For all the noise and saber-rattling surrounding property tax reform this legislative session, the last standing plan died Monday with nary a whimper.
Three competing plans entered this short, 60-day session. Only one survived the committee process, and even an extraordinarily rare weekend huddle called by Speaker Jim Scheer failed to yield a workable compromise.
That word – compromise – has been missing in this long-running debate. This year proved again that without it, tax reform won’t occur. Until and unless senators are willing to shrink the list of hills they’re willing to die on, the property tax relief so many lawmakers have declared a priority won’t become reality.
Gov. Pete Ricketts and some senators consider raising even a penny of new revenue a nonstarter; others refuse – wisely, in our opinion – to back a plan that fails to offset or mitigate the cost of tax relief. Touching tax credits, exemptions or incentives to fund these efforts is anathema to several lawmakers, too.
As long as nobody gives an inch, Nebraskans won’t take a single step along the road toward reduced tax burdens.
The seven-senator committee Scheer convened appears to have agreed on little more beyond the wording of a statement that confirmed Sunday what seemed obvious for some time – the Legislature wouldn’t reach an accord in 2018 on how to provide tax relief.
That inaction will again leave farmers and ranchers disproportionately bearing Nebraska’s tax burden at a difficult time, punctuated by low commodity prices and rising insecurity for overseas market access.
Nearly every letter and Local View sent to the Journal Star by Nebraska farmers and ranchers in the last year highlighted the state’s tax structure as a major impediment to their economic success. The numbers back their claims: Property taxes levied on Nebraska agricultural land grew by an astronomical 164 percent – from $455.4 million to $1.2 billion – between 2006 and 2016.
And that’s without even considering the inadequate state support for K-12 education foists much of the expense of local public schools onto property taxes.
With that in mind, the impetus behind a growing push for a special session to address tax reform is obvious and understandable. As of Tuesday, 13 senators had signed onto a measure asking the full body to vote on reconvening this summer.
Special sessions are expensive propositions; the Legislature's accounting office estimates a seven-day session would cost at least $65,000. Furthermore, nothing indicates a filibuster-proof supermajority of 33 senators can solve – or even shelve – differences that seemed irreconcilable during the regular session.
Finding a fiscally responsible agreement is the only means of justifying the cost of such an endeavor. Without any compromise, however, the tax reform desired by so many Nebraskans and their lawmakers will never come to fruition.