Property tax measure hits new roadblock in Nebraska

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Attempts to lower Nebraska’s property taxes appeared to stumble yet again Wednesday after some state lawmakers argued that the newest package could hurt local K-12 schools by restricting their ability to tax.

Senators debated the bill for about three hours but ended up skipping over it without a vote, leaving its prospects unclear. The only way it’s likely to return to the Legislature’s agenda now is if leading supporters can show they have at least 33 votes to overcome a filibuster, a tall order given the opposition to the bill.

“It appears to me that we are heading toward an impasse,” said Sen. Matt Williams, of Gothenburg. “If that horse can’t finish the race, we need to saddle up a horse that can finish the race.”

The proposal would substantially boost state funding for Nebraska’s K-12 public schools, which are by far the largest consumers of property tax revenue.

Farmers, ranchers and homeowners argue that rising property valuations have shifted an ever-larger share of the cost onto their shoulders, especially in rural areas with huge swaths of agricultural land. Increasing state aid is designed to ease that burden.

The bill would also tighten restrictions on how much revenue school districts can generate locally through property taxes, drawing objections from school officials and teachers. School administrators have said they don’t trust state officials to maintain their funding commitments, given the Legislature’s history of belt-tightening to balance its budget in lean times.

“I don’t think we have the money for this bill, and the money has to come from somewhere,” said Sen. Wendy DeBoer, of Bennington, who led the filibuster. “I care about property tax relief, but I’m not going to do it on the backs of our students.”

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, who drafted the bill as chairwoman of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee, said lawmakers need to pass it this year. She said home- and business owners in the state’s biggest cities are starting to feel the pinch as well as their property values rise, leading to higher tax bills.

“If we do nothing, if we don’t address this, this problem gets worse and worse,” said Linehan, of Omaha.

Sen. Tom Briese, an Albion farmer, said property taxes continue to be the most pressing issue raised by constituents in his overwhelmingly rural district, and he criticized fellow lawmakers for failing to pass the bill.

“If everyday Nebraskans could vote on this, it would pass overwhelmingly,” he said. “But instead we’re doing it, and we’re doing it with lobbyists and special interests in our ear.”

The bill faced uncertain prospects even before the coronavirus pandemic threatened the state budget, leaving some lawmakers wary about spending more money.

Categories: Capitol News