Farm taxes disputed, big boy pants recommended, new senator appointed

Robert Clements of Elmwood, appointed state senator by Gov. Pete Ricketts (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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February 6, 2017 - 5:48pm

Farmers and ranchers disagreed Monday about whether Gov. Pete Ricketts’ property tax plan goes far enough. Senators disagreed about who should put on their big boy pants. And the governor appointed a new senator to replace former senator Bill Kintner.

In advance of Wednesday’s public hearing on changing the property tax system, Gov. Pete Ricketts held a news conference with farmers and ranchers to highlight their support. Ricketts wants to switch from the current system of valuing agricultural land by market value, to one based on valuing it by its income-producing potential. "Not only will it be more fair, it’ll make it more predictable. It’ll avoid some of the runups that we’ve seen in valuations in recent years, and it will make a structural change to how we value ag land. This is a big deal," Ricketts said.

Among those supporting the plan was Dick Hollman, who runs a cattle operation near Hallam. "Our property taxes …went up in Lancaster County from 2004 to 2014 234 percent on ag land. And they just keep going up and up. And when your prices go up that’s okay, but when they drop down, there’s a gap," Hollman said.

But other ag leaders who didn’t go to the governor’s press conference said Ricketts plan is not enough. Among them is Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation. "The concern is that it doesn’t really deal in any kind of significant way with the amount of property taxes being paid in the state of Nebraska. It doesn’t address the true reform that we need in property taxes," Nelson said.

The Farm Bureau estimates if Ricketts’ plan were in effect, it would reduce the taxable value of ag land by two percent. Nelson says the Farm Bureau wants to increase sales tax revenue, either by taxing more services or raising the rate, and use that money to lower property taxes.

Ricketts has opposed that as a tax increase, which Nelson denied. "This is not a tax increase. It is a tax shift. It’s dollar-for-dollar, revenue neutral, in order to rebalance the load that is placed on Nebraska taxpayers," he said.

Unlike the governor’s bill, bills containing those ideas have not yet been scheduled for a public hearing by the Revenue Committee.

Meanwhile, debate over a proposed rules change to make it easier to cut off filibusters and move legislation took a new twist Monday. Sen. John Lowe of Kearney objected to the fact that on the 23rd day of a 90-day session, senators still had not adopted their permanent rules – something that usually happens in the first week or so. "This is a do-nothing Legislature and it is a sad thing that is happening. Let’s sit down, let’s buckle up, let’s put on our big boy pants, and continue on," he said.

Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln said he was ready. "I’ve got my big boy pants on Sen. Lowe. And I’m ready to go to a vote. If you want to tell somebody to put his big boy pants on, tell Sen. Larson who’s sitting over there right now, and go to a vote," he declared.

But Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill, sponsor of the suggested change in the filibuster rule, said he was not responsible for the delay. "Sen. Morfeld said he’d pulled on his big boy pants and wants to vote today. And now I’m the one that’s being obstructionist, because I don’t want to get to a vote," Larson said.

Some critics of the proposed rules change suggested supporters, like Larson, were now delaying things, to give the governor time to name a replacement for Sen. Bill Kintner, who resigned, and presumably restore one more vote to supporters.

Monday afternoon, Ricketts announced Kintner’s replacement: Robert Clements, a banker from Elmwood, about 20 miles east of Lincoln. Clements was not among the 35 people who responded to Ricketts invitation to apply for the job.

But the governor said he had reached out to others, too, and Clements’ background makes him a good fit. "That finance background, that dealing with numbers, is going to be so important for us as we go through our challenges here for the next few months in putting together a budget," Ricketts said.

Clements echoed the thought. "I’m honored to have this opportunity to represent the people in my district. I know the state is facing difficult budget decisions, but I believe my background and experience will be of service during this process," Clements said.

Asked if he supports making it easier to stop filibusters, Clements said he had not yet been briefed on the issue.





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