Officials at the Lyons-based Center for Rural Affairs are watching to see if the Unicameral will consider a bill to create a so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
The center’s policy program director Johnathan Hladik says such a measure would have severe consequences.
“Everybody in Nebraska that is watching the legislature expects we’re going to have some very difficult budget decisions ahead of us,” Hladik says. “The Taxpayer Bill of Rights, while it might sound right on the surface, is something that is simply going to make things much more difficult and will likely have the opposite of its intended effect.”
Hladik says if the bill is approved, it will limit the ability of state government to pass funding measures and may also lead to higher property taxes.
“We know that’s going to constrain the ability of the state government to make appropriations to increase payments in some cases or to change payments in some cases,” Hladik says. “When the state government cannot be flexible, then the local government is going to be expected to pick up the slack.”
He says when local governments are backed into that corner, their likely answer will be an increase in property taxes.
Hladik says rising property taxes are the biggest problem the Nebraska legislature needs to address this session.
“We’re not hearing a lot of elected leaders commit to making a change,” he says. “Over the past two years, three years, we’ve made small changes and basically kicked the can down the road. Now, all we hear about is the need to decrease income taxes. Well, we at the Center for Rural Affairs and our partners are wondering what happened to property taxes and why we’re not talking about that anymore.”
Hladik says on the surface, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights also sounds promising because it omits spending at the state level, but he says doing that would force local governments to raise taxes to cover the shortfall.
By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton