KEARNEY — Nebraskans won’t solve their property tax dilemma without creativity, said state Sen. Bob Krist, the Omaha lawmaker who is challenging Republican incumbent Pete Ricketts for governor.
“If we get outside the box we have the opportunity to make amazing changes in this state,” Krist said to a crowd of 27 Monday at Kearney Public Library.
During his presentation — with running mate, state Sen. Lynn Walz of Fremont at his side — Krist blamed Gov. Pete Ricketts for dramatic increases in the property taxes Nebraskans pay to support local government, including public schools.
“You cannot talk about property taxes without talking about funding for education,” said Krist, a Democrat.
According to literature he distributed Monday, property taxes for each class of property in Buffalo County have increased over the past decade by the following:
- 233.49 percent for agricultural
- 68.54 percent for commercial
- 55.38 percent for residential
Krist also said that Nebraskans’ median household income has grown by only 16.45 percent during this same 10 years, and that the increase in property taxes averages $2,554 per household.
He blamed the high increase in ag land property taxes on Nebraska’s tax valuation system, which assesses land based on comparative sales. Krist said the system is flawed because valuation changes are driven by sales, which account for just 1 percent of all farm property in the state.
Other states employ different valuation systems for ag land, Krist said, basing them on 10-year averages, productivity and other factors instead of comparative sales. Instituting an online sales tax during the last legislative session would have been a no-brainer, “but the governor doesn’t like it because it’s a new tax.”
Krist suggested other revenue sources as ways to reduce local dependence on property tax, such as taxing industrial hemp and sports betting.
He said tax incentives to spur economic development and job creation have produced questionable results, but the Department of Revenue said Nebraskans are giving away $800 million in incentives without measuring the effects. “We need to measure whether any of these incentives are working, and if they aren’t, we need to do away with them.”
He suggested keeping part of the state’s income tax revenues in local communities to reduce property taxes.
“If 20 percent of your income tax stays in the community for education, you would have local control, and I’ll take local control any time,” Krist said.
On other topics, he said changes in how the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers in Kearney and Geneva are operated leaves them with fewer youths to manage and longer stays, but Kearney and Geneva now have the “worst of the worst.”
Krist said Ricketts was self-serving in his handling of budget cuts with the University of Nebraska system.
“What has happened to our university system is a tragedy,” Krist said. “The governor asked NU President Hank Bounds, ‘How much can you cut before you have to raise tuition?’ Now that’s a self-serving political question,” Krist said.