Prop tax relief proposals unveiled; Ricketts defends skipping Obama visit

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January 12, 2016 - 5:32pm

Gov. Pete Ricketts and key state senators unveiled proposals for property tax relief today Tuesday. And Ricketts defended himself against criticism that he will not be attending President Barack Obama’s speech in Omaha Wednesday.

The property tax proposals were unveiled by Ricketts and Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, chairwoman of the Education Committee, and Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island, chairman of the Revenue Committee. They aim to address farmers and ranchers concerns over big increases in their taxes as land values rose quickly in recent years. The proposals limit valuation increases on ag land to a statewide average of 3 percent. They also try to limit spending by local governments, including schools, which rely on property taxes. Ricketts predicted the benefits would be widespread. "This is something that will benefit all property owners here in the state, whether you’re residential, commercial or agricultural, because we’re tightening the limits on what local spending can be; we’re making sure we take some of the exemptions out that have been there, Ricketts said. "I think there’s something here for the urban folks; I think there’s something here for the agricultural folks. And I think that when you talk to senators, they will tell you that wherever they go, they hear that property taxes is a big concern all across this state."

The limits in ag land valuation increases would vary from region to region. For example, in northern Nebraska, including the Sandhills, ag land valuations are projected to increase nearly 19 percent this year. The proposal would reduce that to under 14 percent. In southern Nebraska, where ag land values are projected to rise only 3 percent, they would actually decrease by a little over two percent. The net change, statewide, would be a 3 percent increase.

The proposed limits on local governments’ ability to levy and spend property taxes include limiting school budget increases to 2.5 percent plus student growth. That’s already in law, but with exceptions that have seen statewide school spending grow faster than that. Sullivan said tightening down on that would focus property tax attention back at the local level, rather than the state. "It’s reminding the political subdivisions that they have a pivotal role to play in the decisions on how property taxes are used in their respective entities," Sullivan said.

Ricketts said restricting property taxes would have some effect on state school aid requirements, but he, Sullivan and Gloor said they didn’t yet know what that effect would be.

Ricketts also responded to questions about why he will not meet with Obama when the president visits Omaha Wednesday. "The White House asked over a month ago about my state of the state but didn’t send me an official invitation until Monday. And then with the scheduling conflicts and my own state of the state address coming up on Thursday, I regret that just with the schedules working out, it’s just not going to be there," he said.

The Nebraska Democratic Party condemned the Republican Ricketts’ decision not to meet with the Democratic president, noting Republican Gov. Mike Johanns met Democratic President Bill Clinton when Clinton visited Kearney 16 years ago. "Ricketts pettiness is disrespectful to the President and to all proud Nebraskans," Democratic Party Chair Vince Powers said in a written statement. "How terribly disappointing that Pete Ricketts still does not understand what it means to be the Governor of Nebraska," Powers said.

Ricketts insisted it was his duties as governor that were preventing him from attending.

"It’s nothing political. We’ve got the state of the state coming up on Thursday and that requires the budget being in order and all these other proposals ready to go. So it’s absolutely about the timing of it," he said.








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