Growing sense of frustation puts pressure on elected officials on property tax issue | Commentary


It’s always a pleasure for Norfolk to play host to a state government official, such as Lt. Gov. Mike Foley’s recent visit here. But he probably got a sense during his time here that concern is growing over the inability by state leaders to agree on the best way to deal with the property tax reform issue.

During his comments at a Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Lt. Gov. Foley acknowledged how difficult and challenging the issue is, but he didn’t provide much basis for optimism that compromises were in the works.

There are those, such as Gov. Pete Ricketts and the lieutenant governor, who are firm in their belief that increasing other taxes is no solution to lowering property taxes. There are those — like the Platte Institute — who want to see numerous sales tax exemptions eliminated as a way to increase revenue, although there may be valid reasons for having at least some of them in place. And there are those — especially agricultural land owners — who believe a ballot initiative that would result in a 35 percent immediate decrease in a property tax bill is the only solution.

And among those three camps are a whole variety of differing opinions, as well as those who link the state’s business incentive program to the property tax issue.

One of those attending Lt. Gov. Foley’s luncheon comments had some words of criticism for Gov. Ricketts.

“I want property tax change, and this governor is not going to do it,” the attendee said. “He (Ricketts) wants to craft a plan that forces county commissions and school boards to cut their spending. He doesn’t appoint them, we elect them. He’s got no say on what our board of education wants to spend. He needs to stay out of who we elect and how we spend our money. That’s on us.”

That’s just one example of the kind of strongly felt sentiment present among Nebraskans.

The upcoming legislative session is one that could be dominated by property tax reform discussions. State Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk, the speaker of the Legislature, has challenged his colleagues to be prepared to work hard, be open to different ideas and commit to finding a solution. Those same words of advice should apply to the governor, special interests, lobbyists and others.

Will Nebraskans be satisfied with small, incremental steps toward a solution? Are they so frustrated by the lack of progress that they’re willing to support the ballot issue — the nuclear option, so to speak? Are they willing to give up cherished sales tax exemptions to help those especially burdened by property taxes?

Those are the kinds of questions that need to be answered in the weeks and months ahead. We believe Nebraskans largely are ready to compromise in order to reach a comprehensive solution. Are their elected officials?



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