As a cattle rancher in western Nebraska, my fellow ag producers and I face a growing problem.
Property taxes have more than doubled in the past decade. Cattle and commodity prices have not. Property taxes have now become the highest operational expense for many of our ag producers across the state. This has created significant challenges for those of us in production agriculture.
What we in production agriculture need for all of our fellow Nebraskans to understand is that the property tax burden on our ag producers has reached a point that demands immediate attention. Property taxes now drastically affect the way producers operate, stunting the ability to grow our operation and driving some to the brink of business failure. Nebraska’s economy depends heavily on agriculture, and, when ag suffers, we all suffer.
Like many across the state, I was quick to blame our local school board and administrators for the burden placed on property taxpayers. We had been told for years by the governor and state senators that the only way to control the rise in property taxes was for schools to control spending at the local level.
However, my views have evolved as I learned more about our state budget and how we fund our educational system. While I express my gratitude to the Arthur County Board of Education for their efforts to mitigate spending, I can no longer accept this as the only solution.
When you step back and realize the over-reliance upon property tax to pay for K-12 education is not unique to Arthur County Schools, but a situation faced across Nebraska, it becomes clear that it is not our local representatives who deserve most of the scrutiny.
While we can and do expect local officials to use our tax dollars as conservatively as possible, we must also understand the tools they are forced to work with. School spending may seem high, but it is less the fault of our local schools and more a result of our stubborn reliance on an outdated school funding formula.
This, in turn, stems from a lack of leadership in Lincoln. We need a solution that addresses three components that are each critical for the future well-being of our producers and our state.
* We need legislation that provides immediate property tax relief to rural Nebraska producers.
* While it is vitally important to alleviate some of the burden that inordinate property taxes place upon our producers, it is equally important to protect our state budget and ensure that we have a method to pay for it.
* Finding the right solution also requires a comprehensive review of Nebraska’s school funding formula that ultimately reduces our reliance on property taxes to fund K-12 education moving forward.
That is why I support LB1084. While this legislation, introduced by Albion Sen. Tom Briese does not outline all of the structural changes needed to remedy our school funding debacle, it charts a course forward. It is a common-sense solution based on balance and compromise.
LB1084 is not the only property tax bill being debated. Others, such as LB829 and LB947, would leave huge holes in an already tight state budget with no clear plan to reconcile lost and redirected revenues. LB1084 brings in the dollars needed to achieve property tax relief while moving toward a better solution for schools.
It will take courage to bring about its passage on the floor of the legislature and to reinvent how the state pays for K-12 education going forward. My gratitude stands ready for the Nebraska state senators who have that courage needed to see this bill become law.