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Tax Relief: The Nebraska Way

Tax relief is key to growing Nebraska.  We have to become more competitive in order to grow the number of people in our state and opportunities for more and better paying jobs.  While this might seem like common sense, not everyone shares this view.  The new legislative session has begun and the lobbyists and special interests have returned to the State Capitol.  Some are suggesting the state should raise taxes, even though I have presented balanced budgets that restrain spending without tax increases. 

Throughout the session, I will be working with State Senators to protect you, the taxpayer, and I will work with the Legislature to fight against proposals to raise your taxes.  I encourage you to follow the debate on taxes at the State Capitol closely, because your voice will be critical in building support for tax relief and stopping tax increases.  Some advocates for tax relief will tout plans that actually raise taxes on one group of people to give to another.  Be forewarned: talk about finding "revenues" and "new resources" and "rebalancing” is simply code for raising taxes!

This week, I proposed a tax plan in my State of the State address to provide substantial property and income tax relief to Nebraskans.  When I am traveling the state, Nebraskans make it very clear that they are tired of the government taking their money.  My plan controls the rate of growth in property valuations for tax purposes and puts more money back into your pockets—it does not simply shifts taxes around.

The first part of my tax plan changes the way we value ag land for taxation purposes with the Agricultural Valuation Fairness Act sponsored by Ag Committee Chair Lydia Brasch.  Under this bill, the method for assessing property value is changed from a market-based system to an income-potential assessment.  Income potential is a much fairer measure, and will slow the growth of ag land valuation increases.  If this system were in place for 2017, it would reduce ag land valuations by about $2.2 billion.

Income potential based property tax assessment for ag land is used in North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.  This method is standard across similar states with ag-based economies.  It is why many Nebraska ag producers have suggested it to me.  If the bill passes, the state would transition to the new system beginning in 2019 to give local taxing entities and county assessors plenty of time to prepare.

The second part of my plan provides income tax relief.  Did you know it’s been 20 years since middle class Nebraskans saw an income tax rate cut?  Income tax rate reductions should not be a once-in-generation event!  High income taxes not only burden our families, but they also make our state less competitive.  Only one of our bordering states has higher income tax rates than Nebraska—that’s Iowa.  Wyoming and South Dakota have no income tax, and Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri all have lower rates. 

I’m also partnering with Revenue Chairman Jim Smith to to take the top income tax rate down roughly one-tenth of one percent per year, starting in 2020, as long as the state’s revenue growth exceeds 3.5 percent.  In effect, we will have a trigger when we hit 3.5 percent growth to take that income tax rate from 6.84 percent down a little each year until it’s under six percent.  If our revenue doesn’t grow fast enough, the tax rate doesn’t come down.  This mechanism will protect taxpayers, and ensure the state doesn’t face a budget crisis.

As the session progresses, I will work with senators on these plans, and to provide tax relief for you.  Passing tax relief will not be easy, and we will need your help and support to make it a reality.  Some will try to say that passing tax relief this session shouldn’t happen because state revenues have slowed.  However, we can still pass responsible tax relief the Nebraska way.  The budgets I have proposed put the state on solid fiscal footing, preparing the way for tax relief, which will help spur growth.

If you want to see property or income tax relief happen this session, I encourage you to register your support with your State Senator.  Your voice as a taxpayer matters in this discussion.  You can find their information by visiting www.NebraskaLegislature.gov.  As always, you can contact my office at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or 402-471-2244.