State lawmakers have advanced a bill that would give zoos a tax break.
But not before the Unicameral engaged in a bit of philosophical debate on taxes.
Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango questioned the priorities of the Unicameral during debate on LB 419, which would give a state sales tax break to non-profit zoos and aquariums.
Hughes said the legislature should be concentrating on other tax relief, telling colleagues he keeps fielding the same questions from constituents.
“When are we going to get some kind of significant property tax relief? And, my answer is, quite frankly, I don’t know. I don’t have any idea,” Hughes stated. “I don’t see the will of this body stepping up to take on the number one tax problem in the state of Nebraska and that’s property tax.”
Other senators complained that while they debated a bill to provide a sales tax exemption to zoos, a bill providing property tax relief for farmers remains stuck in committee.
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte argued the legislature should be working on property tax relief, not tax relief for zoos.
“This bill is a feel-good bill,” Groene told colleagues. “You’re telling me somebody won’t come to our state, because they have to pay an extra seven-and-a-half percent for a zoo ticket? Come on, I don’t understand the purpose of this bill, but a feel good thing that we like zoos.”
Yet the sponsor of LB 419, Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, defended his measure. While Mello said he appreciated the debate on his bill, he said it missed the point. Mello contended his bill wasn’t a tax break bill, it was a tip of the hat to the state tourism industry and an economic development measure.
“This bill and the underlying amendment, colleagues, is an economic development bill that seeks to invest a small state sales tax exemption into these organizations for them to be able to generate more revenue in the future,” Mello argued. “That would then allow this legislature to be able to consider reducing taxes somewhere else.”
LB 419 would exempt admissions and memberships to non-profit zoos and aquariums, as well as the purchases they make from the state sales tax. It is estimated it would cost the state $2.7 million in revenue annually.
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is considered one of the top zoos in the nation, drawing visitors from throughout the region and nation.