By Governor Pete Ricketts
April 16, 2018
Official photo here.
Senators are preparing to wrap up the 2018 legislative session this week. While the Legislature took action on issues like balancing the budget, occupational licensing reform, and streamlining speed limits on state highways, taxpayers will likely remember this session more for the Legislature’s failure to act on property tax relief.
Nebraskans across the state have been asking for property tax relief as farm land and residential land values have increased. This is why I have made property tax relief a priority every year I have been Governor. I have signed into law over $840 million of direct property tax relief. Last year, I proposed major structural changes to property taxes on farms and ranches, and two years ago I worked with a bipartisan group of Senators on spending caps to control property taxes. Neither of these proposals were passed by the Legislature. This year, Revenue Committee Chairman Jim Smith introduced the Property Tax Cuts and Opportunities Act (LB 947) at my request.
During the legislative session, the urgency for tax relief was underscored by the numerous farmers, ranchers, business owners, and homeowners who personally showed up to share their tax stories during legislative hearings. Take, for example, Quentin from Humboldt, who testified at the hearing on LB 947. Quentin farms on his own land in Nebraska as well as land in Kansas. The property taxes on the land in Nebraska are twice as much as the taxes in Kansas. This has prevented Quentin from investing in his farm equipment and using more innovative farm practices.
In spite of major support from the public, the Legislature took no action on property tax relief for the second year in a row. The Legislature’s failure to act on this issue will leave many Nebraskans, like Quentin, paying higher property taxes for at least another year. With all this support for doing something on property tax relief, many Nebraskans are scratching their heads. How could the Legislature possibly fail on such a pivotal issue?
Here’s the rest of the story.
After the public hearings on the property tax plans, the Legislature’s Revenue Committee did advance the Property Tax Cuts and Opportunities Act for debate by the full body. For many months, my team and I worked tirelessly to urge compromise on tax relief to bring Senators together around a plan. Many changes to LB 947 were offered. There were so many ideas on tax relief, it was clear that no one was going to get everything they had in their own plan. Sadly, not enough Senators would agree to compromise on any of the numerous proposals delivering real tax relief that were offered to them.
While a majority of Senators did the right thing and voted to keep debating the Property Tax Cuts and Opportunities Act, a minority of Senators killed property tax relief. It takes 33 votes to break a filibuster, but only 25 Senators voted to keep property tax relief moving.
Senators who voted against property tax relief created three major road blocks. First, a minority of Senators wanted to raise taxes on a large group of Nebraskans to give other Nebraskans tax relief. Second, some Senators proposed tax plans that were fiscally irresponsible that could not fit within the budget. Third, some Senators do not want to see any tax relief – they just want to spend your money on growing state government.
Some Senators are now calling for a special session on property tax relief. While a special session could be productive under the right circumstances, it is not worth considering as long as a group of Senators remain fixated on raising taxes. As Governor, I have pledged not to support tax increases. I will not agree to tax hikes masquerading as tax reform. Tax hikes would only take more money out of the pockets of hardworking Nebraskans to grow government.
In the interim, I will be visiting with Nebraskans across the state about how we continue to move forward and come together to achieve property tax relief. I urge Nebraskans to visit with their Senator, to express their disappointment, and to encourage them to lay aside their differences and to support true tax relief. I stand ready to collaborate with the Legislature on this issue. As your Governor, I have committed to working on tax relief every year, and I will be working to bring Nebraskans together around this issue in the coming months.
If you have additional thoughts to share on how the property tax relief discussion played out in the Legislature, I hope you will contact me at email@example.com or 402-471-2244. We look forward to hearing from you.