In a bid to gain needed urban support for their tax reform plan, Sens. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn and Mike Groene of North Platte huddled with school superintendents from Omaha, Lincoln and Millard on Thursday to discuss changes that address their concerns.

That outreach will be followed this weekend by a road trip to Lexington, Kearney, Norfolk and Columbus to cement support for the comprehensive package that's designed to provide substantial property tax relief.

Meanwhile, one-on-one meetings with senators continue. 

"A lot of legislators are looking at it," Linehan said Friday during a conference call with the news media. "A lot are undecided. It's a big package."

Although no vote was taken on the proposal (LB289) during this week's first stage of legislative floor debate, Linehan will need to convince Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk that the bill conceivably could gain the support of at least 33 senators to break though a filibuster in order to return the measure to the agenda for a second round of debate.  

In addition to changes that would meet the needs of metro schools, Linehan said, an increase in the earned income tax credit may be added to the package to address the concerns of urban senators about the impact that a proposed half-cent increase in the state sales tax rate would have on low-income Nebraskans.

"A lot of things may get done at the end," Linehan said.

"This isn't like an easy bill," Groene said.

Linehan is chairwoman of the Legislature's Revenue Committee and Groene is chairman of the Education Committee.

While rural senators are strongly supportive of the property tax reduction measure, the fate of the bill now rests with 19 senators who hail from Lincoln or Omaha along with another six who live in the metropolitan Omaha complex.

The Omaha, Lincoln and Millard school districts "have a lot of senators," Groene noted.

The tax reform package constructed by the Revenue Committee would increase the state sales tax rate from 5.5% to 6%, boost the state cigarette tax from 64 cents to $1 a pack and eliminate two dozen sales tax exemptions, including those on candy, pop and bottled water.

All of that $372 million in increased revenue would be dedicated to property tax reductions delivered through state aid to schools.

Included in the bill is increased property tax levy authority for the Omaha Public Schools to help pay down a massive OPS pension shortfall.

"It's very hard for Omaha to walk away from this," Linehan said.

The alternative is a petition proposal already underway to sharply reduce property taxes, which may be on the 2020 general election ballot, Groene said.

"Wait and see what happens; that could pass," he said. "The 3rd Congressional District (the vast swath of western and central Nebraska) would overwhelmingly support it."

The ballot initiative proposal would adopt a constitutional amendment to provide a state income tax credit for 35% of local property taxes paid.

"That's over a billion dollars," Linehan said.

And enactment of that proposal would lead to "a devastating increase in taxes" or sharp reductions in spending support for state programs and services, she said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.


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