A report from Nebraska Farm Bureau’s Governmental Relations team.

Property Tax Negotiations Continue

The Revenue and Education Committees continue to meet in an effort to find compromise on LB 289, or another bill to reduce K-12 reliance on property taxes. As proposed during the 2019 legislative session, LB 289 would have eliminated several state sales tax exemptions and increased the sales tax rate on cigarettes to increase state funding for K-12 schools while reducing property taxes. LB 289 is out of Committee and on General File – the first round of debate – going into the 2020 legislative session.

NEFB supported LB 289, along with other ag stakeholders and the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association, but the bill faced hurdles on a variety of fronts. Some conservatives oppose increasing some taxes to decrease others, many progressives believed LB 289 amounted to too much tax relief for rural areas while urban areas paid more in sales taxes, larger school districts are concerned they will not benefit from a rewrite as much as they benefit from the current school funding formula, while the business community is pressing to use new revenue to reduce the corporate and individual income tax rates.

Going into the 2020 session, Sen. Linehan has indicated she will continue seeking support from the governor and larger schools and consider using some of the new revenue to decrease the overall sales tax rate to bring on support from progressives. The Committee is also looking at more exemptions and new ways of generating more revenue.

Several senators, even some in leadership positions, have indicated support for a property tax relief and reform bill being legislatively tied to LB 720 – the ImagiNE Act – which is the rewrite of business tax incentives which is a priority of the Chamber of Commerce. NEFB would not oppose such a move.

Work to Expand Broadband Underway

A lot has happened at the federal level since last year when Nebraska Farm Bureau asked Nebraskans to run wireless coverage speed tests. Whether it’s mobile or fixed broadband, FCC maps are important to the broadband discussion as they are used to determine where tax dollars should be targeted to deploy broadband, especially in rural, “high cost” areas.

The problem is, the maps are composed using data provided by the Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Previously, the ISPs were allowed to declare an entire census block "served" with broadband if they provided broadband to just one home in that census block. Finally, after many complaints, the FCC this summer launched a new rule change which will require that fixed ISPs provide geospatial maps of where they actually offer service. The FCC has suggested it's also going to begin including some crowd-sourced data to confirm accuracy of the data ISPs provide, instead of just relying on service providers information.  These changes only apply to fixed line broadband providers and not mobile (cellular) providers, but mobile providers are also under investigation for routinely being misleading about their coverage areas.

The American Farm Bureau is encouraging federal delegations to sign onto Sen. Moore Capito’s Broadband Data Improvement Act to improve the accuracy of broadband coverage maps and better direct federal funds for broadband buildout.

Hamilton County Farm Bureau member Zach Hunnicutt continues to represent Nebraska Farm Bureau on the Nebraska Rural Broadband task force and staff regularly attends subcommittee meetings. Task force subcommittees on the state’s Universal Services Fund, public-private partnerships, and data are releasing reports now, with full recommendations due to the Legislature in November.

Nebraska Farm Bureau continues to provide comments on the subcommittee reports and hopes to continue the momentum at the state level and make recommendations which complement some of the federal action we’re seeing.

Farm Bureau Pushing for Trade Deals

Nebraska Farm Bureau recently released a report on the effect tariffs are having on Nebraska agriculture. Utilizing the cost per unit (bushel and per head) that USDA calculated when determining their Market Facilitation Payment program, Nebraska Farm Bureau estimated nearly a $1 billion impact on Nebraska farmers and ranchers from ongoing trade disputes. The analysis highlights the importance getting new trade deals done and getting trade disputes resolved.

On that note, trade negotiators from the U.S. and China resumed face-to-face talks in Washington this week. Talks between a Chinese delegation led by Liao Min, a vice minister for finance, and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Jeffrey Gerrish began Thursday and are scheduled to continue Friday. The negotiations are expected to lay the ground-work for top-level negotiations between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Vice Premier Liu He in October in Washington. In a “goodwill” move leading into this week’s talks, China announced it would not make U.S. soybeans and pork subject to additional tariffs.

Trade was also front and center for Nebraska Farm Bureau Leadership Academy members, during their recent visit to Washington D.C. The group met with Sharron Bomer, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Agricultural Affairs and Commodity Policy, who provided an update on all the items her office is working through. While she couldn’t get into specifics, she talked about the announced trade deal with Japan. She indicated that her office was working to try and get the agreement finalized for two nations to sign by late September, but it was unclear if they would meet that deadline.