Nebraska lawmakers end session without agreeing on plan for big property tax reductions

Nebraska lawmakers end session without agreeing on plan for big property tax reductions
World-Herald News Service

LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers headed home for good Friday after passing a few last bills, overriding a gubernatorial veto and receiving thanks from the governor.

The 2019 session was marked by relatively easy passage of a $9.3 billion state budget but major disappointments over property taxes and business incentives.

The budget included a 23% increase in the state’s property tax credit fund, which boosted the total to $275 million a year. The credits offset a portion of each property owner’s tax bill.

Gov. Pete Ricketts touted the record amount in the fund, but many rural lawmakers had argued for bigger reductions in property taxes. As in past years, they came up empty in their search for a solution that could win majority support.

The governor fought two major proposals that would have increased sales and other taxes and used the revenue to cut property taxes. They also faced opposition from groups that would have been affected by the increases.

In frustration, the rural senators joined with some progressives to sink a new business tax incentive program pushed by state business groups. Nebraska’s current incentive program expires at the end of next year.

But the session also saw lawmakers pass 262 bills and two proposed constitutional amendments. They debated all but five of the measures named as priorities.

Lawmakers took steps against prison overcrowding by approving the construction of more prison beds and the expansion of problem-solving courts. They put money into health and human services provider rates.

They legalized industrial hemp and revamped state requirements for civics education. Legislators raised the age to buy cigarettes and vaping products and required that women getting medication abortions be told they may be able to change their minds partway through.

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer of Norfolk praised colleagues for a long list of accomplishments. “The citizens of Nebraska were well served,” he said.

But Scheer also noted that the session had not been “all blue skies” and there were “too many personal attacks and vilification.” He admonished his colleagues to spend the months before the next session learning to trust and work with each other.