Ideas on property taxes, prison overcrowding percolating in Legislature

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February 20, 2014 - 5:42pm

(Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Nebraska property taxpayers could see some small savings, and prisons could get a little less crowded, under ideas percolating in the Legislature.

Lots of ideas have been floated this year to relieve the burden of property taxes on Nebraskans. Among the most prominent are several to reduce how much of the value of agricultural land is subject to tax, from the current 75 percent down to 65 percent. That’s drawn support from farmers whose land values and property taxes have skyrocketed in recent years. But it’s also drawn opposition from critics who say it might simply shift the burden to other people, like homeowners and business owners.

Sen. Galen Hadley, chairman of the Revenue Committee, said that group is now leaning toward another approach. “We talked a long time about lowering ag land values. And I don’t sense a great deal of support, but we want to do something. So we’re going to write a letter to the Appropriations Committee and ask them to significantly increase the property tax credit fund, so that all taxpayers get a break on their property tax,” he said.
The property tax credit fund funnels state funds, largely collected from income and sales taxes, to offset local property tax bills. Last year, it saved the owner of a $100,000 house about $66. Hadley said he wants to increase that to about $86. That would cost the state treasury about $47 million a year. The Appropriations Committee has not yet acted on the proposal.

On another subject, lawmakers are continuing to wrestle with what to do about prison overcrowding. Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings says one possibility that’s being discussed is using the former Hastings Regional Center to house and treat inmates who need help with mental health and substance abuse. “You’d move 200 people out there. But I don’t look at it as 200 are going to spend the rest of their time out there. They’d come out there for treatment, get the treatment, and then that’d be one step for parole,” he said. He added that he did not know how much the proposal would cost.

On the floor of the Legislature Thursday, lawmakers gave first round approval to creating a system so that people could register online to vote. The system would supplement, not replace, existing means of registration. The bill calls for the online registration process to be in place by July 1, 2015.
Senators also gave first round approval to giving an income tax credit to historic renovation projects. The credit would be for 20 percent of the projects’ cost, up to a value of $1 million per project. Sen. Jeremy Nordquist said he had agreed to an amendment to come later that would end the program after four years and limit credits to $15 million per year.

And the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on a proposal to bar elected or appointed officials from accepting a job from the bodies they supervised, or on boards whose members they can appoint, for two years after leaving office. The proposal was introduced by Omaha Sen. Burke Harr. He said he did so after the Metropolitan Utilities district hired a former board member as a vice president. “I think this is good public policy. I think this is sunshine rules that provides transparency in our government. So that we don’t think people are cashing in on their office,” Harr said.

Harr said he considered withdrawing the bill because some people thought it was directed against the possibility of Gov. Dave Heineman becoming president of the University of Nebraska. Heineman has declined to discuss that possibility. No one has made the bill a priority, so unless it’s amended into something else, it is unlikely to pass this year. The committee earlier killed a bill that would have exempted the university’s presidential search process from the public records law.

On another matter, it has voted against advancing a proposal to reconsider last summer’s decision by the governor to move a veterans home from Grand Island to Kearney. But the idea of requiring legislative approval for future decisions of that magnitude may yet be debated.    



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