State legislators have begun debate on Governor Pete Ricketts’ tax relief package.
More debate could come later if Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, who is carrying LB 461, can convince the Speaker he has the votes to overcome a filibuster.
Smith tells colleagues during legislative floor debate they have a rare opportunity.
“To not consider the bill that’s before us today is to embrace the status quo and to ignore the greater vision for Nebraska,” according to Smith.
Yet, Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln questions whether Smith understands the state’s fiscal problems.
“Today, Sen. Smith said, well if we don’t do anything we just embrace the status quo,” Pansing Brooks tells colleagues. “Well, right now, our status quo is budget crisis.”
Pansing Brooks and some other senators question the wisdom of talking about cutting taxes during a year when state senators will be asked to approve budget cuts to cope with a nearly billion dollar revenue shortfall.
Others question the tax cut make-up of the bill.
Sen. Brett Linstrom of Omaha says the bill would improve the business climate of the state.
“This is a broad tax reform bill geared toward growing business in the state of Nebraska, both on the individual side and the corporate side,” according to Lindstrom. “And I believe that at this point in time this is the best package to move forward with to give Nebraskans tax relief.”
Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, though, says the focus of the bill is off, that it doesn’t address what his constituents have demanded.
“Never, in eight years, has anyone said I want my income tax lowered,” Krist says. “They’ve always talked about the property tax.”
LB 461 makes a number of changes, but primarily would bring the top state income tax down by a percent over a number of years. It would also change the valuation method for farmland from one based on the market to one based on the income-potential of the land.
Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard supports that provision.
“This is a fair way to value ag land,” according to Erdman. “Had we had in place this type of valuation process, ag land would have not increased at the rate that it did over the last 10 or 12 years.”
Not all rural senators are convinced the package will adequately address property tax concerns.
Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson says he understands the need to cut the income tax.
“But I also see the need for comprehensive tax reform and what I envision is doing both at one time,” Friesen tells colleagues. “We’re not there yet with any of these bills or this motion or this amendment, but we’re getting closer.”
Legislators have debated the bill for three hours. If they are to return to the issue this legislative session, the sponsor must convince the Speaker he has the 33 votes needed to end a filibuster and go to a vote on the bill.