LaVISTA, Neb. – Urban and rural Nebraskans have had their fill of high property taxes and the key to providing meaningful property tax relief lies in making structural changes to how K-12 schools are funded, and that includes limiting the amount of property taxes that fund Nebraska schools. That’s the message delivered by Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson Dec. 7 to delegates and guests to the Nebraska Farm Bureau Annual Meeting and Convention in LaVista.
“We must start taking the actions that move us in a direction where education doesn’t rely almost solely on property taxes. And we need to do it now. We must look at ways in which we can better control local spending. We need to look at new and alternative sources that balance the funding responsibility for our schools. Property taxes are the main source of funding for K-12 schools, with more than 60 percent of all property taxes collected going towards funding education. We need to look hard at limiting the amount of property taxes that can be used for education purposes, if real reform is to take place,” said Nelson.
In his remarks, Nelson said addressing inequity of how schools are funded is a tax policy issue, not a quality of education issue.
“I want to be clear in saying that our call to address equity in how we fund education, it is not a question of whether or not we believe we should have good schools. We all want a quality education for Nebraska students. We as Nebraskans need to address how we balance the responsibility of funding education. Those scales are out of balance today because of the heavy reliance on property taxes,” said Nelson.
Nelson said skyrocketing property tax bills are a major threat to the viability of many farm and ranch families operations.
“I’ve had the opportunity to travel the state extensively the last few years, and on far too many occasions I’ve had farmers tell me they are making real-life decisions about whether to sell land because they can’t afford their property taxes. We’re talking about state tax policy, policy that we as Nebraskans control, driving people off the farm or ranch. If we don’t work together to fix this problem, farm and ranch families will go out of business and we’ll see further consolidation in agriculture, which will only harm the rural fabric of our state.”
Nelson also hammered home the point that now is the time for action by the Legislature.
“The Legislature has talked, it’s studied, and it’s examined the issue. We need our rural and urban leaders to work together. We need leadership on this issue. The time for talk is over. It’s time for meaningful actions that yield results and allow all of Nebraska to compete on the national and international levels. This will be our top priority in the 2016 legislative session.”
In his address Nelson also spoke to other key agriculture issues. Among those was the need for Nebraska to adopt policies that help farm and ranch families grow Nebraska’s pork, poultry and dairy sectors, which have become stagnate over the past decade in comparison to neighboring states.
“Farm and ranch families must have access to the tools being used by farmers and ranchers in neighboring states, and that includes the ability for families to work with pork processors in custom feeding arrangements. We have to be aware of what’s happening in the world around us and give our agriculture families the opportunity to compete.”
Nelson also discussed the need for farmers and ranchers to address misinformation about food, farmers and agriculture by taking to social media and other venues.
“There is hardly a news cycle where we don’t see a negative headline that’s somehow related to food and agriculture. We see stories that send the wrong signal to people about farmers and ranchers, the practices we use and the commodities we produce. Whether it’s how we use antibiotics in producing livestock, the use of new seed technologies, the health implications of consuming meat, or overall management of our land and water resources, there are a lot of interest groups that are comfortable painting a picture that agriculture is somehow responsible for many of the ills of society. We have to be willing to share what we do, how we do it, and more importantly, why we do it,” said Nelson.