Members of two key legislative committees are meeting this week, looking at alternatives to property taxes to support schools. Nebraskans are complaining about the burden of property taxes in the face of higher valuations on farm land.
State Senator Roy Baker, of Lincoln, says one idea is to keep state spending increases in check and utilize revenue above the rate of spending to help pay for public education.
Baker says, “Under Governor Ricketts’ master plan, we would keep the overall state budget to somewhere around 3% increases per year and then hopefully, revenues to the state would be in the 5% range which, over time, could create some money that would be available to do just that.”
A former school superintendent, Baker says homeowners and property owners could see a rollback in their property taxes, under the plan.
“There’s concern among some that we don’t just want to give this money to the schools and let them keep leveeing the same taxes,” Baker says. “There’s going to have to be some way of demonstrating that if more state money goes to schools, then they have to be able to show that they’ve reduced property taxes by that amount.”
Baker says there’s some support for the idea of a greater use of income tax or sales tax revenue toward education. Last session, legislators approved an increase in the property tax relief fund. Baker says a tougher sell would be raising income or sales tax rates.
Other options include removing some sales tax exemptions or taxing some services. Baker sees little support for a sales tax on food because it tends to hurt those at lower incomes. Taxing junk food has been discussed. Another suggestion is expanding gambling, including online gambling, something Baker does not support.
“A whole lot of college students have become addicted to that type of thing,” Baker says. “They’re staying up all hours, neglecting their studies and the belief is it’s leading to more failures in college, more people dropping out of college.”
Baker opposes further spending restrictions on school districts, saying districts need to maintain local control of their operations. Education and Revenue Committee members of the legislature are meeting in the interim, to fashion possible proposals for the upcoming session. Meetings are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.
By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice