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Lincoln attorney defends spending on sales tax ballot issue

February 28, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Lincoln did not violate state law by spending public funds on a $190,000 educational campaign about the quarter-cent sales tax ballot issue because the campaign didn’t amount to advocacy, the city’s attorney said.

Acting City Attorney Chris Connolly told The Lincoln Journal Star he reviewed the campaign after former school board member Peter Katt questioned the spending last week during the City Council’s public comment period. State law prohibits the city from spending money advocating for or against a ballot issue.

The city is proposing an increase in sales taxes for six years to fund street maintenance and construction, raising about $13 million annually. The campaign includes brochures in Lincoln water bills, television and radio advertisements and open houses.

Katt also criticized the campaign for not offering an outlet for people who disagree with the proposed sales tax increase.

“Even if spending money on this campaign is legal, I still think it is improper,” Katt said. “I don’t agree with it.”

Informing and engaging with the public is important, and all material used in the campaign is reviewed by the City Attorney’s office to ensure it meets state regulations, city leaders said.

“It is imperative that people understand what the ballot question means for them, both in taxpayer costs and what work will be completed if voters approve the sales tax,” said Rick Hoppe, chief of staff to Mayor Chris Beutler, and Miki Esposito, Transportation and Utilities Department director.

Katt said he also disagrees overall with the proposal, arguing that the city should choose to build less expensive streets.

“I want Lincoln to be better. We need better roads. But we need to make better choices on what roads we build and how we build them,” he said. “The current culture in city hall has got to change.”

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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