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Property tax petition drive gaining momentum in Nebraska

Posted at 10:22 PM, Oct 10, 2019

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Some folks clamoring for property tax relief have had enough. They started a petition drive and it's gaining momentum.

Currently the state and local governments take in about $4 billion in property taxes every year. If passed, that would be reduced by 35 percent, reducing income by over a billion dollars.

"The legislature has a history of inaction on the topic, there's no reason to believe that's going to change,” says Paul Von Behren, president of TRUE.

Paul Von Behren is done waiting for the legislature. He says the property tax situation in Nebraska has become a crisis.

"Nothing is going to happen in Lincoln, the mantra is next year,” says Von Behren.

A recent report by Kiplinger shows Nebraska is taxed the 6th highest in the nation. Slotting Nebraska next to states like New York and New Jersey.

So Von Behren is spearheading an effort that would force the legislature to cut property taxes, reducing property taxes by 35 percent. They've already passed on threshold by getting five percent of the registered voters to sign the petition in 38 counties. Now they just need 120,000 total signatures by July of 2020. That would put it on the ballot in 2020.

If passed, it would leave it up the legislature to figure what to tax instead and where to make cuts.

"Whether they make cuts, how big the cuts are, are just simply a matter of political will. And essentially what we're asking them to do is to make the hard decisions that they have put off for the last 30 years,” says Von Behren.

But many of those trying to cut property taxes in the legislature think they can make significant progress this year, before the initiative goes on the ballot.

Chair of the revenue committee State Senator Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn says they've been working throughout the summer with the governor and other senators to try to compromise, and bridge the urban-rural divide.

"They need to do the basic thing we learn in life, put yourself in the other people's position,” says Linehan.

As for the petition, Linehan thinks it'll pass if the unicameral comes up empty in 2020.

If it does she says to bridge the gap, they'd either have to raise income taxes, or, leave school districts like Omaha and Millard without millions of dollars in state funding.

"I don't really see another option except going after school aid,” says Linehan.

Even if something is passed, Von Behren says it's very likely he's going to continue to push to get his petition on the ballot next November.

"Unless they do something that is permanent and significant, there's no reason to back off this. There's no reason to believe it won't change the next legislative session,” says Linehan.