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Ricketts ready to try again to cut Nebraska property taxes

Posted at 12:43 PM, Jun 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-02 13:44:17-04

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts isn’t giving up his push to lower property taxes even though lawmakers rejected several proposals this year.

With the 2019 session now over, the Republican governor said he plans to meet with key lawmakers this summer in search of a new property tax compromise before the Legislature reconvenes in January.

But Ricketts — who repeatedly criticized the plan developed by the tax-focused Revenue Committee — stood firm Friday in his opposition to any proposal that lowers one tax by raising another.

“It’s my goal to be able to sit down with them over the course of the summer and find out where we can find common ground and work on things that don’t raise people’s taxes,” Ricketts said in an Associated Press interview a few hours before lawmakers adjourned for the year.

Ricketts was at odds with the committee over property taxes for much of the session. He said he wasn’t able to work with the committee chair beforehand because it wasn’t clear at the time which lawmaker was going to hold that position. The committee saw a major shake-up in January when five of its eight members, including the old chairman, left office due to term limits. The current chairwoman, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, will remain in her post next year.

The Revenue Committee’s plan sought to lower property taxes by raising the state’s sales tax and eliminating dozens of sales tax exemptions on a variety of goods and services, including pop, candy, bottled water, haircuts and car repairs.

Supporters of the plan portrayed it as the fairest way to spread a tax burden that has increasingly shifted onto farmers, ranchers and homeowners while ensuring that Nebraska’s K-12 public schools are adequately funded. Ricketts rejected those arguments and went on a public relations blitz in grocery stores, mechanics shops and other venues to turn public opinion against it.

Ricketts praised lawmakers for adopting his budget recommendation to boost the state’s property tax credit fund by 23%, for a total of $275 million that will be used to lower property taxes.

“The only way you can have sustainable tax relief is by controlling spending, and that’s what happened in this budget,” he said.

Some rural senators argue that isn’t enough, but Ricketts said it will provide meaningful relief that he hopes to expand next year. Under the new state budget, owners of a $150,000 home will get a $106 discount on their property tax bill — about $29 more than what they currently receive.

“We’re going to continue to provide more property tax relief,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts also proposed a measure that would have guaranteed at least $275 million annually in future years for the property tax credit fund and a proposal to restrict local government property tax collections, but those proposals stalled with a lack of support.

Reflecting on this year’s 84-day session, Ricketts said lawmakers made good progress on a variety of issues. He pointed to the merger of several state agencies to improve their efficiency, new laws to help veterans find jobs, and new notification requirements for women to possibly stop an abortion after they’ve taken the first of two abortion drugs.

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer said lawmakers should have worked harder to find agreement on the numerous “well-crafted property tax relief proposals” this year. He said he’s hopeful the Legislature does more in the 2020 session.

“For years, agricultural interests have been pushing us for property tax relief, and we have not been able to deliver in a substantial victory,” he said.

Linehan, the Revenue Committee chairwoman, said she planned to meet with Ricketts over the summer and convene members of the committee in late June or early July.

“I think most of what the Revenue Committee put together is a very workable plan,” she said. “I think it makes sense. We need to work with the governor to find a different way to pay for it.”


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