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Property tax, business incentive bills both stall in legislature for now

Posted at 7:17 PM, Jul 22, 2020

LINCOLN, Neb — It was a day the legislature focused on taxes -- two bills that the governor and many Nebraska state senators say are their biggest priorities before the session ends next month.

“Property taxes are too high. I think everybody in this room agrees with that, property taxes are too high, lets not have that argument. We all agree with that argument,” says Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington.

That was the general sentiment in the legislative chamber for the property tax bill.

Nebraska’s property owners pay higher taxes than over 90 percent of the states in the country, but there is stark disagreement on how we get there.

“We have significantly different dollars being paid in property taxes. This bill aims to address, does address, the fact that it’s very unfair,” says Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, Chair of the Revenue Committee.

Linehan says the system is out of whack. The Elkhorn senator says public schools rely too much on property taxes. The Revenue Committee’s bill lowers property taxes for agriculture, commercial and residential property.

It also completely re-writes the way schools are funded, ensuring every school in the state gets some money.

But schools are hesitant.

“Every school district in the state, every school group in the state, opposes this bill,” says Sen. John McCollister, of west Omaha.

It particularly worries senators with large school districts, who want to keep the old system which uses what’s called the TEEOSA formula.

“OPS particularly has high needs, foreign language speakers, urban poverty. Those people need more help and the current TEEOSA formula takes that into account,” says McCollister.

Originally the bill was going to be funded with extra state revenue, but due to the pandemic, the state will likely have less money to work with to fund the bill.

“The truth of the matter is I don’t think we have the money for this bill, and the money has to come from somewhere,” says DeBoer.

Others like Senator Andrew La Grone of Gretna say the pandemic is all the more reason to give people relief.

“There are thousands of Nebraskans that have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. And when you lose a job, that property tax bill still comes due,” says La Grone.

After three hours of debate the bill stalled.

Next is a long and complicated bill that would largely give tax breaks to manufacturing, agriculture, and tech companies that come to Nebraska and stay.

The state has a similar law in place now but it expires at the end of the year. Nebraska would be the only state without a business incentive law.

“Nebraska Advantage sunsets at the end of this year and if we hang out the ‘we are not open for business' sign, that will hurt us immensely,” says Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg.

Many rural senators were skeptical. For one, many say they won't vote for it until property tax reform is passed.

Others say LB 720 is just not good legislation.

“That’s what this 720 does, it picks winners and losers, the government always does that. There is no value in 720 for the average person in Nebraska. For people that are taking advantage of 720 and can qualify, it’s a great thing,” says Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard.

While the bill failed to advance today, it did seem to have wide support, more than the property tax bill.