Nebraska lawmakers get an incomplete on 2018 report card

The jury is still out on whether Nebraska lawmakers had a successful run in a 60-day session which wraps up this week, but on one key topic the report card can only say one thing -- INCOMPLETE.
Despite an unprecedented approach to try and build an alliance of various interest groups, at the end of the day support for property tax relief proposals just wasn’t there. Once again, an issue widely viewed as a high priority for a state facing a stressed ag economy is being put off for another day.
Unlike previous years, however, that day may not wait until the Unicameral reconvenes next January.
Looming like a dark cloud on the horizon all session long has been the threat of a ballot initiative campaign which, if successful, could force the property tax relief issue onto the ballot come November. As written, LB 829 would offer a 50 percent tax credit on all the school taxes Nebraskans pay beginning next year. Some have described this as a “nuclear option,” since it creates a $1.1 billion fiscal impact with no clear definition as to how that bill would be paid.
It remains uncertain at this point how much support there is amongst potential petition signers to advance such an ambiguous, potentially explosive proposal. What we do know is that the mere threat of such a proposal brought leaders of the state’s pork, corn and soybean associations, as well as the Nebraska Farm Bureau and Nebraska State Chamber, together with a shared mission of finding compromise property tax relief language all could live with. A last-ditch effort to negotiate a compromise was unsuccessful, leaving the door ajar for a ballot initiative campaign.
There is one other possible scenario which deserves consideration, and that is to call lawmakers back to Lincoln for a special session focused entirely on property tax relief. Dist. 34 Sen. Curt Friesen backs that plan, and one comment he made that makes some sense is that legislative policy this year limited floor debate on a number of bills and concepts related to property tax relief. That is very disappointing, reflecting a lack of political will to address such a major issue.
Given the choice between a special session or dealing with the fallout of a divisive, expensive and high-risk ballot initiative, lawmakers would be better off heading back to Lincoln sooner than later to finally tackle this massive elephant in the room.
Kurt Johnson

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