The historic winter storm we had this week has hit Nebraska hard. At least one person has lost their life. Ranches are snowed-in and county roads are impassable. Towns are flooded. Roads are closed, bridges are washed out, and a dam on the Niobrara River totally failed and was washed away. I have been contacted by Congressman Smith’s office asking for any information that he can relay to those organizing federal relief efforts. The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is already in motion, and there will be a National Guard element supporting the relief efforts as well. Locally, citizens suffering the effects of this disaster can send a text message with their ZIP code to 898-211 or call 211 for more information on services to help people in this time of need.

Back in Lincoln, this week we had the final debate on LB 704. This bill will allow the State of Nebraska to collect sales tax from online internet sales. This really isn’t a new tax because the obligation in the law already exists to pay what is called “use tax” on these purchases. Many people ignore this tax obligation, and without an enforcement mechanism in place much of it goes uncollected. The bill has an “emergency clause” which means it will be enacted into law the moment the Governor signs it. Ordinarily, bills signed by the Governor become law 90 days after the end of the legislative session. Instead of a simple majority (25), “E” bills require a 2/3 vote (33) to pass. This bill passed 43 yes, 0 no, 2 present not voting, 2 absent.

I don’t like taxes, and I oppose tax increases. I voted for this bill because it is about fairness. We have brick-and-mortar businesses across Nebraska that have always had to collect sales tax. With the rise of internet sales, competitors to a main street business can sell online for a discount because most do not collect Nebraska sales tax. This gives them an unfair advantage. If we’re going to have a sales tax, everyone should have to collect it. This bill does that. It levels the playing field.

What worries me the most about the revenue from this bill is what will be done with the new money. Many Senators in the legislature have an endless supply of bright ideas to spend the taxpayer’s money. There will be a strong temptation for some to treat this new revenue as a windfall they can spend on pet projects. I believe strongly that every last nickel of this new money must be devoted to the #1 problem in our state: lowering property taxes.

No one knows for sure how much will be collected. In the Governor’s budget, he has proposed $51 million for the property tax credit fund to reflect the expected proceeds from the internet sales tax. This is in addition to other money that will be directed to this fund. I think $51 million is a fair number. Now the hard work of defending it begins.

The last revenue projection showed a $110 million budget shortfall. Because of the ballot initiative last fall, there is the new expense of Medicaid Expansion. By rule, the Revenue Committee must advance the budget bill by the 70th legislative day (2 May) and the full legislature must pass it by the 80th legislative day (22 May). I will not support a budget that does not designate this money for property tax relief. If a special session is required, I am willing to fight for that once again.

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at tbrewer@leg.ne.gov, mail a letter to Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1423, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509, or call us at 402-471-2628.

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