A proposal to provide more in state aid to Nebraska's public schools in an effort to slash property taxes advanced from the Legislature's Revenue Committee on Wednesday.
Labored over by Revenue Committee members for months, the bill (LB974) emerges as a chief contender for the Legislature to offer immediate and ongoing property tax relief.
Under the bill, valuations used to assess property taxes for schools would drop incrementally over the next three years, eventually coming to a rest at 83% of the current rate for residential and commercial properties, and 52% of the current rate for agricultural land.
To account for the loss of local property taxes, the state would gradually ramp up the "foundation aid" provided per student over the next three years.
That drew concerns from some of Nebraska's largest school districts during a public hearing in January, including Lincoln's public schools, who fear they would lose the ability to property fund their operations.
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, who helped draft the proposal, said those schools will receive more in state funding starting next year, but the increase may not be as high as originally planned.
An amended version of the bill — which would allow school districts to maintain their levy until they finish paying bonds or lease-purchase agreements — passed on a 6-2 vote, with Omaha Sen. John McCollister and Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue against.
McCollister said he believes the bill has improved over its original iteration, but said "it's not quite there yet."
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Other senators voiced frustrations over how the success of bills such as the property tax proposal were tied to the success of other measures.
"In this room, everyone thinks property taxes is the only thing that needs to happen," said Sen. Mark Kolterman, "I don't agree with that."
The Seward lawmaker, who sponsored the Revenue Committee's other major proposal (LB720), to provide tax incentives for businesses, said senators can't work to defeat one bill on the floor and then turn around and expect support on their own measure.
"We have to start putting some courtesy back into the floor of this Legislature," Kolterman said.
Omaha Sen. Brett Lindstrom said there should be more "give and take" between senators to build broader consensus around bills.
Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson said while lawmakers may get attached to their bills, they need to remember opponents are not acting on grudges. Rather, he said, they just may not like the bill and should communicate that.
Chairwoman Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn said the Revenue Committee should work as a team when legislation it passed comes up for debate. While senators may not support individual bills, they can still work together to improve legislation.
She urged the committee to pass the bill to give it a shot before all 49 senators.
"We have a long way to go here, but if we don't get to the floor, we won't get it done," Linehan said.
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