Stretch run.

Rounding the final curve like a horse at Pimlico without a jockey aboard, the 2019 Legislature is lurching toward the finish line with its tax debate unresolved.

If this was Vegas, the casinos would be glad to take your money if you want to bet on enactment of major tax reform legislation during the final eight days of this year's truncated legislative session.

Senators are scheduled to be in session in Lincoln until the end of May with some issues yet to be resolved, including a signal-sending reckoning over the nature or existence of state business tax incentives.  

They'll depart the premises four days ahead of this year's 90-legislative day deadline.  

You will hear the tires squealing.

Senators are almost certain to leave with the state's property tax issue unresolved, opting for a $51 million-a-year bump in the state's property tax credit fund and leaving a session-long search for comprehensive property tax and state school aid reform behind blowing in the wind.

Now that Sen. Tom Briese of Albion has filed amendments to a pending tax bill already on the floor, the issue is guaranteed to make a farewell appearance before senators mount up and ride home.

The Briese bill amendment proposes an additional $100 million in property tax relief strictly as a backup to the Revenue Committee's ambitious proposal to raise $372 million in new revenue to funnel into property tax reduction. The committee plan is built around comprehensive state school aid reform.

Vegas says step right up and place your bets now.

Of course, this was never going to be easy.

In order to fund substantial local property tax relief with replacement revenue, you need to raise additional state sales or income tax revenue either through an increase in tax rates or elimination of sales tax exemptions and other tax breaks. Or all of the above.

Politically, that's a hard sell.

It's tax reform, and it can be revenue-neutral, but it's easily portrayed by critics simply as tax increases.

In contrast, an incremental increase in the state's property tax relief fund essentially lifts the money out of the state budget, and that's an easy task to accomplish, especially in an environment that celebrates tax cuts and spending reductions as the political gold standard without concern for corresponding reductions in state programs and services. 

The legislative redistricting clock is ticking loudly now for rural senators who are focused on property tax relief. Soon there will be two more urban senators and two less rural senators. 

The only option left might be that elusive and ghostly Grand Bargain that was the strategy employed to score a host of previous legislative breakthroughs in decades past.

We want property tax relief, rural senators say. And what do you want, Omaha senators? And what do you want, Lincoln senators? Let's talk.

There's not much of a comfort level in today's Legislature for that kind of bargaining or deal-making.

But a citizens initiative petition proposal that would require substantial property tax relief is out there now to force the Legislature's hand, some senators say.   

It's a million dollar challenge to even get that on the ballot.

And then it would face a TV ad blitz from opponents in the cities who almost certainly would argue that a vote for the initiative would be a vote to raise your income and sales taxes. There's nothing subtle about political TV ads.   

Day 79 at the Legislature on Tuesday.

* * *

Finishing up:

* There they go again: Senators talking about looking after "hard-working Nebraskans." Hey, how about the rest of us?

* If there's ever an opportunity — and responsibility — for bipartisan congressional cooperation, you might think it would be to protect the constitutional prerogatives of the legislative branch that appear to be both challenged and simply ignored now by the executive branch.

* A single inconsequential mistake that does harm to nobody matters not at all in a lifetime of extraordinary achievements. Looking at you, David Landis.

* Nebraska Medical Center is ranked among the World's Best Hospitals in a Newsweek survey, confirming what we in Nebraska already know.

* First two summer college football magazines on the shelves at the book store; both pick Nebraska to win the Big Ten West. 

* Yes, let's schedule K-State and Kansas again, and how about LSU for the next attractive national TV draw?

* Yankees looking good; and that's half farm system and short-term pickups.

Be the first to know - Sign up for News Alerts

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

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

On Twitter @LJSDon.


Load comments