Here in the Legislature, we have started late-night debates to provide more time for discussion as we only have 20 days of session left until we adjourn. Last week, we passed the state budget and it was sent to the Governor who could have vetoed individual parts of the budget. Fortunately, the Governor approved the budget with no vetoes this time.
Over the past several decades, we have created a structural deficit and we have eroded our revenue with special interest exemptions, carve-outs, tax credits, and incentives that are designed to grow Nebraska’s economy and attract more people to the state. Instead of growing our state, these exemptions have cuts into the resources we have to provide property tax relief. We don’t have the funding. We need to look at new revenue sources for Nebraska so we can not only provide property tax relief, but make sure we have a fair public school funding system and that Nebraskans can access the public services they need.
Our thinking is shortsighted. Part of this may be because of term limits–maybe we are thinking in four or eight-year increments instead of thirty, fifty, or one-hundred-year increments for the long-term sustainability of people in Nebraska. When we look at all of these carve-outs and write-offs and credits that have eroded our tax base, we see that this loss of revenue cuts into the resources that we have to provide property tax relief.
A comprehensive strategy for property tax relief has to raise revenue and attract more people to our state. It means keeping our promises to fund our schools, including early childhood care. Keeping tax dollars in the public education system to serve all our children. Expanding SNAP benefits. Legalizing recreational and medical marijuana. Allowing those with marijuana charges to modify their records. Passing policies that emphasize support and equity for the LGBTQ community. Raising the tipped minimum wage. Reforming police. These are smart ways to grow our tax base.
We are losing our college graduates, young people are fleeing our state, and people say they do not want to live in Nebraska. A big reason for this is the racist, discriminatory, old-fashioned policies that we pass in this state. Our growth rate ranking is 39th in the country. We have to do more to attract and retain talent.
My colleagues say reducing property taxes will help us achieve this. The young people I know are not concerned primarily about property taxes — most of them do not own property! For many Nebraskans, the dream of homeownership is unfathomable. They cannot get ahead because we do not pass policies in this body that says we value them. What we need instead of this is more targeted tax relief and rebuilding our safety net for Nebraskan families. With policy like this, instead of saying “look at our great policies” or “look at our great quality of life” or “look at the great culture we have in our state,” we are merely saying “look how cheap it is to live here.” The majority of young people are not excited to move here and that is in large part because we have given up asking “how do we make our state the best state” and we just keep chipping away at our culture, focusing only on making our state the cheapest.
There are things we can do to tangibly improve Nebraskans’ quality of life, without costing anything and without giving a tax giveaway to corporations. We cannot keep cutting taxes at the expense of services and programs. We have to raise revenue. We can do this by enacting LGBTQ protections, providing paid family leave, legalizing cannabis, supporting public schools, having affordable housing, raising our tipped minimum wage, expanding tolerance and nondiscrimination policies for migrants, and accessible reproductive healthcare.
This is the comprehensive way to deal with property tax relief. It is not about what percentage of tax cuts we debate over in a single bill. These are not short-term solutions like we have seen so many times before. This is the systemic change Nebraska needs.