A bill that would require the Nebraska Environmental Trust fund to replace lost tax revenue when it transfers land to the federal government has moved forward in the legislature.
Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill sponsors LB 57, which he says provides oversight when the land trust fund sells once-private land to a public body.
“This contract provision will allow the grantee to move forward with its intended project while, at the same time, insuring that the county in which the land is located is compensated for the property taxes it will lose when the land is removed from the county tax rolls,” Larson tells colleagues during legislative floor debate.
Some legislators suggest the bill has been filed in response to a land purchase in Clay County. The county located in south-central Nebraska reports it lost $150,000 a year in taxes when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service bought land there.
Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala tells colleagues private entities have received NET grants to buy land only to sell it later to a third party.
“Takes all the money that they make from that and puts it into their own fund to buy more land,” Schilz says. “The NET was the first grantor of that and as I look at that it seems to me that that may not be the best way to do this nor may it be exactly right.”
The bill advances on a 27-17 vote, but it has its critics.
Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln worries how the bill will affect the land trust fund.
“I’m nervous about this legislation to be quite honest,” Conrad states. “Any time we start to tinker with the Nebraska Environmental Trust we are indeed tinkering with the trust the voters instilled in the creation of this important institution in our state.”
Conrad asserts there have been repeated attacks of the NET in the legislature the last few years.
Though supporters say the bill would increase transparency of NET’s actions, Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff says that the bill will allow the legislature to interfere with the work of the NET.
“Quite frankly, we’re using transparency to be able to get in and control and regulate where we shouldn’t be,” Harms says.
The Nebraska Environmental Trust fund has paid $24 million to purchase 54,000 acres since 1993. It has paid $5.4 million to buy 44,500 acres for easements.