First four-year term for Sen. Hughes ends
Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango left no doubt he was glad to see the 60-day session of the 105th Nebraska Legislature come to an end.
“Oh man, yes. Absolutely.”
The Legislature adjourned April 18, bringing an end to a session that saw Hughes get some key legislation for the 44th District passed.
What didn’t happen was any agreement among state senators on how, or even whether to, create property tax relief for Nebraskans.
That left Hughes with a sour taste when the session came to an end.
“I’m very frustrated we couldn’t get anything done,” he said this week.
The governor’s tax bill offered some property tax relief on ag land, he said. However, it would have taken seven to 10 years to see any appreciable impact.
The key to property tax relief revolves around state aid to schools.
The problem is that a large faction of urban senators have no desire to make any adjustments to school state aid—because they get most of it, Hughes said.
“They have no reason to compromise,” he said.
Hughes said they don’t appreciate the disadvantage this puts on, not only the state’s farmers, but the state as a whole. “You’re crippling the largest single industry in the state.”
The state aid formula penalizes rural school districts that have experienced skyrocketing valuation on ag land.
With all this valuation, the formula determines these districts do not need state aid.
Property taxes account for the bulk of school revenue in districts receiving little or no state aid.
Hughes said all but one of the school districts in the 44th receive little or no state aid. That leaves property taxpayers to pick up the bill.
Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard had a bill that would refund 50 percent of the property taxes paid for schools back to the taxpayer. That bill never made it out of committee.
However, Erdman’s bill has been picked up by the group Reform for Nebraska’s Future who is gathering signatures to get the initiative on the November ballot.
Hughes gave the effort 99-1 odds that it will make the ballot. The question will be whether or not it can pass. Millions will be spent trying to defeat it.
If approved, the Legislature would have to come up with another $1.1 billion in revenue to cover the refunds.
Key Hughes bills passed
In terms of passing his own legislation and that of his Natural Resources committee, it proved to be a good year.
Hughes gained near unanimous support for LB 758, passing on a 45-4 vote on final reading.
The bill allows natural resources districts and NRDs in an interlocal agreement to pay in-lieu-of taxes on land owned for the purpose of stream augmentation projects.
This affects Dundy County, where the Upper Republican NRD’s Rock Creek augmenation project is.
It also covers Lincoln County where NCORPE operates an augmentation for Republican Basin and Platte River Basin NRDs.
Presently, if land is owned by a government subdivision for a public purpose, property taxes cannot be assessed to the property.
Hopefully, the legislation will end county/NRD challenges that have ended up in the state Supreme Court after an appeal of rulings by the Tax Equalization and Review Commission.
The Legislature also passed LB 1008 sent out by the Natural Resources Committee as a priority bill.
The primary purpose of the bill shielded Nebraska public power electric generators from having to divulge production costs.
The bill was in response to a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling requiring them to open up their books, even to competitors.
Hughes said this put Nebraska’s public power entities at a distinct advantage.
Hughes said the committee introduced a placeholder bill, in case something like this arose after the bill introduction period ended.
The bill also contained several non-controversial provisions. They included higher liquidated charges for poaching, raised the per diem for members of the oil and gas commission, extended the sunset on the scrap tire grants, and put notice requirements on private renewable energy generators.
Hughes also gained approval of LR 266, a resolution urging Nebraska’s Congressional delegation to intervene with the Bureau of Reclamation on behalf of trailer owners on three Southwest Nebraska lakes.
The Bureau has given notice that all trailers/cabins on Bureau land be removed by 2020 at Swanson Lake near Trenton, Harry Strunk Lake near Cambridge and Hugh Butler Lake north of McCook.
Hughes said it will take federal legislation to stop the order.
Hughes got the brunt of Sen. Ernie Chambers’ criticism for supporting outside control of prairie dogs if they infest a neighbor’s property.
Chambers prioritized its repeal in LB 449.
Hughes said he spoke in opposition of its repeal but saw that enough trading of votes had occurred that passage of the bill was assured on the final day of the session.
Hughes got some redemption this week when the governor vetoed the bill.
Hughes, 61, has already filed for re-election for a second four-year term. State senators are term-limited after two consecutive terms.
He is facing challenger Stephanie Malcolm of Palisade.
Both names will appear on the primary election ballot May 15 and both will automatically advance to the general election in November.