“Do you want to be involved in a state that has no future?”
District 48 State Senator John Stinner asked listeners that thought-provoking question Tuesday during the annual Pre-Legislative Breakfast in Gering.
In what he called a “sermon,” Stinner pointed out the dangers of the “35% Solution,” a ballot initiative that, if passed into legislation, would refund 35% of property tax bills back to the owners on their state income tax returns.
“That referendum would be a $1.4 billion to $1.5 billion deduction from the state budget out of an overall $4.5 billion to $5 billion,” Stinner said. “How are we going to do that?”
Stinner outlined some of the math for many people who have told him to “just cut the budget.”
About $1.3 billion goes to K-12 education, which is required by the state constitution. Of that number, some $220 million of that is for special education, mandated by the federal government.
“About 45% of our budget is for education,” Stinner said. “This referendum would take that off the table entirely. That’s our investment in the future.”
He added that much of the budget is taken up by “have-to” items such as aid to individuals. That included the recently passed expanded Medicaid, also overseen by the federal government.
“Another 12% of the budget is for safety,” Stinner said. “Are you going to take money out of prisons? Nebraska is either number one or two in the nation for prison overcrowding.”
The safety part of the budget includes funding the Nebraska State Patrol and the state’s judicial system.
Stinner said that when all the proposed cuts are put together, the state would still fall short of covering the loss from implementing the proposed 35% solution.
“People who want to sign this petition are only putting the state in an economic straight-jacket,” Stinner said. “We won’t be able to provide the services. We won’t have a future because when the University of Nebraska system increases tuition they become non-competitive and Kearney goes away. Then it will be the state colleges.”
He added it disgusts him to hear from petition supporters who keep saying the state Legislature has done nothing to hold down spending.
Before it became a petition initiative to refund 35% of property taxes, the cut was proposed as legislation by State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard. The petition drive to get it on the 2020 ballot was launched after the bill was defeated in the Legislature.
Property taxes are still a hot item for debate. Stinner said the Legislature will look at the property tax issue as soon as the next session convenes in January.
Nebraska Lt. Gov. Mike Foley was also in attendance for Tuesday’s Pre-Legislative Breakfast. He said the state’s current incentive package, the Nebraska Advantage Act, sunsets in 2020 and will need to be replaced.
One proposal to be considered this upcoming legislative session is LB 720, the ImagiNE Nebraska Act. The legislation would revise and enhance the state’s incentives by encouraging the creation of higher paying jobs and more investment from employers from both inside and outside the state.
“If we’re to create a future for our children, it will have to come from the creation of new jobs through the private sector,” Foley said. “We have to fix the economic factors that fight against job creation, whether it’s our tax structures or the litigious nature of our culture.”
The Pre-Legislative Breakfast is sponsored by the Scottsbluff/Gering United Chamber of Commerce.