Leaders of a coalition of Nebraska farm and education groups say 2019 represents the best chance in many years for the Unicameral to enact property tax relief.
John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, says every time a major tax study is done, the same conclusion is reached, along with the same reaction.
“Nebraska as a state has altogether too much reliance on property taxes and we need to develop a more fair and balanced state tax system,” Hansen says. “And then, what happens after the study comes in? ‘Thank you very much for the study,’ and then we move on and we kick the can down the road one more time.”
Hansen says it will take a community-based effort and it’s vital that more rural residents get directly involved in the push for a plan to reduce the state’s dependence on property taxes.
“We’re going to have to have more involvement from the country than we’ve had,” Hansen says. “We’ve had a lot of complaining, but when push comes to shove and you have hearings in the legislature over really important bills, we haven’t shown up.”
York Public Schools Superintendent Mike Lucas leads the group Schools Taking Action for Nebraska Children’s Education. In the past decade, Lucas says York was forced to cut six teachers and 18 support staff while enrollment rose by 200 students.
“Since we’ve lived this painful journey, we have said Nebraska has much more of a funding problem than it does a spending problem,” Lucas says. “It’s offensive when I hear lawmakers say, ‘You just have to tighten your belt.’ We’ve been tightening our belt.”
Lucas says schools don’t really know if the state’s school funding formula works, because it’s never been fully funded.
The panel representing Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education met in Beatrice last week. Over 70-percent of Nebraska school districts no longer receive any equalization aid, forcing them to rely more on property taxes.
Coalition members maintain the state needs to provide more aid for education. The group proposes removing many sales tax exemptions, raising the state sales tax by a half-percent and making other adjustments.
By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice