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Platte Institute promotes plan to rely more on sales taxes
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Platte Institute promotes plan to rely more on sales taxes

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Jim Smith

Jim Smith, former senator and chief strategy officer for the Platte Institute.

The Platte Institute on Thursday promoted its support for a proposal to dramatically overhaul Nebraska's tax system as the key to unlock the state's economic future during a legislative summit in Lincoln.

The Blueprint Nebraska "tax modernization plan" would reduce state income taxes, broaden the sales tax base to include a range of exempted services and reduce the burden on local property taxes.

The plan would allow taxpayers to earn up to $50,000 free from the state income tax, dedicate an additional $2 billion to property tax relief over the next 10 years and eliminate the state's inheritance tax.

While a host of sales tax exemptions would be scrapped, the plan would protect the exemption for food defined as unprepared grocery items.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, chairwoman of the Legislature's Revenue Committee, moderated a panel discussion of the plan constructed by Blueprint Nebraska under the leadership of former Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion without expressing her own views.

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Smith is now chief strategy officer for the Platte Institute.

Linehan, however, did say: "My constituents tell me all the time that tax policy is a concern and a priority."

They want a tax system that is "competitive and fair," she said.

Jim Greisch, a panelist and executive at RSM US, a company that provides financial services, said Nebraska's current sales-income-property tax system results in "overdependence on income and property taxes."

Looking ahead outside of the tax reform agenda, Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers of Lincoln said "next year is the opportunity to do big, transformative change" in Nebraska as its leaders reach decisions on how to spend more than a billion dollars of federal pandemic recovery funding allocated to the state.

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Hilgers is heading the Legislature's so-called STAR WARS study committee that is preparing recommendations for developments along the Platte River, at Lake McConaughy near Ogallala, at Lewis and Clark Lake along the border with South Dakota and at Niobrara State Park in the northeast corner of the state.

Flood control, recreation, tourism and water resource sustainability are on the table. 

Pointing to Mahoney State Park between Lincoln and Omaha as "a treasure," Hilgers said state parks enrich the lives of Nebraskans.

Hilgers said he believes the state has "the best set of leaders we've had in 30 years" and that they are positioned with "the opportunity to transform the state."

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Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning outlined opportunities in cities in rural Nebraska, pointing to the transformational change underway in his own community.

River restoration, parks and recreation development, downtown revitalization, affordable housing development, infrastructure investment, development of renewable energy.

"Target entrepreneurs, not smokestacks," Moenning said. "Break down some of the barriers to growth and development.

"You can see changes," Moenning said.

"Partisanship does not matter nearly as much, or at all, in local government," he said.

Discussion also focused on the need for expansion of broadband service in rural Nebraska and the urgency of workforce development across the state.

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

On Twitter @LJSdon

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