As promised in my last column I’ll begin writing about certain property tax bills introduced this year that I’m taking a close look at. Please keep in mind that the state does not actually levy property taxes. All property taxes are levied and collected locally. There are, however, ways we can affect local property taxes by changing related state policies.
The first property tax bill I’ll be reviewing is LB497 introduced by Senator Friesen of Legislative District 34. This bill addresses property taxes by changing how public schools are funded by the state. Out of Nebraska’s 244 school districts, 69 receive state equalization aid. The other 175 are funded almost entirely by local property taxes with 60 percent of all property taxes being used for school funding. LB497 stipulates the state pay at least 50 percent of basic education costs for every school in Nebraska
LB497 achieves real property tax relief for residential, commercial, and agricultural property owners alike. It funds schools in Nebraska sufficiently and ensures no school would be left without state aid. The impact on Nebraskans would be varying. Although “sin taxes” like those on alcohol and cigarettes are generally accepted, Nebraska is home to a booming craft-brew scene. These breweries are popping up all over rural Nebraska and many of them use locally grown goods in their products.
The bill accomplishes all of this by eliminating several sales tax exemptions, raising other sales taxes, and changing the way agricultural land is evaluated in the state aid formula for school funding. Sales taxes would increase $1.07/gallon on beer, $2.56/gallon on wine, $8.53/gallon on spirits, and $1.50 on cigarettes. Certain goods and services currently exempt from sales tax would be taxed under the bill including food for home consumption, vehicle maintenance and repair, dry cleaning, hair care, massages, storage services. Though the bill is projected to create over $524 million each year in added revenue we must be very thoughtful and intentional as we consider the impact these sort of changes would have on Nebraska’s economy and citizens’ everyday lives.
There are positives and negatives to this proposal but I’m hopeful the Revenue Committee will provide an opportunity for the bill to be debated by all 49 senators on the floor of the legislature.
Last week was the busiest week yet for my staff and I as three of my bills received their public committee hearings. As mentioned in earlier columns, every bill introduced receives its own hearing where any member of the public can come and testify in front of a committee of senators. Committee chairs schedule the hearings and notify senators when their bills will be heard. Once a bill is heard in committee, the senators will meet in an “Executive Session” to vote to the floor for debate, hold it in committee, or delay a vote. Many bills are amended through the committee process as a result of suggestions brought up during the hearing.
LB378 to require persons under the age of 21 years to wear a helmet was heard on Tuesday in the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. Many District 16 constituents came to testify – some in support and others in opposition. Fifteen other senators who’ve cosigned this bill agree with me that riding motorcycles without a helmet is a matter of personal freedom and individual liberty. I’m excited about the debate this bill will see on the floor.
LB381 to change state agency reimbursement procedures was heard on Thursday in the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee. I introduced the bill at the request of the Department of Administrative Services, which handles most administrative functions of Nebraska State Government. The bill, if passed, would cut a lot of red tape currently required to process reimbursement claims for agency travel.
LB312 to change restrictions placed on dental hygienists was also heard Thursday in the Health and Human Services Committee. This bill would allow dental hygienists to work in home health or hospice settings and would encourage more hygienists to work in rural health clinics. In preparing for the hearing, we discovered that 33 of Nebraska’s counties are without the services of a Public Health Registered Dental Hygienist, proving a need for expanded access to care in many rural areas of Nebraska.
My next review of property tax relief bills is a constitutional amendment proposed by Senator Linehan at the request of the Governor. Legislative resolution 8CA would limit the amount of property tax revenue raised by a political subdivision to only 3 percent more than what was raised in the previous year – with the exception that political subdivisions could raise more than 3 percent with a vote of the people. Functionally, this would slow the growth of property tax increases and would likely be paired with other bills providing property tax cuts. Because it’s a constitutional amendment, this resolution, if passed by the legislature, would be placed on the ballot for a vote by all legal voters in the state. As of February 15th, the resolution has not been scheduled for its public hearing.
You’re welcome to contact our office at (402)-471-2728 to speak with my Administrative Assistant, Ellie Stangl; or my Legislative Aide, Jacob Campbell. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow along with the session please visit nebraskalegislature.gov or you may watch the live stream when available at netnebraska.org