The second session of the 105th Legislature started on Wednesday, January 3rd and will finish with our sixtieth working day on April 18th. This was my fourth opening day and I am always reminded of a statement by a senior senator on my first opening day. “This is one of only two days each session we all like each other”. Of course, the other day is closing day. That is a very true statement. Each senator works hard and is passionate about doing what they feel is right for their constituents and the state. But we have different opinions and personal priorities about how and when we need to get things done.
This year as with every year my main priority will be property tax relief. I know this might come as a shock to most of you, but I get criticism from a few every time I talk about property tax relief in my articles. This is good because it forces me to keep looking for new ways to make the point to my colleagues in Lincoln. Recently, I have looked at the amount of tax dollars collected in Nebraska and came up with some astounding numbers as to why farmers and ranchers, in particular, are complaining loudly about their property tax burden. I looked at the amount of dollars collected by category of tax to fund government across the state. These are dollars used by government of all levels in Nebraska to provide services to us the citizens. In this comparison, I am using only the amount of DOLLARS collected by each category of tax and comparing what we collected ten years ago to what we collect today. Sales tax dollars collected, up 17.64% in ten years. Individual Income tax dollars collected, up 32.78% in ten years. Corporate Income tax dollars collected, up 40.55% in ten years. Residential Real Estate tax dollars collected, up 26.86% in ten years. Agricultural Real Estate tax dollars collected up, 102.44% in ten years. We all know the cost of living and providing services goes up every year. But these numbers clearly show one sector of our economy is being forced to shoulder an ever larger burden of our government costs. K-12 education is the largest recipient of property tax dollars in Nebraska. It is the State of Nebraska’s responsibility to educate our children, not the local property tax payer. Property tax is not a local tax. There has been a tremendous shift of tax revenue used to fund K-12 education from sales and income tax dollars to Ag real estate taxes. That is a shift that is unfair and unsustainable, especially with the current slump in the agriculture industry. There will be several ideas and bills brought before the Legislature this year to try and re-balance the tax playing field. As with any issue, there are numerous sides and the ripple effect of any legislation needs to be carefully considered before passage.
I will be putting together an article each week throughout the legislative session to give everyone in the 44th District additional information about the progress of the legislature. As always, I appreciate your feedback. Happy New Year!
I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. A topic of debate recently has been Legislative Resolution 6. LR 6 will again be before the legislature this session. The resolution calls for Congress to hold a Convention of the States to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the amendments would impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of congress.
Last month in McCook there was meeting on LR 6. I was unable to attend, however, I am fully aware of the Legislative Resolution and I have looked at the LR in depth. In its current form I do not support LR 6. I am not comfortable calling for a Convention of the States as presented in LR 6. With a multi-issue resolution like this, I am worried there would be a runaway Convention of States. If a Convention of States cannot be controlled to a single topic I am fearful of what the outcome might be too many of the other freedoms we currently enjoy could be in jeopardy. I am not comfortable with giving that much power to the delegates. Also, there needs to be a way to hold the delegates accountable and they vote the way the people of Nebraska would want them to. I have received letters and emails from many of you. Some support my position and others are urging me to support LR 6 in its current form.
The issue I will support a Convention of States on, is a balanced budget amendment, with provisions to allow for additional spending in times of war and other national emergencies. We in Nebraska must run a balanced budget and I see no reason why the Federal Government should not do the same.
Specifically on the issue of term limit, I have never supported them. We already have term limits, they are elections. Our form of government is a Representative Republic not a Democracy. Therefore, the citizenry is required to play an active role on our government. If they do not, our system will not work as well as envisioned by our Founding Fathers.
I have been getting ready for the upcoming session these last few weeks. The budget will be a big issue this year, as the current forecasting board has us about $200 million short. The next forecasting board meets at the end of February, which will be a better indicator of where the state needs to be. Unfortunately, it is a short session, and if we wait until March to make any adjustments it will be tough for any agency to make the necessary adjustments before the end of our fiscal year on June 30. The good news is we still have a little over $350 million in “rainy day” funds. But I am reluctant to use very much more of that fund to balance our budget.