It looks like a legislative committee has come up with a plan to address the state’s nagging property tax problems. Weeks of meetings by the Revenue Committee resulted in the plan, which now needs buy-in from the governor. Aye, there’s the rub. During a recent legislative retreat, Revenue Committee chairwoman Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn told her colleagues the committee has spent a large portion of the interim looking at the property tax problem from a number of angles. While it won’t be easy to get a bill passed in the 60-day session, the Legislature has no choice.
Looming over the whole discussion is a petition circulating that would provide landowners a state income tax credit equal to 35 percent of their annual property tax bill. Of course, it also would blow a $1 billion hole in the state budget to provide the necessary funding.
Linehan said the petition drive is not the best way to go; yet, she understands that it comes from people who are so frustrated with legislative inaction that they are willing to put lawmakers “in a box.” But, she said, local officials — members of county boards, city administrations, community colleges, natural resources districts and school boards — have to cooperate, too. They have to slow down their spending.
She suggested that lawmakers become educators and set the record straight with constituents about where the money comes from and where it goes. A failure to find solutions will result in people and businesses leaving what they perceive to be a high tax state.
Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, a staunch supporter of the petition drive, said his colleagues are focused on the wrong thing if they’re only looking at those who collect and spend the taxes instead of those who pay them.
If you’ve read this column before, feel free to insert my favorite property tax line here. It’s all about whose ox is getting gored. Erdman is a farmer and farmers claim they pay more than their fair share of property taxes.
He said the proposal from the Revenue Committee, as it stands, would simply fuel more people to sign the petition. “We need to focus on the taxpayer and not those who receive the taxes.”
Committee member Sen. Tom Briese of Albion said he fears the final product will not provide meaningful and sustainable property tax relief. Committee member Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte thinks the end product will be enough to make a dent in property tax bills, but not enough to slow the petition drive.
Groene and Linehan have been meeting with Ricketts, who sharply opposed the committee’s initial tax plan during the 2019 session. He said the governor is reasonable. He is listening.
Groene said the petition initiative proposal would embed the property tax reduction plan within the state constitution. He thinks it could be a tool to scare the status quo, scaring people to try to be reasonable.
He might be right, but let me tell you three things that scare me:
The initiative would change the constitution. Once changed, those changes are hard to undo.
The initiative would be on the ballot at the same time as half of the Legislature is up for election. How many of those senators are going to chance speaking up on a topic that could cost them an election?
Yes, the governor might be listening. But to whom?
Aye, there’s the rub!