Last week, Senators wrapped up the First Session of the 106th Nebraska Legislature. From property taxes to a new pro-life law, the Legislature did important work on a wide variety of issues. Here are a few of the highlights from the session over the last five months.
When session began in January, it was hard to imagine that Nebraska would endure its most widespread natural disaster in state history within a matter of weeks. As Nebraskans stepped up to recover and rebuild bigger and better than before, the Legislature took on the cause of #NebraskaStrong and did its part as well. Senators put $11 million in fresh funding into the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund to help rebuild the state. They also passed legislation to provide property tax relief for natural disaster victims, so that families and farmers don’t get taxed out of house and home.
In this session, property tax relief was my number one priority. In addition to property tax relief for Nebraskans impacted by natural disasters, Senators achieved three other important priorities on taxes. First, I signed LB 103 into law to end automatic property tax increases. Before, local governments were taking in additional tax revenue from increased land values without having to hold a hearing or a vote. LB 103 requires a public hearing and vote before boards can take more of your money. This is a big win for taxpayer transparency.
Second, the Legislature approved my recommendation to add $51 million annually to the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund. This is a 23% increase for a total of $275 million in property tax relief per year for Nebraska’s farmers, ranchers, and homeowners. To put this in perspective, direct relief increased about 20% in the six years before I took office. Over the last five years, Senators and I have successfully worked to almost double direct property tax relief for taxpayers.
Finally, the Legislature wisely voted down attempts to raise sales taxes, which would have been detrimental to growing Nebraska. Some Senators had wanted to raise taxes to put more money into big government spending. This has been tried in the past, and hasn’t resulted in lower property taxes in the long-term.
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While these steps were important, the Legislature concluded without delivering structural reforms to our property tax system. There’s one key reform that Senators should make a top priority: Capping growth in property taxes. Nebraska has over 2,300 units of local government making decisions about property taxes without any limit on what they can take from you. This year, I proposed LR 8CA which would give the people of Nebraska a vote on capping the growth in property taxes. I have already been sitting down with Senators to talk about this idea and others that can deliver the property tax relief Nebraskans need in the next legislative session.
In addition to flood relief and work on property taxes, the session yielded other important results. Senators worked to control spending in the next two-year budget to 3%. At my request, Senators voted to merge state agencies to create the Department of Environment and Energy and make state government more effective and efficient. Senator John Lowe of Kearney helped move three safety programs from the Department of Labor to the Fire Marshal’s Office, which is a better fit for their mission. Thanks to the leadership of Senator Joni Albrecht of Thurston, the Legislature enacted new pro-life legislation that strengthens Nebraska’s informed consent laws. Unnecessary occupational licensing requirements for appraisers and realtors were rolled back. Senator Julie Slama of Peru brokered a compromised to update Nebraska’s civics education and Americanism standards. And Senators passed new laws to make Nebraska more veteran and military-friendly.
These are just a few of the results from this year’s legislative session. While several important priorities were addressed, Senators have more work to do on property taxes. I will continue to work closely with Senators to deliver structural reforms and real, sustainable property tax relief. If you have thoughts you would like to share about this legislative session or any other matter, I hope that you will email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2244.
Pete Ricketts is the governor of Nebraska.