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With the Legislature approaching its final opportunity to enact substantial property tax relief this year, the long-heralded backup alternative of a 2020 initiative petition drive has changed hands.

Douglas Kagan of Omaha, president of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, confirmed he has withdrawn his name as the primary sponsor because "I didn't think it could be successful."

But Paul Von Behren of Fremont said later Monday that an organization that calls itself True Nebraskans has taken over the drive and is collecting signatures on petitions to place the issue on the 2020 general election ballot. 

Von Behren said the organization has more than 200 people gathering signatures on initiative petitions and is already active in about 22 counties.

"This is a citizen-led effort," he said, "and this will be done very economically."

Von Behren declined to say how much money may have been raised or is available to help fund the effort. It is not using paid petition circulators.

"We're not terribly concerned about raising enough money," he said. "This is an issue for the entire state, whether urban or rural," he said, and "the entire state is angry enough" about high property taxes to join in the effort.

Circulators are gathering signatures outside courthouses, in nursing and assisted-living homes, in cafes, at community luncheons and farm auctions, Von Behren said.

"Any point where people gather," he said. 

Circulators would need to acquire more than 100,000 valid signatures and meet distribution requirements in at least 38 of the state's 93 counties to reach the 2020 ballot. 

Kagan sent a letter to the secretary of state's office last month asking that his name be formally removed as a sponsor.

"It doesn't automatically mean the end of a petition drive," Kagan said, "because it's still a valid petition. But we have withdrawn. We only had a couple of thousand dollars in the bank."

The initiative would propose a constitutional amendment to provide taxpayers with a state income tax credit equal to 35 percent of local property taxes paid.

Legislative supporters of substantial property tax relief have long pointed to the initiative petition drive as the alternative if senators fail to take substantial action on their own.

Still pending in the Legislature as it approaches the end of its 2019 session are a proposal (LB289) to raise $372 million in new revenue to fund substantial property tax relief delivered through state aid to schools and amendments to pending legislation (LB183) that would offer a more modest alternative plan that funds about $100 million in additional property tax reductions.

Already approved by the Legislature is a $51 million annual increase in the state's property tax credit fund. 

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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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