This story was originally published in the Nebraska Examiner.
LINCOLN — A state legislative committee teed up for debate a package of proposals Thursday intended to provide Nebraskans with as much property tax relief as provided by a group of proposed income tax cuts.
Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, whose bill served as the home for the property tax relief proposals, said the property tax bills should provide more than $3 billion in relief over the next six years. That, he said, is similar to the total amount of tax breaks offered in the income tax proposals advanced a week ago.
‘Bullish’ on the economy
Opposition to the two tax-cut packages is expected to focus on whether the state can stand a $6 billion reduction in tax revenue. But Briese, a farmer and a lawyer who has made property tax relief his top priority during seven years in the Legislature, said he doesn’t think the cuts will jeopardize other state programs.
Nebraska, he said, has a resilient, agriculture-based economy that can weather economic downturns.
“I am bullish on the economy going forward,” the senator said, adding, “We are enjoying an unprecedented revenue surplus.”
Lee Will, the governor’s top budget official, has estimated that the state has a current surplus of more than $2 billion.
But groups including the Lincoln-based OpenSky Policy Institute have urged caution, saying much of that surplus was artificially created by federal economic recovery aid provided during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Thursday, the Legislature’s Revenue Committee advanced a much amended version of Briese’s Legislative Bill 243 on a 7-0 vote. One senator, George Dungan of Lincoln, declined to vote because he had not spoken with the Lincoln school district about the expected impact on its budget.
Property tax credit pared back
LB 243, as originally introduced by Briese, would have increased the property tax credits now provided to land and home owners from the current $315 million in 2023 to $700 million by 2029.
But under an amendment to the bill, the increase in the credits, which are indicated on yearly property tax statements, was pared back, rising to $388 million in 2024 and eventually to $560 million by 2029.
The other bills amended into LB 243 include:
LB 589, introduced on behalf of Gov. Jim Pillen, which restricts revenue growth by school districts to no more than 3% a year.
The bill, which contains amendments designed to mollify concerns of fast-growing school districts such as Elkhorn and Bennington, is designed to reduce property taxes by reining in spending by K-12 schools, which are the primary users of property tax revenue.
Dungan said this portion of the property tax package gave him the most heartburn and said he wanted to discuss the amendments before deciding whether he would support or oppose the bill.
The freshman senator was the lone “no” vote on the advancement of the income tax package, voicing concerns about whether the state could sustain essential state services after such an expansive group of tax cuts.
Additional income tax credits
LB 242, which would remove a cap on the amount of income tax credits provided for property taxes paid.
The credits, which are taken on yearly income tax forms, was capped last year at increases of no more than 5% a year.
Under an amendment adopted Thursday, that cap would be lifted and allowed to rise based on the total increase in statewide property tax valuations. Briese said that in inflationary times like now, taxpayers should be allowed a larger tax credit. The total income tax credits provided for property tax payments, he said, is currently $560 million.
LB 783, which would take funding of the state’s community colleges off the property tax rolls, an initial $200 million shift of property taxes onto state sales and income taxes.
Just exactly when the tax bills will come up for debate is unclear, given a pledge by two senators to filibuster floor debate after the advancement of a controversial proposal blocking minors from obtaining gender-affirming care.
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