GERING — Paul Von Behren with the group Tax Relief Unites Everyone (TRUE) emphasized the importance of providing real property tax relief this year.
He warned that if a proposed state constitutional amendment doesn’t get on the ballot in 2020, it might be the state’s last opportunity to lower property taxes.
The next U.S. Census comes up in 2020 and rural Nebraska could lose up to two state senators as the population has been shifting to urban areas for years. That loss of political clout could mean the end for property tax reform, Von Behren said.
“We’re a bunch of people who are just upset with our current property tax situation,” Von Behren said during a Tuesday meeting at the Gering Civic Center. “Nebraska is ranked about seventh highest in the nation when it comes to property taxation.”
Von Behren said many politicians admit property taxes are the most steady, reliable income stream they have because they can be regulated. Property taxes act as a buffer in case income and sales taxes go down.
Nebraska has between 2,600 and 3,000 units of government that levy property taxes. They include natural resource districts, fire and cemetery districts and many others.
A 1966 constitutional amendment ended the state policy to collect property taxes in favor of returning that power to the municipalities. But within three years, property taxes had jumped 10%.
In 1990, the Legislature passed the TEEOSA formula for funding public education to help reduce education’s dependency on property taxes. However, property taxes kept going up, even after the Legislature increased TEEOSA funding by roughly 27% in 1998 and again in 2005.
Von Behren said the problem is that any attempt at property tax relief goes back to the property taxing subdivisions, not the taxpayers.
Since 2000, there have been 510 bills introduced in the Legislature to provide property tax relief. The state’s property taxes have increased almost 250%, going up about six times faster than the population growth over that time.
“Legislative solutions have never lowered property taxes, and they never seem to reduce spending. When the aid goes away, the entities just keep spending,” Von Behren said.
That led District 47 State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard to introduce a constitutional amendment that would provide a 35% credit on a taxpayer’s property taxes, applied to the state income tax return. The Legislature would then decide how to make up the difference.
The bill didn’t make it out of committee during the recently completed session.
“This or any future Legislature won’t make a decision about cutting spending unless they’re forced to,” Erdman said. “I’m aggravated this year’s session didn’t do anything to address real property tax relief.”
Since then, the independent group TRUE has stepped forward to gather petition signatures to get the same legislation on the ballot and make it an amendment to the state constitution that cannot be changed.
“When it’s handled by the Legislature, property tax relief is never permanent. They always go back up.” Von Behren said. “They never seem to reduce spending.”
TRUE volunteers are now circulating petitions to get the 35% property tax reduction on the ballot for a vote of the people. They have until July 2020 to gather sufficient signatures for verification by the Secretary of State.