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Legislature opens with optimism on passing property relief

Posted at 6:20 PM, Jan 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-08 19:20:41-05

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — After years of talk, you may be skeptical. But multiple state senators agree, this is the year for meaningful property tax relief. And they seemingly, have one lawmaker loosely on board, that's governor Pete Ricketts.

"We've agreed on a high level framework. Now, there's still more work that needs to be done and there's still devil in the detail,” says Governor Ricketts.

After campaigning against the revenue committee property tax bill in 2019.

Governor Ricketts hasn't ruled out supporting this year's version. That fact alone gives rural senator Tom Briese a sigh of relief.

"It's better to work with the governor than against the governor,” says state senator Tom Briese.

While the official bill isn't out yet, the new plan would change the way Nebraska schools are funded. It would give every school district some amount of state money, allowing school and county boards to lower property taxes locally.

Ag land and residential property would also be valued less than they are now.

"Lower valuations for our homeowners, our business owners and our ag producers, and that it will inject, state dollars to funding for K-12 education,” says Briese.

The bill would also likely put spending caps on school boards, something concerning Omaha-area senator Steve Lathrop.

"We can't strangle the urban school districts with a property tax relief bill that helps out primarily rural Nebraska,” says Lathrop.

We've heard about this urban-rural divide before, but urban senators might be pressed to do something this year, in exchange for rural senators agreeing to a bill that give Nebraska businesses tax incentives.

If the unicameral does nothing, Nebraska would be the only state with zero incentives for business.

"The success of the business incentive package will depend on the magnitude of the property tax relief and reform that we obtain,” says Lathrop.

Lathrop wants to see 300 additional beds for minimum-security inmates, and sentencing reform.

"Look at the projections of the population that the experts provide to the state, I just don't see us building our way out of this problem, I think it'll be some combination of both,” says Lathrop.

Governor Ricketts says the state has already invested in prison improvements, specifically more beds. Instead wants to make sure corrections officers get paid, which in turn can allow inmates to be paroled quicker.

"So that really what the priority for this session has to be, not building duplicate facilities that we already got,” says Ricketts.

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer told us he plans to begin the property tax debate within the next couple of weeks.