The mainline property tax relief and school funding reform bill, LB 974 was on the floor of the Legislature for three hours of first round floor debate this week. Nebraska Farm Bureau has thrown its full support behind a LB 974 as it would provide significant property tax relief and start Nebraska down the path of reforming K-12 school funding. Introduced by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn and other members of the Revenue Committee, the bill would allocate additional state aid dollars to replace local property taxes, in turn lowering Nebraskans’ property tax bills. The legislation would direct an additional $490 million in state aid to K-12 schools, while delivering an estimated $336 million in property tax relief when fully implemented. All property taxpayers would benefit under LB 974 as its estimated statewide property tax collections would drop by more than 8 percent with the bill. Equally important, is the tax relief the bill would provide to agricultural landowners who’ve seen the biggest tax increases. Nebraska Farm Bureau estimates agricultural landowners could see an 11 percent reduction in land taxes when compared to taxes levied in 2019. When LB 974 relief is combined with relief from the state’s Property Tax Credit Fund, ag landowners could see up to a 22 percent reduction in their land taxes. In addition to providing significant tax relief, the bill incorporates both foundation aid and basic funding provisions ensuring the state of Nebraska provides some state dollars to help cover education costs for every K-12 student, regardless of where they live. Today, most rural schools receive little to no state equalization dollars. Despite the fact every school will get more state aid, the bill has faced opposition from schools due to provisions that would collectively limit Nebraska schools’ tax asking ability by 1.5 percent. The property tax relief provided by the bill is substantial, while the limitation on tax asking for schools is minimal and not without a release valve. Any school that experiences a reduction in their ability to levy property taxes will continue to have the option of replacing those funds with a levy override. With the bill having gone its first three hours of debate, it’s unlikely that the bill will come up again until Sen. Linehan can demonstrate to the speaker the 33 votes needed for cloture, a measure to end a filibuster of the bill and allow the body to vote on advancing the measure. Watch the video update on LB 974 HERE.
A legislative bill to have the Nebraska Public Service Commission collect broadband availability data to supplement federal data is working through the Legislature. This week senators advanced LB 996 to second round consideration by a vote of 37-0. Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth introduced the bill as a means to help put Nebraska at the front of the line when it comes to federal broadband funding. NEFB supports the bill.
This week the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee spent several hours hearing support and opposition testimony to both LB 1165, a bill by Sen. John Stinner of Gering to disband the Nebraska Brand Committee, as well as LB 1200, a bill by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon which was brought forward by the Brand Committee. NEFB opposes LB 1165 and supports, with caveats, LB 1200. In testimony, NEFB offered its support for the work of the Brand Committee and thanked Sen. Brewer for bringing LB 1200 forward as a starting point for discussion about Brand Committee reforms. As it stands, neither LB 1165 nor LB 1200 will be moved out of the Agriculture Committee this session. NEFB will continue working with Senator Brewer and other stakeholders to fine tune the bill, so it makes sense for beef operations of all sizes and structures across the state.
The Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee heard testimony this week on LB 1132. Introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, the bill eliminates the 25 kilowatt cap on net metering for customer-generators of electricity. NEFB supports the bill, while power entities in the state came in very much opposed. NEFB supports raising the rated capacity to 100kw which would allow more producer investment in energy-generating infrastructure.
The Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on LB 845, a bill offered by Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte. The bill would change state law allowing the rights to use groundwater to be severed from land ownership where the land is involved in a water augmentation project. Nebraska Farm Bureau opposes the bill. The Department of Natural Resources as well as the Nebraska Attorney General’s office oppose the bill. Although LB 845 is aimed at augmentation projects, NEFB remains concerned that it cracks the door for future legislatures to allow the separation of the use of water from land for other purposes. Also, the Attorney General’s office has indicated that, although Nebraska is in a good place in terms of meeting with officials from Colorado and Kansas to maintain the Republican River Compact, LB 845 threatens NCORPE, which is a key component to ensuring Compact compliance. The alternative to NCORPE is shutting down irrigation use in dry years.
Perdue Says China Still Buying
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters this week that China will follow through with the billions of dollars in additional ag purchases that it promised to make as part of the “phase one” trade pact with the U.S., but the coronavirus outbreak may delay the sales. Under the deal China agreed to import $36.5 billion in U.S. farm commodities in 2020 and $43.5 billion in 2021. According to AgriPulse, China’s purchase of U.S. commodities totaled about $20 billion in 2017, before the U.S. began placing tariffs on China, sparking a trade war.
Fight Coming on New Clean Water Rule
A number of environmental groups are planning to sue the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineer over the agencies’ new Clean Water Rule that replaced the Obama era 2015 Waters of the U.S. Rule. The groups allege the agencies didn’t properly consult with federal wildlife officials over the impact the rule would have on endangered species. The lawsuit is spearheaded by the Center for Biological Diversity and several other environmental organizations.