State Legislative Happenings

4/23/2013 6:55:04 AM

With two-thirds of the 2013 legislative session now in the books, state lawmakers head into the home stretch still working toward the passage of a two-year budget and finishing up work on priority bills. State lawmakers are slated to close the session the first week in June.  

• Budget Talks To Begin
The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee has until May 1 to put forth a proposed two-year state budget for consideration by the full Legislature. Nebraska Farm Bureau’s interest in the budget debate will focus on continued funding for the state’s property tax credit program. The program provides a real property tax credit to individuals paying property taxes. In 2012 alone, $115 million were allocated by the state to the program which provided a direct credit of $71.50 per $100,000 of valuation on real property. The credit shows up annually on property tax statements. Nebraska Farm Bureau has been a major supporter of the program over the years as it is the one program providing direct property tax relief to farmers and ranchers.

• Tax Bump to Offset Park Entry

Senators began first round floor debate April 10 on a bill that would raise the motor vehicle registration fee on most vehicles by $7 to generate additional funding for Game and Parks Commission capital improvement projects and other budgetary needs. The $7 fee increase would be used to eliminate the $25 state park entry permit and allow Nebraska residents to use the state parks for free. LB 362 was introduced by Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln.
Nebraska Farm Bureau opposes the bill because of the precedent the bill would set in terms of roads funding. Traditionally, taxes and fees on motor vehicles have gone to funding road construction and maintenance. Nebraska Farm Bureau has been a strong supporter of roads funding and opposes efforts to divert tax resources which have traditionally been directed to roads and other uses. Also, the bill would result in a tax increase on farmers, ranchers and other motor vehicle owners. Senators ceased debate on the bill without taking a vote. It is unclear if debate on this bill will resume this session.
• Environmental Trust Funds
A bill that would put more accountability in the use of Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) funds used for land purchases narrowly advanced to second round floor debate April 4. Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill, Neb., introduced the measure to help prevent landowners from being stuck with higher property taxes when land purchased with NET dollars is removed from county tax rolls. LB 57 would require the NET board to approve the first subsequent sale or transfer of land originally purchased using NET funds. It would also require that land purchased with NET grant money which is later sold or turned over to the federal government resulting in a loss of the land’s property valuation for tax purposes to be replaced with in-lieu-of-tax payments or a permanent endowment fund. Nebraska Farm Bureau supported the bill as the organization’s policy opposes the use of NET funds to purchase real property or conservation easements by non-political entities.
The bill was filibustered for eight hours before senators voted for cloture, a measure to force a vote on the measure by the full body. Lawmakers then advanced the measure for second round floor debate on a 27-17 vote. Some concerns still exist over the amended bill, and Nebraska Farm Bureau will be working with other stakeholder groups and senators in an attempt to address some of these concerns and questions.

• State Aid to Schools
The Legislature's Education Committee has advanced this session’s state aid to schools bill for debate by the full Legislature. The measure advanced from Committee on a 5-3 vote. Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, Neb., who chairs the Education Committee, introduced the legislation. LB 407 would increase state aid to K-12 schools by a little over 6 percent compared to the current school year, to a total of just over $900 million. In comparison, the governor's budget contained a state aid increase of around 5 percent, and preliminary figures prior to the session estimated state aid would increase approximately 11 percent if the state aid formula were left untouched.
The distribution of state aid dollars to the state's 249 school systems is expected to be controversial. Larger schools in the state have expressed concerns over the bill as advanced and could seek changes during floor debate. This school year over 100 school systems did not receive state equalization aid, largely due to increasing agricultural land values and declining student numbers. In terms of how the formula treats schools, schools with declining enrollment appear to have less “need” for aid, while those with increasing valuations look to have more local resources available which means the formula provides them with less assistance. Under LB 407, the number of non-equalized school districts is likely to increase despite the increase of dollars in state aid. Nebraska Farm Bureau supports rural schools and is currently evaluating the bill and its impacts before taking an official position on the measure.

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