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Political Round-Table Discussion Held In Geneva

By Mark Metcalf
The Signal Letterpress Museum was the site of an invitation-only round table discussion concerning property taxes in Fillmore County. On July 31, former state senator Bob Krist, candidate for Governor, and his choice for Lieutenant Governor, state senator Lynne Walz, met with 20 area residents to share information and ideas regarding the county’s increasing property tax burden and how best to address the problem.
Using a graph to illustrate his point, Krist showed the group how, since 2013, property tax credits have been dwarfed by rising property tax rates in Fillmore County. He used another graph to illustrate how, since 2007, taxation growth of county agland has far outpaced the taxation growth of commercial and residential property. This inequality is jeopardizing the future of farming in Fillmore County and across the state, Krist suggested. The problem has been recognized for some time, but finding consensus on how to fix it has proven extremely difficult.
Krist then outlined the efforts he and other Nebraska lawmakers have made to address the problem. All efforts have faced strong opposition from one quarter or another, and in this year’s legislative session, bills were held up in the Revenue Committee or not given sufficient time for meaningful debate on the floor.
Krist listed a number of approaches he would take to easing the property tax burden. Among those ideas was scrapping the complicated current school funding formula known as TEEOSA (Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act) and starting over. Krist would have the state fund all special education in addition to providing some level of fixed foundation aid to public schools. A tax on Internet sales, a reduction of tax incentives for the purpose of attracting large businesses, and cutting back on “tax give-a ways” would be other ways to pay for reduction in property taxes, he said.
For her part, Walz talked about her bill to help students with behavioral and mental health problems. LB 998 would have relied on private funding to allow each of Nebraska’s 17 Educational Service Units to hire a social worker to work with schools and parents to provide services to students suffering from behavioral and mental health problems. There would be no cost to tax payers. The Legislature passed the bill on the final day of the session, but the Governor refused to sign it, effectively a veto.
Krist and Walz criticized the Governor for that decision as well as for Ricketts’ own failed property tax relief bill, which focused on income tax credits.
The two candidates then responded to questions from the group. Questions included one about other state’s school funding practices, estate taxes, and increasing partisanship in the Unicameral.
Krist has called for a series of seven debates with the Governor; Ricketts has responded by proposing three debates. Krist was critical of the number and format of the sessions Ricketts wants. The first debate between Krist and Ricketts is scheduled for August 30 from 3-4 p.m., at the Bosselman Conference Center during the Nebraska State Fair. Property tax is sure to be a topic for that and other debates.