A broad coalition of Nebraskans has decided to launch an initiative petition campaign to seek a vote of the people on a proposal that would provide an estimated $1.1 billion in annual property tax relief, Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard said Tuesday.

The proposal is aimed at effectively reducing the local school property tax load by up to 50 percent, Erdman said in a telephone interview.

Erdman said property taxpayers could access that tax reduction through a refund or credit that he suggested might be funded by elimination of some exemptions to the state sales tax.

"But budget cuts should come first," the senator said.

Petitions seeking a vote of the people on the proposed statute would require roughly 85,000 signatures and would need to be submitted to the secretary of state by next July, Erdman said.

"But that's not a problem at all," he said, predicting that Nebraskans would line up behind the proposal, perhaps particularly in western and central Nebraska, where rural areas have been hard-hit by low agricultural commodity prices.

If the petition drive is successful, the issue would be placed on the general election ballot in November of 2018.

Then if the initiative was approved, Erdman said, "the onus would be on the Legislature to determine how to fund it."

"We've been talking about property tax relief for 40 years," he said.  "It's really, really time to give it a shot."

An original plan to propose a constitutional amendment has been scrapped in favor of a statutory change, Erdman said.

A number of farm organizations will back the proposal, he said, but he suggested that the plan will command both rural and urban support.

Erdman said Gov. Pete Ricketts has been informed about the proposal.

"The governor understands what we are trying to do," he said. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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