Legislature tests property tax fight
Lawmakers skirmished over a plan to shift the burden of repaying school bond issues from agricultural landowners to homeowners and commercial properties.
The opening salvo in what promises to be a prolonged fight over how to provide meaningful property tax relief ended with a temporary truce Tuesday morning.
Sen. Tom Briese’s proposal (LB183) would reduce the valuation of ag land from 75 percent to 1 percent for the purpose of repaying school bonds, keeping the valuation of homes and businesses at 100 percent.
The Revenue Committee amended the bill to set the valuation level at 30 percent, and the Albion senator later indicated he was open to further negotiation.
Briese said the bill gave voters in urban areas “more skin in the game,” when it came to school bond issues for new buildings and renovations, rather than allowing them to approve bond issues because most of the financing would come from farmers and ranchers.
Senators representing urban areas of the state said Briese’s bill did not solve what has been described as a property tax crisis in the state.
“This does not reduce the property tax load, it just shifts the property tax load,” said Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue.
Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop cautioned lawmakers that future Legislatures could enact special property valuation rates that put certain classes of taxpayers ahead of others.
He said property owners in urban areas who use the Natural Resources Districts less than farmers and ranchers may ask to have their property valuations reduced, for example.
“It gets to the question of whether we can begin to differentiate one taxpayer from another depending on how much they are using or not using,” Lathrop said. “I think this is a dangerous road to go down.”
Briese said he believed the only precedent his bill set would be “one of fairness, accountability and incentivizing efficiency.” It would not affect past bond issues, he said, and amounted to a small shift in tax burden to cities and towns.
Plus, voters in urban areas would have the option to vote against a proposed bond issue, Briese added.
While other lawmakers who have championed property tax reform measures said they supported Briese’s efforts, they asked him to delay further debate on his bill until other, more comprehensive bills could work their way to the floor.
Briese initially rejected those calls: “I’ve seen the difficultly in passing comprehensive property tax relief. This bill needs to advance, either by becoming part of a comprehensive package, or on its own.”
After some negotiation with Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, Briese agreed to allow the Legislature to continue onto other bills Tuesday morning.
Wayne said LB183 could be part of a greater debate over how Nebraska funds its public education system, adding he believes a comprehensive approach was the right way to proceed.
“We should send a message we are going to work together and we are going to deal with this,” Wayne said, introducing a motion to delay debate on LB183 until April 1.
Briese said he would work with other lawmakers as other legislation came up for debate. He asked Speaker Jim Scheer to hold the bill, rather than to delay it until April 1, to which Scheer agreed.