Voters may decide property tax issue; Legislature can’t
Providing property tax relief to Nebraskans continues to be one of the most illusive feats that’s dogged the Nebraska Legislature for more than half a decade. Once again, the senators will go home after another session with no solutions.
The cost to educate our children represents the biggest component of the property tax bill property owners pay. In Chase County’s two school districts, that amounts to nearly $12 million.
Used to be that most schools throughout the state received state aid to fund education. That’s not the case anymore, especially in rural Nebraska.
When the Legislature changed the formula to figure state aid to schools, a primary factor centered on how land-rich a school district was.
In many rural school districts with vast amounts of farm ground and/or ranch land, the formula determined these districts didn’t need as much state aid as land-poor districts. That’s because they had a lot of property valuation on which to tax.
However, as the valuation of that property began to skyrocket, in some cases nearly doubling over the last eight years, the tax burden only increased.
Today, much of the state aid to schools goes to large urban or metro districts. Their property values (mostly residential) didn’t increase at the pace farm and ranch land did.
So with a large number of students and stable valuations, the formula awards them more state aid dollars. Conversely, rural districts, and especially their property tax payers, take the shaft when it comes to state aid.
The primary reason Dan Hughes ran for the Legislature was to find a way to provide property tax relief to the ag sector. Unfortunately, rural senators in the Legislature make up only around 20 percent of the body, with the majority of the votes concentrated in Lincoln and Omaha.
So when Lincoln and Omaha receive the biggest benefit from state aid to schools, those senators certainly have no desire to change the status quo. All the while, it’s rural Nebraska that bears the brunt of the Legislature’s inability to find any solution to burdensome property tax issues.
This session proved no different. There’s even talk of a special session, sought by rural senators, to force the Legislature to come up with solutions. Don’t hold your breath on that happening.
It takes 33 senators to agree to a special session. But if you’re one of those urban or metro senators, they don’t see the need.
Petitions are circulating around Nebraska that, if put on the November ballot and approved, would force the Legislature to find $1.1 billion to pay for mandated property tax relief.
The initiative would provide for a 50 percent refund to taxpayers on the amount of property taxes they pay for education.
With the Legislature’s continual incapability to find solutions to the property tax issues in Nebraska, the people may well dictate to them how to finally deal with the issue.