Sen. Tom Briese

Sen. Tom Briese works at his desk in the Legislature in late March at the Capitol. 

The Legislature was assured Thursday of another opportunity for property tax relief debate when Sen. Tom Briese of Albion filed proposed amendments to a pending tax bill that's positioned at the second stage of floor consideration.

That removed the urgency of attempting to assure Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk that the comprehensive tax reform bill (LB289), which already has received three hours of floor debate, can command sufficient support to break through a filibuster if the proposal is returned to the agenda.

Briese's proposal, offered as an amendment to a bill (LB183) that would make an adjustment in the valuation of agricultural land, offers a scaled-down version of the committee's bill, relying on elimination of 28 sales tax exemptions to provide revenue to fund property tax reductions.

The alternative plan would offer about $100 million in additional property tax relief on top of the $51 million proposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts and already endorsed by the Legislature. 

That compares to the $372 million package proposed in the more ambitious committee plan, which includes $171.5 million from a proposed sales tax increase and $27 million from a cigarette tax hike. 

Briese's amendment would eliminate the politically charged half-cent increase in the state sales tax rate and a boost in cigarette taxes.

Briese, who is a member of the Revenue Committee, emphasized that he continues to support the committee bill and offered the amended proposal simply as a backup plan.

"LB289 is still the goal," he said. 

Revenue Committee Chairwoman Lou Ann Linehan said she would continue to try to get the committee plan returned to the agenda for another round of consideration in the waning days of the 2019 legislative session and acknowledged that Briese's action will give supporters "time to work people" and seek their support.

But the clock is ticking: Speaker Scheer announced Thursday that the Legislature will compete its work and adjourn for the year on May 31, ending the session four working days earlier than anticipated. 

Shadowing the legislative property tax debate is an initiative petition drive to place a constitutional amendment on the 2020 general election ballot that would provide a state income tax credit for 35 percent of local property taxes paid.

Voter approval of that proposal would trigger substantial increases in state tax rates or deep cuts in spending for state programs and services, or both.

If the Legislature fails to take action this year, senators would have another opportunity in 2020 before voters would go to the polls in November.

The Revenue Committee's tax proposal, authored by Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte in conjunction with Linehan and revised by the full committee, addresses both tax reform and school funding reform while delivering property tax relief.   

The backup alternative held in reserve by Briese focuses on property tax reduction.

But that would set the stage for education funding reform, he said.

"It puts us on a path toward a needed modernization of our tax code by expanding our sales tax base to reflect the realities of today's economy," Briese said.  

"By placing the revenue into the property tax credit fund, it provides direct property tax relief."

His amendment also would adjust the earned income tax credit to protect lower-income Nebraskans from the "impacts of sales tax base expansion," Briese said.

Among sales tax exemptions that would be eliminated: candy, soft drinks, bottled water, motor vehicle repair and a host of services.

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

On Twitter @LJSDon.


Political reporter

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

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