District 15 Senator Walz: Property Taxes

Editor’s Note: 

The following letter is a communication from Nebraska’s District 15 state senator Lynne Walz, shared to help the senator communicate with her constituents in our listening area. The views & opinions expressed hereafter are the senator’s, not necessarily those of this station or its employees.

Lynne Walz, District 15:

We have reached the halfway point in this legislative session, and there are many critical issues that still need to be addressed. At the top of that list is property tax relief for our families, farmers, and businesses. Various debates on the floor and in committee have shown that nonpartisan collaboration is necessary in order to relieve Nebraskans from the high cost of property taxes.

Nebraskans have trusted legislators to solve issues in a timely manner. It is no secret that Nebraska is highly reliant on property taxes for the funding of K-12 schools. This is one of our biggest considerations as we sift through all of the legislative options available this year. This is a complex issue that needs a careful examination of the details. I strongly believe that local communities, school boards, and taxpayers should continue to have the right to make the best decisions for their school districts. Micromanaging, our local governments from Lincoln is not the answer.

The most recent state fiscal forecast indicates that the state expects to see a surplus in revenue funds. What to do with that money is up for debate and a lot of different proposals have been suggested. Like the majority of senators in the body, I believe we should use the money to solve our property tax problem. Over the past four years in the Legislature, I have voted on numerous measures to provide property tax relief, including to allocate money to the Property Tax Relief Fund, giving millions back to property owners. While this fund is important it does not provide long-standing relief including a way to support and fund our schools.

I applaud the efforts of my colleagues to find a lasting solution. However, we need to be
cautious. Just because a bill is labeled as property tax relief does not mean it is without major consequences. One proposal this year to address property taxes is LB974. This bill would reduce the percentage at which property is valued for school tax purposes while using no more than 15 percent of state tax revenue to provide foundation aid per student to each school district. It also adds caps and limitations that affect the local school board’s authority to do what is best for the students, the community, and the taxpayers they represent.

There are a few problems with this proposal. First, the excess money we have this year is not guaranteed every year. In addition to this, the school funding formula that we currently use is complex and adding another piece to this calculation would not be wise, especially when dealing with inconsistent revenue. In short, this proposal may lower property taxes for some school districts, but it doesn’t have a stable revenue to make up for the loss of funding to our schools. And with many of our school’s expenses going to fixed expenditures, such as salaries, benefits, and overhead expenses, there aren’t as many places to cut spending as some may think. This will put many local school boards in a position that they may need to cut essential items that jeopardize the quality of education we expect for our kids and grandkids. With an ever-changing market and economy, this is not a stable revenue source to make up for the loss of funding.

I think everyone can agree that educating our youth is positive for our society. It leads to a stronger workforce and a stronger economy which helps broaden the tax base in the long run. I would find it deeply disappointing to see any of my colleagues hold the state hostage until their preferred property tax relief package is passed. If we want to seriously tackle this issue, we need to take a comprehensive approach. In the last 3 years, we have allocated $720 million to the property tax fund and should continue to do so. I believe we can do that without risking public education, economic development and the vital work of the state.

To reach out to Senator Lynne Walz:

Write: P.O. Box 94604  Lincoln, NE 68509

Call: (402) 471-2625

Email: lwalz@leg.ne.gov