The much-anticipated $1.1 billion property tax reduction initiative kicked off this weekend, as a growing army of petition carriers prepared to gather signatures to place the issue on the November general election ballot.
"We're launching the campaign on Monday," Trent Fellers of Lincoln, the executive director of Reform for Nebraska's Future, said during an interview.
The campaign needs to acquire about 85,000 valid signatures of registered voters by July 5 to gain access to the ballot.
The initiative proposal comes close to mirroring a legislative bill (LB829), introduced by Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, that would provide for property tax relief distributed through a state income tax refund or credit equal to 50 percent of local school property taxes paid by Nebraska taxpayers.
That bill awaits action in the Legislature's Revenue Committee and is considered a long shot to gain legislative approval.
The proposal is competing with a number of other major tax reform bills, including a measure (LB947) supported by Gov. Pete Ricketts that calls for personal and corporate income tax reductions along with property tax relief.
In that contested environment, any major tax reform bill is likely to need the votes of at least 33 of the 49 state senators to escape the grip of a legislative filibuster, and that appears to be a daunting barrier.
"But this is the year for property tax relief," Fellers said, "and we're going to make it happen.
"Our support is deep, whether it's in agriculture or the residential property owner.
"So, we're moving forward with our effort to make sure people will have property tax relief this year," he said.
If the Legislature fails to act on tax relief proposals and the voters in November approve the initiative proposal, it would be up to the next legislative session to decide how to replace the resulting loss of state income tax revenue that is used to support state government programs and services.
"The Legislature is the right place to decide funding for replacement," Fellers said. "Citizens will be telling the Legislature how we want to fund government.
"Sales tax — that's the place to look," Fellers said.
During an interview earlier this year, Fellers suggested that one way the revenue required to fund the property tax plan could be raised would be elimination of a chunk of the $4 billion in state sales tax exemptions currently in place.
Nebraska counts the fifth-highest property taxes in the nation, Fellers said during this weekend's interview.
Property tax relief has been "the top issue for several years," he said, "and the Legislature hasn't done anything" in terms of providing substantial relief.
Reform for Nebraska's Future has hired the Arizona-based Lincoln Strategy Group to manage its paid-circulator petition drive, the same organization that managed the successful petition campaign that ultimately led to restoration of the death penalty in Nebraska.
That petition drive acquired more than 143,000 signatures, enough to suspend the law that had repealed the death penalty until voters repealed the law in a referendum vote in 2016.
"The outpouring of people who are supportive of this petition drive is overwhelming," Fellers said. "We have a very strong grassroots network and incredibly strong support on the financial side."
Support from volunteers, including those who want to distribute petitions, "could be in the thousands," he said.
State senators who support the effort "agree with me that we can't let the clock tick and not begin to collect signatures now," Fellers said.
"Time is of the essence," he said, and a petition effort that is underway could "provide good pressure for those guys."
Property taxes no longer are "a problem we can chip away at," Fellers said.
"We're in a crisis mode; the time to act is now."