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State Senator Ben Hansen’s Column

State Senator Ben Hansen’s Column

The first full week of February was very welcome after a January that seemed never to end.  On the floor of the legislature, our mornings have been full of debate.  More and more bills pass through the committee process each day and are advanced to the General File for consideration by all 49 senators.  I received numerous emails and phone calls from constituents about several of the bills heard in committee or on the floor this week.  Some have been controversial and others have passed unanimously, like the constitutional amendment proposed by Senator Wayne to eliminate slavery or involuntary servitude as a punishment for crimes.  Thank you for reaching out to me.

As promised in my last column I’ll begin writing about certain property tax bills introduced this year that I’m taking a close look at.  Please keep in mind that the state does not actually levy property taxes.  All property taxes are levied and collected locally.  There are, however, ways we can affect local property taxes by changing related state policies.

The first property tax bill I’ll be reviewing is LB 497 introduced by Senator Friesen of Legislative District 34.  This bill addresses property taxes by changing how public schools are funded by the state.  Out of Nebraska’s 244 school districts, 69 receive state equalization aid.  The other 175 are funded almost entirely by local property taxes with 60 percent of all property taxes being used for school funding.  LB 497 stipulates the state pay at least 50 percent of basic education costs for every school in Nebraska

LB 497 achieves real property tax relief for residential, commercial, and agricultural property owners alike.  It funds schools in Nebraska sufficiently and ensures no school would be left without state aid.  The impact on Nebraskans would be varying.  Although “sin taxes” like those on alcohol and cigarettes are generally accepted, Nebraska is home to a booming craft-brew scene.  These breweries are popping up all over rural Nebraska and many of them use locally grown goods in their products.

The bill accomplishes all of this by eliminating several sales tax exemptions, raising other sales taxes, and changing the way agricultural land is evaluated in the state aid formula for school funding.  Sales taxes would rise $1.07/gallon on beer, $2.56/gallon on wine, $8.53/gallon on spirits, and $1.50 on cigarettes.  Certain goods and services currently exempt from sales tax would be taxed under the bill including food for home consumption, vehicle maintenance and repair, dry cleaning, hair care, massages, storage services.  Though the bill is projected to create over $524 million each year in added revenue we must be very thoughtful and intentional as we consider the impact these sort of changes would have on Nebraska’s economy and citizens’ everyday lives.

There are positives and negatives to this proposal but I’m hopeful the Revenue Committee will provide an opportunity for the bill to be debated by all 49 senators on the floor of the legislature.

Next week promises to be a big week as I’ll be introducing three bills at their committee hearings.

You’re welcome to contact our office at (402)-471-2728 to speak with my Administrative Assistant, Ellie Stangl; or my Legislative Aide, Jacob Campbell.  You can also email me at bhansen@leg.ne.gov.  To follow along with the session please visit nebraskalegislature.gov or you may watch the live stream when available at netnebraska.org

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