Hughes grades session B+ as issues go unresolved

Two major issues remain unresolved following the early dismissal of this year’s Nebraska Legislature May 31. 

Rural senators fought a losing battle on several bills seeking significant property tax relief down the stretch of the session. 

On the other side, urban and metro senators wanted to pass a new business incentive package to replace the current one that expires at the end of the year. 

Speaker Jim Scheer told his legislative colleagues both bills should move forward—one shouldn’t move without the other. 

However, it was apparent LB183, which sought an additional $100 million in direct property tax relief, was never going to get the necessary 33 votes to move the bill forward. 

That bill was amended numerous times and would have generated revenue for tax relief by removing a number of sales tax exemptions. That proved to be a bitter pill all session. 

Once the property tax relief bill stalled, rural legislators, including 44th District Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango, stood their ground by opposing the new business incentive package in LB720.

Passing that legislation was the primary goal of the Nebraska and metro Chambers of Commerce. 

Hughes said his rural colleagues were joined by others who stood up against the state chambers to stop LB720 from moving forward as well. Only 28 voted to advance the bill while 19 opposed it. 

“We in the west and in rural Nebraska see property tax as a real problem,” he said. 

However, for too many urban senators, that’s not the key issue in the metropolitan areas, he added. 

They are more interested in business incentives and social issues like welfare and Medicaid expansion.

Hughes added the governor looks at added revenue for property tax relief as a tax increase and opposes it. 

Hughes said in reality, it’s a tax shift, removing some of the tax burden from property owners and more specifically ag land owners. 

Property taxes have been an issue for more than 40 years, but Hughes feel he and his colleagues are closer to solving the issue. 

In the interim, senators will be exploring ways to find some common ground. 

While major property tax relief wasn’t accomplished, the governor added $51 million to the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund that will be distributed to property owners. That brings the total of $275 million available this year.

Despite the actions in the waning days of the session, Hughes said the body got a lot of good things done. As a result, he graded the session at a B+.

Hughes expressed satisfaction in seeing his bill, LB227, passed. 

The bill expanded the Right-to-Farm Act passed in 1982 and gives protection to farm facilities and grain warehouses from frivolous nuisance lawsuits. 

For instance, if someone files a nuisance suit after building a home near one of those facilities that had already been in operation and active in controlling dust, insects, etc., those facilities are protected. 

Hughes said any growth in rural Nebraska will most likely come from the expansion of livestock feeding. This bill ensures that growth can occur, he added. 

He said the new budget includes additional funding for Health and Human Services for increased Medicaid reimbursement to nursing homes. 

Hughes said the method for funding schools will be studied again in the interim. One of the tax relief bills, LB289, proposed significant changes in school funding. 

He said the bill proved to be too complicated with the possibility of unknown consequences, which brought its doom.

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