Recapping the coming property tax ballot debate

Recapping the coming property tax ballot debate

2020’s property tax debate is about to begin, and though the Nebraska Legislature will consider legislation of its own, a property tax ballot petition campaign will be operating in the background.

The initiative calls for a constitutional amendment that would provide a 35% rebate of real property taxes through the state income tax.

To recap some of the key arguments to this point, here’s a set of interviews from October on KFAB’s Chris Baker show featuring Nebraska state Sen. Steve Erdman (proponent) and Sen. Lou Ann Linehan (opponent).

In summary, supporters of the initiative believe:

  • A voter initiative is the only way to bypass legislative gridlock and achieve major property tax reform.
  • A constitutional amendment would force the Legislature to change its approach to taxes and spending.
  • A rebate is attractive to urban and rural taxpayers and goes directly to taxpayers.
  • The Legislature will be able to find appropriate ways to balance the budget, as they did in the 1960s when voters repealed the state property tax.

So far, on the opponent side, these are key arguments we’ve heard:

  • The annual cost of the rebate is unrealistic (about $1.3-1.6 billion in its early stages).
  • The state would be put in a financial bind that would require drastic changes like ending all state aid to education.
  • State taxes would have to increase taxes to pay for the rebate, undercutting the amount Nebraskans would really get back.
  • By rebating property taxpayers for a share of what local governments spend, more spending/looser property tax limitations may occur.

What do you think about this current debate?

My guess is most Nebraskans don’t yet know about the initiative, and as the session begins, these lists of arguments will likely grow as both sides try to persuade Nebraskans and rally them to their cause. The petition drive has until July to submit its signatures to qualify for the 2020 election ballot.

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