Stick a fork in it, it’s done
After all is said and done, more is said than done.”—Aesop
Sadly, not a fable with the 2018 Legislature. They talked a bit about important things but did little about them.
They did pass some good things: regulation of opioids; education and corrections cleanup measures; raising the speed limit on certain roads.
They passed a few questionable or objectionable things: license exemption for equine massages, (really?); exemption of public information on gun registrations and certain public power district records.
But the 105th Legislature, Second Session, will likely be remembered for failure to honestly address and pass meaningful tax reform. There were several proposals on the table but only the one favored by Governor Pete Ricketts and Revenue Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Smith made it to the full Legislature for debate.
The reluctance of the two to consider raising other taxes to offset revenue losses caused by increased property tax relief for homeowners and farmers played a big role in the derailment of the measure. Tax breaks for corporations and the states’ wealthiest didn’t help the bill garner favor.
The odds are slim and next to none that 33 senators will vote to bring themselves back for a late summer special session to deal specifically with property taxes. The governor doesn’t support such a move and it’s highly unlikely that a workable compromise could be fashioned to stave off an almost inevitable ballot issue, which will give voters a say in the matter.
If voters approve a proposed $1.1 billion plan to refund 50 percent of property taxes paid to support schools, the 2019 Legislature will be left to figure out how to pay for it.
Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, the sponsor of a bill (LB 829), which would have done the same thing as the ballot proposal, said he doesn’t buy the doom and gloom tied to it. He said he’s confident that he and his colleagues will figure out how to pay for it.
Read that: we’ll cut our way out of it just like we did with the state revenue shortfall and budget balancing this session. Kansas? No we won’t get as bad as Kansas.
Doom and gloom? Think 1966 when voters did away with the state income tax and property tax. It took several months for the newly sworn 1967 Legislature and new Governor Norbert Tiemann to realize the state had no income. That ended in enactment of a new state income and sales tax plan.
While the plan saved the state, it ended Tiemann’s political career. To that, he responded, “so be it.” Unlike some others before and after, he said he didn’t take the job to perpetuate himself in politics.
Although it wasn’t the bill he had hoped to sign, Ricketts made a ceremony out of signing three tax-related proposals lawmakers did pass this session.
They would: Index state Social Security income tax for inflation (LB 738); cleanup Department of Revenue statutes on Homestead Exemptions, audit criteria and benefits for military spouses (LB 1089); and restore the state’s personal exemption credit that was repealed by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (LB 1090).
The 469 bills introduced during the second session brought the grand total for the two-session 105th Legislature to 1,136. Slightly more than 300 of the measures from both sessions were fully debated and signed into law.
A popular idiom from World War I accurately depicts the just finished legislative session as “nothing to write home about.” That is, it was unremarkable, ordinary and not very exciting.