A lot of talk, few facts on property taxes
It doesn’t take an expert to figure out what issue is on the top of citizen’s minds for this upcoming legislative session: property taxes. If you have missed the countless editorials and interviews by elected officials across the state, then your own pocketbook has made this reality very clear. While I campaigned across our great state in 2018, I heard many stories of how property tax rates are impeding growth and stability for many hard working families and businesses. I was especially struck by the story from a young man in North Platte who was ready to set his roots down in Nebraska, but worried he might never be able to afford the home he was working so hard to obtain. This is not the good life we promised our younger generations.
It goes without saying that this situation must change. I am in no way a stranger to the challenges that families, farmers, and ranchers are currently facing across the state. I grew up on a small family hog farm just north of Fremont where my father had to take on a second full-time job just to be able to continue farming. There has been plenty of tough talk and rhetoric about “doing something” about our property tax problem, and I myself have made property tax relief a top priority heading into 2019. However, government officials have been trying to craft a solution for years to no avail. I fear that as a government, we are backing ourselves into a corner with few prescriptions for this ailment, most of which are reckless to our state’s current and future obligations. I believe the only way we can tackle this issue is by looking at the root cause of high property taxes.
When the state of Nebraska handed the collection of property taxes over to counties in 1967, the state agreed to help local communities with the cost of funding K-12 education. This allowed county leaders to manage property tax rates in an effective manner. This balance was thrown into chaos in 2007-09 when, facing approximately a billion dollar shortfall due to the great recession, the legislature slashed education funding. With the children in their community facing devastating cuts to their education, and their future, most local leaders were forced to raise property taxes to make up for the lost funding. In 2011, the legislature further burdened communities by eliminating all financial aid to counties. These changes were always meant to be temporary and reversible once the economy recovered. Nearly a decade later, these changes remain in place and we are all dealing with the consequences. The link between the decline in education funding and the rise of property tax rates is present and undeniable, further validated in a recent study by the Platte Institute.
The only way to solve a problem is to identify the source, and the source of our property tax situation is clear. There will certainly be many debates in the coming legislative session about where the state will find the money to solve the property tax situation, and I will be passionately involved in those debates. Wherever the money comes from, it must empower local leaders to again be in control of property tax rates; and the only way to ensure that, is to remove our children’s education as a hostage to those rates. The state of Nebraska must return to its commitment of funding education, for everyone’s benefit.
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