Nebraska’s lawmakers intend to conclude their 2019 session at the end of May and head home early — without passing major property tax reforms. Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t what you were elected to do. When voters chose you to go to Lincoln it was because we figured you would roll up your sleeves and get some work done.
And if ever there is a year when Nebraskans need heavy lifting in Lincoln, it’s this year.
Our property taxes are seventh highest among the 50 states, and the tax load falls unfairly on Nebraska’s major industry. We’ve been seriously over-taxing farmers — the backbone of our state — for a decade, and this year we’re over-taxing them while they struggle to hang on as misguided federal trade policies cut them off from major markets and depress prices for grain and livestock.
The owner of a 1,000-acre farm could owe $35,000 to $40,000 in property taxes, but the price of corn is just a few pennies above the break even point. It’s beyond comprehension that lawmakers have failed to legislate reforms that substantially address the tax plight of Nebraska farmers.
And senators are planning to go home early within the next two weeks.
They’ve not even cast a vote on a major tax reform proposal. The only bill that has been debated, LB289, stalled after three hours on the floor, and its sponsors lacked support to resume debate.
There is one bright spot. Lawmakers approved a $9.3 billion budget Tuesday that has another $51 million for the property tax credit fund. That money will help reduce Nebraskans’ property taxes, but it will go to local schools and governments with no spending restraints attached.
If they call it quits, lawmakers will go home early without resolving a number of major property tax problems, including spending controls, sales tax exemptions, how agricultural land is assessed for property taxes, and how to distribute state aid to schools.
State aid is intended to equitably distribute funding support among districts, but too many schools receive no state aid, leaving school support in the laps of property owners.
The dilemma Nebraska’s farmers face is real and it’s harmful to our major industry.
If Speaker Jim Scheer intends to send lawmakers home early, do it with an invitation to return. Give them two weeks to clear their minds, and then recall them to Lincoln for a special session. Make them earn their summer vacation by fixing our property tax dilemma.