, particularly on agricultural ground, we have experienced over the last several years. Gov. Pete Ricketts introduced LB958. This bill will begin to change the structure of how we arrive at our tax rates. The governor stressed that we didn't get into this problem overnight and it will take incremental steps over several years to work our way out of this dilemma. The governor wants to tighten levy increases and budgetary growth on local entities. Some 6 1/2 hours later he had heard from dozens of Nebraskans and the clear majority were not happy. Those testifying included mayors, city council members, farmers, ranchers, school representatives, rural fire district members and a whole host of others who receive state aid or rely on property taxes for their existence.
Words such as "devastating" and "draconian" were some of the nicer descriptive words used. The governor, to his credit, sat through the full discussion on LB958 and said later he is willing to work with others to begin the process and will listen to those who would like to make things better.
I introduced LB940 at this hearing. I agree that there is not any easy or quick fix. We need to look at it for the long-term and take current emotions out of it as much as possible. My bill, entitled the “Tax Stabilization Act,” freezes the 2015 property tax values and tax statements for up to three years providing we do not pass meaningful property tax reform this year. It also freezes the state property tax credits we have been receiving, which are part of our property tax statements.
I think the governor and I are in agreement that if portions of our bills can be used to help craft a new solution to the problem, that would be acceptable. These bills as well as a bill offered by Sen. Kate Sullivan, LB959, in the Education Committee, which will deal with spending lids for schools, should at least provide a starting point for a possible meaningful start to a long-term solution.
In addition to working on property tax assessments, I plan to introduce an interim study resolution after the session to examine the way we value agricultural land for tax purposes. Hopefully, this study will focus on the issue from a perspective using landowners, policy makers, appraisers, county assessors and other tax experts. This, too, will be a challenge and will need to focus on long-term results plus fit into the plan of funding public education and local governmental agencies.