Nebraska taxpayers — especially farmers and ranchers — earnestly deserve some relief from high property taxes, but will the Legislature deliver? We Nebraskans have been monitoring our lawmakers in Lincoln and hoping for encouragement, but it looks as if our elected representatives will fall short of delivering what Nebraskans really need: tax relief driven by spending restraint.
The tax plan that has emerged from the Revenue Committee calls for hefty increases in state sales and income taxes to achieve $540 million in property tax relief. A lot of that money is earmarked for aid to schools. The theory is that, given money via other sources, schools would back off their property tax levies, but where are the spending controls to prevent schools from reaping a windfall?
Lawmakers are proposing that budget growth be aligned with the consumer price index, which would allow budgets to grow by 2.1 percent to 2.3 percent, plus enrollment growth. The problem with formulas such as that is that Nebraskan farmers are fighting to make a profit and many Nebraskans have seen their wages stagnate. With farm profits so tenuous and increased earnings unlikely for many Nebraskans, why do lawmakers believe taxpayers can afford to pay for automatic budget increases for schools and other taxing entities?
It’s no wonder Gov. Pete Ricketts is criticizing legislators. They’re proposing $80 million more in state aid for schools along with allowable budget increases of 2.1 percent to 2.3 percent, plus more money if school enrollment is increasing.
We agree with the governor. The Legislature’s Revenue Committee has not worked hard enough. Let’s incorporate stronger spending limits. Let’s not commit the mistakes that got us into our current mess by allowing automatic taxing and spending increases we cannot afford.
Nebraska’s elected representatives aren’t working hard enough. They’ve labeled Ricketts stubborn, but he has proposed reasonable and achievable reforms that incorporate spending restraints. We challenge our state senators to return to the drawing board and work for a plan that is bold and taxpayer-centered. Nebraskans have had enough of high taxes, especially those among us trying to squeeze an income from their farms and ranches.