Anger over rising property taxes was fueled by arguments in a public hearing on Wednesday about local government needs on the proposed tax ceilings.
The main plan discussed was a state constitutional amendment that would limit local governments to raising property taxes to 3 percent per year. Governor Pete Ricketts supported the proposal. Ricketts said the state has made a lot of efforts over the years to cap property taxes, but they have continued to rise.
“That makes people angry. And why is it like that? If you look at the numbers for the past 10 years, you will find that Nebraska income growth has been about 48 percent over those 10 years. Cumulative inflation over these 10 years was approximately 18 percent. Property taxes are up nearly 52 percent, however, ”Ricketts said.
Doug Oertwich, a farmer, used an analogy to illustrate what he called a flaw in legislature’s attempts to exempt property taxes.
“To continue relieving property taxes without controlling expenses, you have to pour water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom. You can keep pouring into the water, keep pouring into the relief, but we won’t get anywhere until you close the hole in the ground, ”said Oertwich.
Senator Lou Ann Linehan, sponsor of the constitutional amendment, said the state is offering homestead exemptions through the property tax credit fund, a new income tax credit passed last year, state aid to schools, and the nearly $ 2 billion per year tax credit.
“That’s a lot of money, folks where we pick up the tab without being checked,” Linehan said.
Linehan’s proposal would limit local governments, including schools, cities and counties, to collecting no more than three percent more property taxes each year than the previous year. It would include exceptions for property value growth due to new construction, as well as voter-approved bond issues and tax overruns.
Omaha’s Dennis Schleis backed the proposal, saying that high property taxes prevent people from moving into the bigger homes they want. And Kent Thompson, a commercial real estate investor, said taxes are actually driving people away.
“Taxes only harass our tenants to the left and right. We get all sorts of complaints every year when we get taxes back from our tenants. We’re fleeing, and we are seeing a lot of people fleeing the state of Nebraska, ”Thompson said. He also stated that people don’t invest in real estate because taxes are so high
Lynn Rex of the League of Nebraska Boroughs refused to put a three percent limit in the constitution that couldn’t be quickly changed if inflation heated up.
“Since 2000 the rate of inflation has tripled five times – 25 percent of the time … Since 1914 it had tripled 43 times. You don’t have the flexibility to deal with such problems, ”said Rex.
A separate proposal from Senator Tom Briese would include the same tax limits in state law, which lawmakers can change every year, rather than in the constitution, which requires voter approval.
Dennis Meyer, Lancaster County’s budget and finance officer, also turned down the proposal. Meyer got into an exchange with Senator Joni Albrecht after pointing out a year in which the county raised property taxes by 12 percent after voters turned down a loan for a new prison.
“You refused. So we went in a different direction, ”said Meyer.
“And did it anyway?” Asked Albrecht.
“And built it anyway. We had to, ”replied Meyer.
“You can say you have to. But I am here to say that I sat in the same chair as a district commissioner and when you come to a referendum whether you are on the city council – we had a police station that we voted on from people and they said no – a resounding no. We spent too much money, ”said Albrecht.
Meyer also argued that even if local governments didn’t need to, they would be tempted to raise property taxes by 3 percent each year in order to have a base large enough to handle large unexpected expenses when they come along . The Senators suggested that this could be achieved by changing the annual limit to a two- or five-year average.
Joey Adler of the Holland Children’s Movement also opposed the law, saying it would harm children.
“The Holland Children’s Movement believes that taking control of local school districts and other subdivisions to make decisions and provide the resources needed is an irresponsible approach to solving the property tax problem in Nebraska – one that only our communities and Will harm children, “Meyer said.” According to the Nebraska Voters Outlook, a 2019 study by the Holland Children’s Institute, 59 percent of Nebraskans say the state is currently underfunding education and believe that property taxes are high as a result . “
Renee Fry of the Open Sky Policy Institute argued that the bill would harm schools because, while property taxes they would collect would be limited, state aid would still decrease as property values rose.
Former Lincoln Senator and Mayor Don Wesely opposed the move for a coalition of seven medium-sized cities in Nebraska, urging senators to put the anger over property taxes into a historical perspective.
“I understand the real estate tax pressures you are under. I’ve just heard a lot of people testify about their frustration and anger about this. This frustration and anger has been there as long as we have had taxes, ”said Wesely.
Whether this frustration and anger will motivate the senators to take further measures is one of the central questions of this legislative period.