Senator Dan Hughes

11-22-2017

As some of you may have seen and heard there is a small group that has organized from Lincoln County called the Landowners for a Common Purpose. This group is trying to force the separation of groundwater rights from surface or land rights on the NCORPE property. I believe that is a very bad idea. Apparently, this group is willing to go to court to prove it can be done. Initially, the complaint has always been that no property taxes are being collected on the NCORPE property, which is not true. NCORPE is paying property taxes, but NCORPE is also protesting those taxes becaus

e state law dictates one taxing entity cannot pay taxes to another taxing entity. Tax Equalization and Review Commission (TERC) has ruled in favor of NCORPE, and Lincoln and Dundy County are appealing that ruling.

I have a bill drafted and it is currently being circulated to interested parties that would allow NCORPE to make in-lieu-of property taxes to Lincoln County. This bills language is similar to language currently in place to allow the Game and Parks Commission to pay in-lieu-of property taxes on property they own to the counties where such property is located. The potential of separating the groundwater rights from the surface rights would have far reaching and long lasting impacts on the State of Nebraska and especially on anyone who irrigates within the state.

One point I need to make that most people may not be aware of, a landowner does not own the water under their land, the State of Nebraska owns the water. If you have an irrigation well you must also have a permit from the State of Nebraska or a natural resource district that says you can pump water from that irrigation well. I am hopeful my legislation will satisfy the Landowners for a Common Purpose by allowing NCORPE to begin paying in-lieu-of property taxes. If it does not, the speculation brought forth by some that this may be a land grab by a few large landowners in Lincoln County may have some validity. Opinions vary slightly, but all of the lawyers, bankers, real estate ag

ents, and government officials I have visited with about this issue are in agreement. It would not be good for the State of Nebraska nor its citizens should the land be separated from the water.

My bill also includes the Rock Creek Project in Dundy County. If the bill passes the Upper Republican NRD will be allowed to pay in-lieu-of taxes to Dundy County for the lost property tax revenue, as well. This augmentation project has been in operation a few years longer than NCORPE. It was created for the same purpose, to insure tens of thousands of irrigated acres in southwest Nebraska will continue making our region one of the most productive and reliable agricultural areas in the state of Nebraska.

11-8-2017

A couple of weeks ago, the members of the Natural Resources Committee were invited on a tour through central and southwest Nebraska.  No senator on the committee lives west of Grand Island, except for me.  I thought it would be beneficial for committee members to see firsthand some of the infrastructure, and visit with some of the people, affected by the bills we hear in the Natural Resources Committee.

 

We started the tour in Grand Island at the Upper Prairie-Silver-Moores Creek Flood Control Project, which is being constructed by the Central Platte NRD.  An important project that will take more than 1500 homes in Grand Island out of the FEMA floodplain.  Our next stop was the NCORPE water augmentation project south of North Platte.  The project, which ensures Nebraska remains in compliance with the Republican River Compact, will remain on the committee’s radar as two lawsuits on the property’s tax status will be in front of the state’s Court of Appeals within the next year.

Our visit to the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis was very educational for the committee.  We learned about the programs available to students from Dean Ron Rosati and enjoyed viewing the impressive facilities.  The quality and diversity of education, and the opportunity to easily transition to a four-year college, makes this institution vital to keeping young Nebraskans in the state.

The second day of our tour focused on oil wells and public power.  Former Senator Tom Baker showed the group

 an oil well and an injection well around the area of Trenton, and discussed the practices that are used to protect our drinking water.  We visited Southwest Public Power District in Palisade, where Manager Curtis Kayton and his staff showed the committee how it uses technology to provide service more efficiently.  The tour concluded with a visit to Gerald Gentlemen Station, Nebraska’s largest electric generating facility, which is owned by NPPD.  It’s amazing the expertise and coordination that is required to ensure reliable power is available for us.

On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank Jim Bendfeldt and Lyndon Vogt, with the Central Pla

tte NRD, Kristen Gottschalk with Nebraska Rural Electric Association, Shirley Higgins with NPPD, and Curtis Kayton with Southwest Public Power District, and several other NRD, NPPD, NCTA, and rural electric folks for putting the tour together.  We were impressed with the knowledge and dedication of the employees we met at each tour stop.  Thank you for your work and for taking the time to educate us about what you do.

I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

10-25-2017

In my last article I discussed one proposal that is being championed as property tax relief for all property tax payers in Nebraska. That plan would rebate 50% of your property taxes paid to support your local K/12 school district. The price tag is approximately one billion dollars. This amount of money will come from spending cuts, and some of it could be made up by removing some sales tax exemptions. I asked what my constituents thought of this plan. To everyone who talked to me or sent me an email, I want to say thank you. Most of the people who contacted me were willing to look at an expanded sales tax base in order to have property tax relief.

This week I want to explain another approach to tackling our property tax problem.  This plan involves putting in place a set of triggers that will automatically divert state income tax and sales tax revenues into the property tax relief fund. The state of Nebraska has a historical growth rate in tax revenue of about 5% annually. Under this proposal, any year that the state’s revenue grows by 3% or more that revenue would be diverted into the property tax relief fund to be distributed among all property tax payers. There would need to be a cap placed on the amount of repurposed revenue at 4.5%. If the state’s revenue growth exceeded 4.5% in a given year that money could be directed toward income tax relief or the expansion of state government. The appealing thing about this plan is that it does not cost the state any money until it is in the state’s coffers because of increased revenues. The reason we need to leave the first 3% is because it takes about that amount just to keep the state even with inflation.  A couple of the less appealing things about this plan are, it does not provide immediate property tax relief as the one discussed earlier nor does it provide property tax relief every year. As with the first property tax relief proposal, I am interested in what you think about this second idea.

On another property tax related issue. I often get questions about school land. School land is the real estate owned by the State of Nebraska for the benefit of educating our children. In prior articles I have explained how the school land came to be, how the income is generated, and how the money is divided among the counties and students.  But the question came up where does it show up on my schools’ income side of the ledger.  Of the two funds the Board of Educational Lands and Funds makes distributions from, the in-lieu of tax (real estate tax) monies goes directly to the county treasurer to be paid to the appropriate school districts. The second payment is made to the Department of Education Trust Fund; it is then distributed on a per pupil basis to every school district in the state, usually in February.

I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other capitol events.