62% say voters should decide property tax issue
Voters and taxpayers from Western Nebraska shared their perspectives in the Platte Institute’s first Virtual Property Tax Town Hall. Similar programs are scheduled for other regions of the state through July and August. Throughout the town hall, participants were invited to vote in live online polls for five property tax-related questions.
Of course, these are simply online straw polls and not scientific surveys, but they give us a glimpse into what people concerned about property taxes in this part of the state have on their minds. Some of the results may not add to 100% due to rounding.
Participants were evenly split between property taxes becoming a greater concern or about the same on their list of priorities since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. Only 7% of Western Nebraska participants said they had become less concerned with property taxes as a result of the public health and economic crises.
63% of respondents favored reducing the number of political subdivisions that appear on local property tax bills and funding more of those entities with sales tax revenue.
Support for a proposed constitutional amendment calling for a consumption tax , which would replace most major state and local taxes with a broad-based sales tax, earned an even higher margin of support, though opposition also increased over the previous question about a property-sales tax swap. Few were undecided.
A majority of Western Nebraska voters in this poll favored spending cuts to reduce property taxes, even if it resulted in reduced local services. You can see, though, that opposition continues to march upward as we get into questions that require difficult trade-offs.
Following the discussion, which included the pros and cons of pursuing a ballot initiative on property taxes, town hall participants were asked whether they favored voters or their Legislature taking the lead on property tax reform. Sixty-two percent of participants said they believed voters would do a better job with changing Nebraska’s property tax system.
The Western Nebraska Virtual Property Tax Town Hall was promoted from Scottsbluff to North Platte, in parts of the state where agriculture is a major source of economic vitality. These participants are some of the voters and taxpayers most personally invested in property tax reform, and it’s natural that their responses might run sharply in favor of a change in the tax structure and against state leaders who have not delivered their desired changes.
But even here in these results, there are signs that difficult choices can undermine enthusiasm and support for reform proposals. Just as some of these voters let their foot off the gas when considering whether local government services should be cut, they and their peers might have second thoughts when the downsides of potential property tax reform proposals are brought to their attention.
Sixty-six percent support for a fundamental change like the consumption tax proposal is undoubtedly an enviable starting point, but that support can’t all be expected to hold up in a combative campaign environment.
There is also the numerical reality that in a hypothetical property tax ballot campaign, Western Nebraskans will ultimately have to develop some kind of consensus with voters in other Nebraska regions that may have different sentiments, along with a greater number of overall votes.